Physicians believe other doctors often order unnecessary tests

Three out of four physicians believe that their fellow doctors order unnecessary tests or procedures at least once a week, according to a recent survey.

The survey, commissioned by Choosing Wisely, a two-year campaign aimed at reducing unnecessary medical care through encouragement of conversations between patients and doctors, polled 600 physicians over the phone from February 12 through March 21. The research, which sought to gauge physicians’ attitudes toward the problem of unnecessary tests and procedures in the healthcare system, was conducted by PerryUndem Research and Communication. 

Of the survey’s respondents, 73 percent said the frequency of unnecessary tests and procedures in the healthcare system is a very or somewhat serious problem. Seventy-two percent of participants said the average physician prescribes an unnecessary test or procedure at least once a week.

Moreover, 47 percent of doctors said one patient per week requests something unnecessary. Though most doctors said they intervene, 48 percent said when they face an insistent patient they advise against it but still order the test. Five percent said they just order the test. About one-in-four physicians said their patients follow their advice about half of the time or less.

Physicians who have seen Choosing Wisely materials are more likely to refuse to order a test at 44 percent versus those who have not at 37 percent.

The study had a margin of error plus or minus 4 percentage points.

According to the survey, the most frequent reasons that physicians order superfluous and costly tests are due to fears of being sued, impulses to be extra careful and desires to reassure themselves of their patient assessments.

When given a series of potential solutions, 91 percent of physicians said malpractice reform would be an effective way to reduce unnecessary tests and procedures. A majority also said that having specific, evidence-based recommendations to use with patients would be an effective solution.