Unnecessary Heart Tests

An echocardiogram is a heart test that many patients get, but actually don’t need according to researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

The echocardiogram is a noninvasive ultrasound heart test that shows how well your heart is functioning. It’s a safe heart test, but the majority of patients who have had them saw no change in their treatment. A study showed that only one in three echocardiogram tests performed resulted in a change in the patient’s care. For this reason, researches say that this test is not clinically useful.

“If we keep using echoes all the time just because we can and we are not going to be doing something with that information, you are just using health care dollars that could have been used for someone else,” Dr Susan Matulevicius, an assistant professor in the medical center’s cardiology division.

Echocardiograms cost between $100 up to $1000 depending on what part of the United States they are done. These tests account for nearly half of all cardiac-imaging services performed in the country. Echocardiograms alone accounted for more than 11 percent, that’s more than $1.1 billion, of all Medicare imaging costs, according to the research.

Matulevicius stated that if only patients who needed this heart test got it, millions of dollars could be saved each year. Patients that have heart problems or have had strokes are the ones that would truly benefit from this heart test. But many patients get the test because it’s widely available and their doctor wants it done as matter of course. Matulevicius stated that diagnostic tests shouldn’t be ordered unless they are likely to change the patient’s care. Patients should ask their doctors why they want a specific test done and how it would impact them.

“The end point the researchers used – a change in patient care – isn’t a definitive reason to limit the use of echocardiograms,” said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a spokesman for the American Heart Association.

Because the study was done at only one medical center and the criteria the investigators used to determine clinical usefulness has not been validated, any further implication of this study are uncertain, stated Fonarow.

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