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Oct. 3, 2019

Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor. 

That’s the key message of a campaign supported by BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina called Choosing Wisely*. Choosing Wisely is a national health education campaign with resources for patients to help them decide what to ask their doctors. 

“What we want to encourage is more conversations between patients and their doctors so they can be part of the decision-making process,” says Dr. Matthew Bartels, chief medical officer at BlueCross. “We want to educate our members to ask well-informed questions of their doctors.”

The question is: Do you really need that medical test or treatment? The answer may be no. Some medical tests, treatments and procedures provide little benefit. And in some cases, they may even cause harm. 

Unnecessary procedures and tests can lead to unintended consequences and follow-up testing — and more costs for the patient. Sometimes these services create complications, and there are real patient safety concerns. More care can sometimes be dangerous, as in the case of increased exposure to radiation through unnecessary X-rays. 

How do you find out if that medical test, treatment or procedure is really needed? Try Choosing Wisely. 

Originally, Choosing Wisely was an initiative of the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation*. The goal was to help patients and their doctors talk about unnecessary health care and the overuse of tests or procedures. To make sure the patient ends up with the right amount of care — not too much and not too little. 

“This is probably one of the most important things we can do in terms of ensuring patients get the right care at the right time,” Bartels says. “We are trying to change the perception that more care is better care. It’s really about the right care.”

This effort is centered on education — helping patients better understand their own health care decisions and empowering them to take an active role in those choices. Sometimes patients rely on the expertise of the physician to tell them what the course of action should be. Bartels says Choosing Wisely is about helping support patients to be better consumers of the care they receive.  
 
“It’s also about empowering individuals with information and helping everyone involved become more informed about those things that add value and those things that don’t add value in terms of contributing to better outcomes,” Bartels says.

The suggestions on Choosing Wisely are based on more than 550 recommendations from physicians. The resources there come from the medical community, not the insurance company. 

“The fact that physicians and other health care professionals have taken a lead on this is really powerful,” he says.   

The Choosing Wisely website provides a starting point for patients to learn the questions they should be asking their physicians, sorted by specialty and service area. 

Where should you start? Here are the first five questions: 

1.    Do I really need this test or procedure? 
2.    What are the risks and side effects? 
3.    Are there simpler, safer options? 
4.    What happens if I don’t do anything? 
5.    How much does it cost, and will my insurance pay for it? 

The Choosing Wisely initiative now hopes to start a national dialogue on avoiding unnecessary medical tests, treatments and procedures. To learn more about the campaign, visit its website, www.choosingwisely.org. And while you’re there, download the Choosing Wisely app.


*These are independent organizations that offer health information that you may find helpful.

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