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RECENTLY, NextCare Urgent Care paid $10 million to settle a claim by the federal government, which alleged that its doctors performed thousands of unnecessary tests, mostly for allergies, breathing, and respiratory infections. NextCare, a national chain that has clinics in Spotsylvania and Stafford counties, admitted no wrongdoing but decided to lay the claim to rest anyway.
The case points to one of the causes of the United States' ballooning health care costs: For many reasons, we may test too much. For example, a British study has concluded that for every woman over 50 saved from breast cancer by a mammogram, three receive unnecessary treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation, for a cancer that would never kill them.
That's not so unusual: The Congressional Budget Office reports that up to 30 percent of Americans' medical tests and procedures are unnecessary. That's one reason several medical groups have started a campaign called "Choosing Wisely" (choosingwisely.org). It outlines the tests most frequently ordered unnecessarily. These include EKGs, imaging studies, and bone-density scans for low-risk women.
Patients play a vital role in protecting themselves (and the economy) against the overuse of medicine. Asking questions when doctors order tests is a good place to start.