White paper on inappropriate laboratory testing

Mark Gusack gusackm at COMCAST.NET
Mon Feb 18 22:57:47 UTC 2019

Good Evening Mark:


The C.D. Howe Institute report on laboratory testing is, in my opinion, one of the best I’ve seen.  I’ve done a number of similar studies at a variety of healthcare institutions over the past 35 years and have always found what is very well illustrated on page 14 of the report.  That plot shows that a small number of physicians greatly overutilize the laboratory along with a moderate number of physicians who moderately over utilize the laboratory.  I’ve had the opportunity to reign this sort of behavior in and have discovered to my chagrin that the highest utilizers are often the most well connected politically or financially to the institution making it very difficult to modify their behavior.


However…on two occasions I was also well connected politically.  In both cases the worst offenders were forced to change their behavior.  


In one case, a small rural hospital had lost over 600 thousand dollars in the prior year and was nearing bankruptcy.  The medical director was a close friend and fully supported my offer to look at the laboratory ordering trends for each physician.  The result?  Just one physician – a family practitioner – was costing the hospital over 200 thousand dollars in unnecessary testing and blood utilization.  This was eliminated but only after a very vocal ‘argument’ during a medical executive meeting.  After getting I convinced the ED physician to change behavior another 150 thousand dollars were saved.  That is over half the hospital deficit.  Two doctors.  Just two…


In the other case, as a resident, I was tasked with finding out why over a million dollars in laboratory tests were being ordered every year by just one ward.  As surgical ward?!  I discovered that a former physician had set up a very expensive laboratory testing panel as part of a clinical investigation slated for eventual publication.  It required the hiring of at least five additional technologists, the installation of additional laboratory equipment, and all the rest of the expenses of doing the tests.  He left the hospital six years earlier less than one year into the study.  No one had bothered to continue the study nor had anyone had the presence of mind to cancel the study testing protocol.


I reported my findings to my department director and he told me to go back to the ward and remove the standing testing orders (this was in the good old days before eHR’s).  It turned that out earlier efforts to do this by prior pathologists had failed.  None had been willing to stand up to the ward personnel.  And I found out why.  There was massive blowback with accusations that I was trying to harm the patients.  Soon after, I found myself in front of the hospital CEO with two physicians and three nurses from the ward all yelling at me simultaneously.  Thankfully, the CEO had the presence of mind to realize my position was the correct one.  He severely chastise my opponents and ordered them to stop.  Who knows how long the hemorrhaging would have gone on if this hadn’t happened.


I have dozens of other similar experiences where I was not successful in reigning in unnecessary and even dangerous laboratory testing due to a variety of political, prejudicial, and financial reasons.  If one adds in unnecessary radiologic and surgical procedures done each year in the U.S. you have an enormous amount of valuable resources being wasted when they could be used to pay for the implementation of better diagnostic methods and to cover more people with high quality healthcare.


Mark Gusack, M.D.


MANX Enterprises, Ltd.

304 521-1980

www.manxenterprises.com <http://www.manxenterprises.com> 


From: Mark Graber <Mark.Graber at IMPROVEDIAGNOSIS.ORG> 
Sent: Monday, February 18, 2019 1:48 PM
Subject: [IMPROVEDX] White paper on inappropriate laboratory testing




Attached is an authoritative report just issued from the Howe Institute on inappropriate lab testing in Canada.


The report estimates the magnitude of inappropriate over- and under-utilization, and provides advice on how to improve more appropriate test ordering going forward.



Mark L Graber MD FACP

Chief Medical Officer; Founder and President Emeritus, SIDM

Professor Emeritus, Stony Brook University, NY 




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