"Understandably, when patients have some issue, they want to go for some sort of test," Dr. Christopher Labos writes.

But, in reality, there are very few circumstances where regular testing serves a purpose in the absence of symptoms. There are certain cancer-screening programs — most notably, cervical screening with PAP tests and colon cancer screening with either colonoscopies or other tests to detect blood in the stool — that have a demonstrated benefit. Also, checking people for high blood pressure or high cholesterol after a certain age has value, because these produce no obvious symptoms and treatment prevents heart attacks.

But many tests do not really have much value when we evaluate them objectively. Such groups as Choosing Wisely have devoted themselves to speaking out against testing that has little medical value and just drains resources from the system. For example, they recommend not sending patients with low back pain for X-rays unless there is some reason to suspect a severe problem. Most low back pain is muscular, while X-rays can only detect bony pathology. They oppose routinely prescribing antibiotics for probable viral infections because antibiotics only work against bacteria. They advise against regular chest X-rays and ECGs in low-risk patients because they are frankly low-yield tests that add little real value in most cases.

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