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7 More Medical Procedures You May Not Need

Ask your doctor if these common treatments are really necessary

En español l You're facing minor surgery, and your doctor orders routine preoperation tests. Do you get them?

You're a senior with insomnia. Prescription sleeping pills are OK, right?

You see an ad for a screening to detect a potential stroke. Good idea?

Probably not, the experts say. All three are among the unnecessary or potentially harmful tests and treatments identified by 17 key medical specialty societies, which recently, in Washington, released their lists of questionable procedures as part of the Choosing Wisely campaign.

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Doctor with x-rays, Choosing Wisely, Medical procedures to avoid

Do you really need that routine screening test? — Artiga Photo/Corbis

That campaign, set up by the nonprofit American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation, began in 2012 when nine medical societies first offered their lists of unnecessary treatments.

Consumer Reports is a partner in the Choosing Wisely campaign, and John Santa, M.D., who directs that group's health ratings, says, "We know Americans believe more health care is better, and all prevention is good." But, he stresses, "waste and overuse is a major issue — and it's frequent across all medical disciplines."

Christine K. Cassel, president and chief executive of the ABIM, says the Choosing Wisely campaign is "about the right care at the right time for the right patient."

Here are seven overused tests or treatments commonly prescribed for people age 50-plus that experts now say you probably don't need if you're healthy.

1. Recommendation: Avoid routine presurgery tests for eye and other low-risk surgeries (American Society for Clinical Pathology and American Academy of Ophthalmology).

Men and women facing elective surgery — eye, foot and cosmetic operations, as well as biopsies — routinely undergo unnecessary blood and other tests. "You need to ask: Why do I need these tests?" says Lee Hilborne, M.D., an official with the clinical pathology society. Cataract patients, for example, often get an EKG, blood work and a chest X-ray, says William Rich, M.D., of the ophthalmologists group. "They're paying for tests we don't think are necessary," he says. Average costs run $300 to $400.

Danger: Aside from the cost, a few test results come back abnormal even though the patient is fine — causing anxiety and further tests that could delay the surgery.

Exception: A patient with a severe heart condition or symptoms that could be heart-related should have a presurgery EKG.

Diabetic patients need a blood glucose test and those on diuretics should have a potassium test.

Man lying awake in bed with insomnia, Prescription sleeping pills not first choice for insomnia

Have insomnia? You may want to try other therapies before taking sleeping pills. — Todd Warnock/Corbis

2. Recommendation: Don't take prescription sleeping pills as the first choice for insomnia (American Geriatrics Society).

Insomnia is very common in older people, but experts say seniors should avoid some widely prescribed sleeping pills, such as Restril and Ambien. Instead, talk to your doctor about other therapies, such as counseling to improve sleep patterns through lifestyle changes.

Danger: Meds called sedative-hypnotics, including benzodiazepines, double the risk of falls and hip fractures, leading to hospitalization and death in older adults, according to several large studies.

"It's not entirely clear why; it may be there's some carryover the next day," says Cathy Alessi, M.D., president-elect of the American Geriatrics Society.

Exceptions: For seniors, prescription sleeping pills (sedative-hypnotics) should be reserved for anxiety disorders or severe alcohol withdrawal after other therapies have failed.

3. Recommendation: Don't get a screening test for carotid artery disease unless you have symptoms (American Academy of Family Physicians).

Companies provide screenings for carotid artery stenosis — the narrowing of arteries that can lead to strokes — but unless you have symptoms, don't get scanned. "The scientific evidence is very clear that more people are harmed than helped by having this test, and we advise against it," says Glen Stream, M.D., board chair of the family physicians group.

Danger: Screening someone with no symptoms of carotid artery disease could lead to further tests and even surgery, which carries increased risk of stroke.

Exception: If you've had a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or ministroke, you may need a diagnostic test.

Next page: Is a urinary catheter really necessary? »

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