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Do you really need that medical test?

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Knee or back giving you gyp after a day in the garden? Tempted to ask your doctor to send you for an x-ray or scan? Just have a think about that.

These days there are a large number of tests, treatments and procedures that you can have if you feel unwell, or worry that something may be wrong.

But just because these options are available, doesn’t mean we should always use them.

Tests, treatments and procedures have side-effects and some may even cause harm.

For example, although knee injuries are often painful and uncomfortable, they can usually be managed with rest, ice, support and a gradual return to physical activity. Back pain usually gets better in about a month, with or without testing.

Whereas x-rays and CT scans use radiation, which can damage your body’s cells.

Each person’s situation is unique, and you should discuss the best thing for you with your health professional.

Ask them these four questions:

  • Do I really need this test or procedure?
  • What are the risks?
  • Are there simpler, safer options?
  • What happens if I don’t do anything?

The questions are from Choosing Wisely, an international campaign, which is also being run in New Zealand. It involves consumers, doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists and other health professionals and health professional groups.

The Choosing Wisely website has lots of resources about different tests, treatments and procedures that you might want to discuss further with your health professional.

They include information on:

  • allergies and allergic reactions
  • tests before surgery
  • back, knee and ankle x-rays
  • using antibiotics
  • blood tests
  • coughs, colds and sore throats
  • dementia
  • ear infections
  • electrocardiograms (ECGs)
  • end of life care
  • reviewing and using medicines.

Find out more at