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8 Medical Tests You Don't Actually Need (Part 1)

Does the media trick us into believing that we need certain tests when we don't? In addition to rising healthcare costs in the U.S., who wants a bill for something they don't need? Learn why some of these medical tests may be unnecessary.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD
7-minute read
Episode #259

Now, an MRI is typically only useful if you are ready to surgically repair it. So let’s say you do have that knee MRI and it shows a ligament or meniscal tear? What will you do with that knowledge? Lots of people have a meniscal tear and live with it, and that is totally fine. There’s nothing “dangerous” about leaving it unrepaired for most people.

But we just spent thousands of dollars for a test that will not really change our outcome one way or another. What’s the point of doing it in the first place? Simply “to know”? In my humble opinion, it’s not worth contributing to the rising healthcare costs by performing unnecessary MRIs, one of the most commonly ordered high-cost tests in medicine.

3. Hormone Levels

“I am so moody these days, Doc. Can you check my hormone levels?”

By “hormone levels,” we are often referring to the female feel-good hormones estrogen, progesterone, and their precursors. Did you know that in a menstruating female, these hormone levels are all over the map? It can be low and seemingly in the menopausal range on one day, and then high enough to carry a pregnancy on another. In women who still have cycles, testing the levels are not very revealing because of this.

And the blood levels certainly cannot explain any moodiness. Here’s an article that explains what can cause moodiness, however.

The truth is, the symptoms of “perimenopause” can begin up to 5-10 years prior to menopause. Symptoms can plague us women during this entire time period. We don’t need a blood test to tell us that. Hormone levels are not even typically necessary to diagnose menopause, either, which occurs at an average age of 51 in U.S. women and is defined simply by a period of one year without menstrual bleeding. That’s it; no test needed.

Now, there are instances in which checking hormone levels may be useful. For example, it would be unusual for a 35-year-old young women to be in menopause. In this case, the blood levels may be useful if there are no cycles and I’m wondering if she’s had premature ovarian failure.

I don’t know my blood type either. The truth is, it’s not generally useful to us doctors.

Fertility clinics also may order estrogen levels to determine when to administer certain treatments.

4. Blood Type

I always get taken back when I receive the request to order a blood type on a patient. It’s not terribly often, but it does happen.

"I just would like to know, Doc. I’ve never known.”

Me neither. I don’t know my blood type. The truth is, it’s not generally useful to us doctors unless:

  • You’re donating blood products.
  • You’re receiving blood products.
  • You’re pregnant.

Outside and nearby countries seem to routinely order blood types on patients. But as everything else in the U.S., unless there’s a scientifically-validated reason for ordering it, your insurance will send you a nice fat bill for this one, too.

So you have now taken part in some of the explanations that I hear myself reiterating repeatedly while in clinic. I would say that about 99% of patients are very understanding and are on the same page with me after learning the real scoop. But I must say, I do tend to attract a very kind patient population who trusts my expertise.

Today we’ve reviewed four of those conversations. Next week, let’s pick up where we’ve left off and review the next set of unnecessary yet costly tests that are commonly ordered in medicine.

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only.  This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider.  Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

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Medical Disclaimer
Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.