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Screenings Raise Risk as Well as Awareness

   August 07, 2014

A constant barrage of ads from hospitals, health systems, and payers urges patients to get screened for some of the deadliest diseases. But casting a wide net is totally at odds with controlling healthcare costs through evidence-based data.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women and reducing those numbers is a prime target for hospitals and health systems, public interest health groups, and medical specialty societies.

Years of research and data have given clinical leaders tools to help patients reduce their risk for heart disease: stop smoking, lose weight, exercise, and lower blood pressure. The treadmill stress test and other, non-invasive imaging screening tests aren't on that list because they don't improve patients' outcomes.

But those clinical best practices either aren't well-known enough or haven't trickled down to hospital marketing departments. Or both.

The logo-wrapped mobile screening buses and newspaper ads offering patients peace of mind through a screening test for any number of diseases make Patrick Alguire, senior vice president for medical education at the American College of Physicians, cringe most of the time.

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"It's a sore point with me," says Alguire. "We have to be really careful about the harms that screening can do. For example, you may have a screening test with false positives that can lead to more tests, and generally, the additional tests can be more expensive, invasive, and dangerous. If nothing more, it may create worry and anxiety."


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Jacqueline Fellows is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

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