Why Doctors Order So Many Unnecessary Tests


Tests at the clinic can be a pain, especially if you get bounced around from specialist to specialist. Medical tests are also an added expense, one that feels unfair if there is no clear result. While most insurance providers generally cover tests ordered by a physician as opposed to a voluntary or requested test, the copay for many Americans can still bury them in unexpected debt.

Doctors have reasons for ordering all these tests, and they are typically not financially motivated. Fear of mistakes and malpractice suits have led to doctors ordering more and more tests as years go by.

When is it Negligence?

Unnecessary tests can fall under malpractice when a doctor fails to inform the patient of the full reasoning and details of the procedure. Negligence can stem from the lack of true informed consent, which is a requirement for any procedure, medical test, and other types of treatment. If a physician fails to clarify why they are recommending and ordering a test for you, it may be a reason to seek out the counsel of a medical negligence attorney.

No Kickbacks

Many people believe that doctors receive a commission or kickback from their hospital or vendors when they order a test. However, this is almost never the case. United States fair trade regulations ban many types of kickbacks in the medical industry and many state laws also prohibit and punish kickbacks.

There have been cases where medical vendors were caught issuing kickbacks, but those are typically for equipment purchases or the prescription of a company’s drugs. Usually, a foreign firm is involved, as many other countries do not have legal ramifications for this type of sales practice. For example, in 2020, a large Japanese medical equipment manufacturer was caught issuing 10% kickbacks to doctors that recommended their products to hospital administrators. Many people see this as an ethical problem.

Fear of Misdiagnosis


Uncertainty is scary, even for doctors. Eliminating possible diagnoses gets everyone closer to a firm answer and medical treatment plan and gives peace of mind to both medical professionals and their patients. Piling on tests is an oversimplified way to find the root of medical problems and quickly adds up a burden of time and cost for everyone involved. The way the field of medicine is trending in the United States means that testing will likely keep increasing.

Changing Landscape

Technology and equipment are updated in the medical industry at a rapid pace. It can be difficult or near impossible for doctors to stay fully informed about the effectiveness and availability of better techniques and resources. An ever-shifting playbook makes setting and reaching a clear goal a massive challenge, and is one reason many people are calling for the way medical procedures and treatment are managed to be changed.

Cultural Expectations

Think of any medical doctor portrayed on TV or in movies; chances are, they have a great streak of skilled diagnoses at critical moments and a few mistakes that cause drama and threaten to crush their careers. The cultural expectation is that doctors are all highly trained and skilled, and they should always be able to give clear answers to their patients. That is not realistic in the real world, and this pressure weighs on doctors, leading them to cover all their bases with tons of otherwise unnecessary testing.

Reduction of Malpractice Suits

All of the reasons above have made patients more litigious and doctors more proactive and afraid. Many medical professionals create waste by trying to protect themselves from medical malpractice suits.

Former congressman Dr. Tom Price is often quoted as saying that “defensive medicine” is the largest drain on the American medical system, and curing that is the key to reducing medical expenses for everyone. Whether the liability placed on doctors protect patients or burdens everyone is hard to prove, but being an informed and proactive patient can help everyone. Many doctors welcome open discussions about all testing and procedures and think that it helps patients make a choice that makes the patient happier.