Med Screening Gains Undeserved Cred in Absence of MD Trust

An afternoon visit with relatives included a discussion about medical screening tests, advertised directly to church congregations, but also via newspaper inserts. The ads talk about how such tests can lead to discoveries that might prevent a stroke or heart attack. We all want to prevent those killers!


Their scans are scheduled for Tuesday, even though my wife and I tried to explain it's essentially a scam. These scans are modern-era snake oil, as there's no evidence that they are worthwhile, despite their high cost. In other words, it's unlikely that finding potential problems this way prevents bad stuff from happening. In fact, sometimes it leads to even more unnecessary testing, putting the patient at undue risk, as noted in this NPR piece.

But "a friend" told them such scans are worthwhile and they weren't interested in simply having a physical with a doctor, which would be much less costly and more effective in terms of heading off serious health problems. Nevertheless, what trumped our view is the fact that the relatives simply do not trust the medical establishment. Insurance costs a fortune, even under the new law and the deductible for them is crazy high. They dislike the system so much, they don't fully trust those running it (doctors). So instead, they'll order independent tests they want for peace of mind.

Ironically though, when they get the results, they're going right to a physician to get the results interpreted! The company scans them and their credit card, but that's it. If there is something that shows up, then they have to decide what, if anything, to do about it. Doctors have told me for years that there are lots of bumps and other things inside the body that present no problems at all, so knowing where exactly they are creates an unnecessarily tricky situation.

Unfortunately, excess medical testing is one of the biggest and most expensive issues in American healthcare. These screenings marketed directly to nervous patients are part of the problem, as is the lack of trust inherent in a system that is way too expensive and excludes millions of people.


Posted on January 12, 2014 .