Watch Out: You should forget some routine tests

If you’re one of those many many people – doctors and lay people alike – who believe that the more tests you get, the better your health outcome, a sobering new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine should give you at least a bit of pause.

This Canadian study found that although routine ECG testing is somewhat common (9-12 % of the population gets it), these researchers were unable to find that it did anyone any good.

In other words, otherwise healthy people in Ontario who got routine and regular ECGs did not end up having fewer heart attacks, heart procedures, or deaths than did those who did not get routine ECGs.

Yet, as would be easy to predict, those people who got routine ECGs ended up with more cardiac testing afterwards because of something “fishy” that the ECG may have detected, and those kind of interventions (angiograms, for example) can occasionally result in significant negative effects.

Testing begets testing begets testing, and often those tests lead to unnecessary interventions which can produce eventual harm, so unless there’s a very good reason to do a specific test – the evidence clearly shows, for example, that some routine test can help save your life (screening seniors for colon cancer is a good example) – it’s a good idea to make sure you understand the potential downside of all tests you choose to have done because some of you will surely run into those downsides.