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Decisions About Medical Tests

See a list of Decision Points about medical tests. Decision Points are designed to guide you through key health decisions, combining medical information with your personal values to make a wise health decision.

Medical tests are important tools, but they have limits. Informed consumers know medical tests have costs and risks as well as benefits.

Learn the facts

  • What is the name of the test, and why do you need it?
  • If the test results are positive, what will the doctor do differently?
  • What could happen if you don't have the test?

Use this medical test information form(What is a PDF document?) to help you.

Consider the risks and benefits

  • How accurate is the test? How often does it indicate that a problem exists when there is none (false-positive result)? How often does it say there is no problem when there is one (false-negative result)?
  • Is the test painful? What can go wrong?
  • How will you feel afterward?
  • Are there less risky options?

Ask about costs

  • How much does the test cost?
  • Is there a less expensive test that might give the same information?

If a test seems costly, risky, or not likely to change the recommended treatment, ask your doctor if you can avoid it. Try to agree on the best approach. No test can be done without your permission, and you have the right to refuse a test.

Talk to your doctor

  • What are your concerns about the test?
  • What do you expect the test to do for you? Are your expectations realistic?
  • What prescription and nonprescription medicines are you taking?
  • What other medical conditions do you have?
  • Do you prefer to have the test or not?

If you agree to a test, ask what you can do to reduce the chance of errors. Should you restrict food, alcohol, exercise, or medicines before the test? After the test, ask to review the results. Take notes for your home records. If the results are unexpected and the error rate of the test is high, consider redoing the test before basing further treatment on the results.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 25, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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