Advertisement

You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

Sue Phillip, with GE Healthcare, demonstrates the Vivid i portable ultrasound machine with Doug Donaldson at the GE Healthcare Summit in May 2007 in New York City. The $60,000 machine gives instant results, showing that Donaldson has clear carotid arteries. GE Helathcare is a $15 billion division of GE. / Mark Lennihan, AP

A consumer group called on hospitals across the USA to stop "fear mongering" by marketing health screenings directly to patients. Public Citizen says the low-cost tests - advertised for what appear to be "bargain basement" prices - often lead to expensive and even risky follow-up exams.

Although advanced medical tests can help carefully selected patients, selling them to the general public is more likely to harm than help people, says Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group.

In letters sent Thursday, Public Citizen called on 20 hospitals and health systems to stop sponsoring screenings by HealthFair, based in Winter Park, Fla., which offers tests in specially equipped medical vans. According to Public Citizen, companies such as HealthFair rely on "fear mongering" while "scaring healthy individuals about their future health."

HealthFair advertises a $179 basic package of four cardiovascular tests - including echocardiograms and carotid artery ultrasounds - which it says are "valued at $2,300." Patients with suspicious results could end up receiving follow-up tests that cost 10 to 100 times that much, says Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group.

"That $179 may seem like a bargain, but zero dollars would be the real bargain," Carome says. "You don't need to spend any money on these tests unless you fit into a very narrow population, and no one needs to be screened with six at once."

Hospitals often have a financial incentive to work with HealthFair, because their facilities perform any follow-up tests, Carome says.

A spokeswoman for HealthFair declined to comment for this story.

Nanette Bentley, a spokeswoman for Mercy Health in Cincinnati, which sponsors HealthFair screenings, says the tests have value.

"Health screenings can be a lifesaving tool," Bentley said in a statement. "Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association. Our implementation of these screenings is consistent with our values of compassion and human dignity while expanding access to care in the communities we serve. Our local health care team is closely involved with managing patient care."

Experts note that even painless tests have risks.

Non-invasive CT scans, for example, expose people to radiation that increases their risk of cancer, says Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic, who has long been critical of mass screenings.

"I have seen people in my own practice who have been unnecessarily harmed" by overtesting, Nissen says. "This is a serious problem."

CT scans can lead to invasive procedures, such as angioplasty, when doctors use balloons to inflate the arteries around the heart, Nissen says. In a 2010 article in Archives of Internal Medicine, Nissen described the case of a woman who underwent angioplasty because of one of these scans. The doctor performing the angioplasty tore an artery, which led to a heart attack and bypass surgery. The woman ended up needing a heart transplant.

Such horrific complications are rare, but they could become more common if hospitals offer serious medical tests to everyone who walks in off the street, Carome says.

People who want to protect their health have much better options than mass screenings, Carome says.

They should consult a trusted doctor who can individualize their care. And people should focus on proven lifestyle changes, such as exercising, eating a healthy diet and quitting smoking, Carome says.

The only tests that an average person needs are simple and cheap, Nissen says. These include measuring their weight, waist circumference, blood pressure and cholesterol.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Consumer group urges hospitals to end mass screenings

More In

test

Real Deals

Flip, shop and save on specials from your favorite retailers in central Ohio.

GET DEALS | COUPONS

Things To Do

THU
30
FRI
31
SAT
1
SUN
2
MON
3
TUE
4
WED
5

CLASSIFIEDS

Classifieds from across Central Ohio
Lancaster
Chillicothe
Newark
Marion
Bucyrus
Mansfield
Zanesville
Coshocton

Weeklies & Shoppers

10TV Headlines

Dispatch Headlines

METROMIX