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Medicine and Diagnosis: Do Doctors Order Too Many Tests?

written by: Angela Atkinson•edited by: lrohner•updated: 6/25/2008

We often visit a doctor for simple ailments like the common cold, but sometimes we run into a situation where we need to take many tests. Why do doctors order so many tests? This article explains the state of medical diagnosis today.

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    How true it is today that a visit to a physician invites a comment like “well you are in for a lot of tests" and the end result will be zero! It causes you to wonder if doctor's order too many tests.

    The doctor's role in diagnosing ordinary ailments such as cough, cold, fever, even a mild headache, though persistent, results in getting blood tests done, sometimes urinary analysis and even stool analysis. Of course this is an exaggeration.  If the net result is zero, then it is now up to the treating physician to prescribe medication that would help relieve the patient.

    In the good old days, the doctor would come in, check your temperature, take your pulse and look at your tongue. If necessary they might take your blood pressure, check your throat, listen to your heart,  palpate your organs, and ask you about your water intake, urine, and stool. If any other issues came up they might ask you what you ate the previous day, nausea, vomiting episodes, and so on.

    On that basis alone he would diagnose whether your fever was viral, plain flu, possibly typhoid, throat infection or whatever. He would prescribe a round of medication, which mostly he would himself hand out, take his fees, and say he would later drop in to check.

     
    Today however the trend has changed. Once you go in, generally speaking, you are in for a battery of tests, and till then, you are put on palliatives or painkillers. The doctor can't arrive at a conclusion until the reports of x-rays, blood samples, ECGs, etc. come in.  And most probably none of these tests would have any relevance to the health condition you have.

    This is not to deride the doctor’s way of working. In fact, circumstances have so forced the physician to insist on these tests. Today a doctor’s liability under law is so high, that they are afraid of not documenting everything systematically or they may be sued for malpractice. Imagine standing in Court as a Doctor, and being asked what you knew of your patient's previous history and why did you not prescribe so and so, or test for something?

    So the physician falls between two stools.

    Further it has become easier for the doctor to come to a more clear diagnosis than earlier – although how much is yet to be substantiated – that he is able to prescribe the right medication, rather than having to experiment with this drug or the other. It helps him, and it helps the patient in getting faster relief and quicker recovery.

    Yet the fact remains that in those good old days, doctors were able to diagnose medication quite promptly and rightly too, without use of modern gadgets. It is for the medical fraternity to consider this facet of medical practice.