Five Questions to ask Your Doctor Before a Test, Treatment, or Procedure

Overuse, or over-treatment, is a growing problem in healthcare. Fortunately, there are simple steps healthcare decision makers and patients can take to reduce overuse, improve the patient experience, and lower costs. It starts by asking the right questions. Here are five questions to ask your doctor before a test, treatment, or procedure.

Do I really need this test or procedure?

Over-treatment, low-value healthcare and overuse are all terms that refer to medical tests and procedures that provide little benefit in particular clinical scenarios. Examples of this include: too frequent cervical cancer screening in women; preoperative baseline laboratory studies prior to low-risk surgery; annual EKGs or cardiac screening in low risk, asymptomatic individuals; and prescribing antibiotics for acute upper respiratory and ear infections.

What are the risks and side effects?

Patients need unbiased information to navigate the potential risks and benefits of their treatment choices. More often than not, overuse has the potential to cause unintended harm. This harm can appear as a bad reaction to a medication, or overexposure to radiation from unnecessary imaging. The result is then further interventions to correct the harm done by the previous action.

Are there simpler, safer options?

Your test, treatment, or procedure should be as free from harm as possible. It should also not be repetitive of another test or procedure you already received. Asking about other options is a way to determine the simplest and safest path to better health.

What happens if I don’t do anything?

Is this test, treatment, or procedure truly necessary? Since the course of action is usually to do something, it’s rare that we ask our doctor what happens if we do nothing. Sometimes doing nothing and wait-and-see are the better options.

How much does it cost, and will my insurance pay for it?

When the Hippocratic oath was written, financial harm was not taken into account. The cost of treatment options must be known beforehand so that patients have an opportunity to determine their ability to pay. Just because your doctor recommends a particular test, treatment or procedure, doesn’t mean that it’s covered by your insurance. You will need to check with your provider to determine the level of coverage. If a test, treatment, or procedure is not covered, ask your provider for alternative options that are covered.

Want to Learn More?

To learn more about healthcare waste and how to reduce it, check out our webinar: Healthcare Waste and the Bottom Line. In this free, on-demand webinar you will hear from Susie Dade, Deputy Director of the Washington Health Alliance. Watch it here.