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Editorial: Get answers before you get health tests


The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality lists questions you can ask your doctor about tests, treatments and drugs, including:

◆ What is the test for?

◆ Are there any side effects?

◆ Why do I need this treatment?

For the full list, go to

Updated: June 27, 2011 2:09AM

When heart disease, cancer and other chronic illnesses kill thousands of Americans a year, it’s natural for people to want every assurance that they’re in peak health — or at the very least, that any problems are caught early.

It’s easy to see, then, how consumers could be duped into buying expensive and potentially harmful screening tests they don’t need, as is alleged in a lawsuit filed against Heart Check America.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed suit against the Tinley Park-based company on Thursday, claiming that it offered people free body scans and then pressured them into signing up for multiyear screening contracts.

The suit alleges that patients were not evaluated by a medical professional before they received the scans and were not warned of the potential risks, including radiation exposure.

We’ll leave it to the court to decide whether the accusations against Heart Check America have merit, but the allegations alone should remind us of the importance of being savvy health-care consumers.

Not only can unnecessary and inappropriate health screenings cause real harm, they tend to lead to a cascade of unnecessary follow-up tests and treatments that drive up health-care costs.

Everyone except the snake-oil salesman benefits when consumers stick to the tests and treatments backed by scientific evidence.

How is the average person supposed to know which tests are worth getting? The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has a list of basic questions consumers should ask their doctor before receiving a medical test. That’s a good place to start.

Because while ad campaigns would have you believe that more is always better when it comes to health care, less can do the job as well — and sometimes better.

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