Do Heart Patients Get Too Many Cholesterol Tests?
Unnecessary screenings contribute to rising U.S. health costs, study suggests
By Steven Reinberg
MONDAY, July 1 (HealthDay News) -- Many U.S. heart patients may be getting their cholesterol levels checked unnecessarily, a new study suggests.
Statistics on more than 35,000 patients with coronary heart disease treated in a Houston-based Veterans Affairs network suggest this is an area of over-testing that's contributing to the nation's soaring medical costs, the study authors said.
At this one network of seven hospitals, the cost of redundant cholesterol blood tests amounted to more than $200,000 in one year, the study found.
"These results represent health care resource overuse and possibly their waste," said lead researcher Dr. Salim Virani, a cardiologist at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston.
The study, published online July 1 in JAMA Internal Medicine, zeroed in on almost 28,000 patients taking statin drugs that were keeping their cholesterol levels in check -- less than 100 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood.
Over 11 months, repeat tests were ordered for one-third of those patients even though their medication had not been increased, the researchers found.
In all, nearly 13,000 additional tests were performed at about $16 each, bringing the total cost for this one group of hospitals to almost $204,000.
"Apart from the costs associated with these lipid panels, this also carries with it the cost for the patient's time to undergo a repeat blood test and cost for the health care provider's time to follow up on these results after redundant testing and to inform the patient about these results," said Virani.
Most of those who underwent repeat testing had a history of diabetes, high blood pressure and more frequent doctor visits, the research team found. The extra tests likely gave some of these patients a measure of comfort, the study authors noted.
The study drew mixed reactions from other experts.
Current national guidelines recommend that patients with coronary heart disease have their cholesterol checked every four to six months, said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles and a spokesman for the American Heart Association.