In medicine, we are often faced with interpreting a variety of laboratory studies and other tests.
Obtaining data, for data’s sake, can result in confusion and even harm.
Confusion takes place when there is a laboratory test or study error that results in the need for further evaluation. Also, obtaining labs or studies is not without inherent risks or discomforts. Examples of this are checking electrolyte panels and obtaining head CT scans.
On the surface, checking an electrolyte panel seems like a relatively benign evaluation.
The same can be said for checking a head CT scan after a head injury.
As a physician or healthcare provider, really think about the test or study that you are ordering.
Ask yourself if it is absolutely necessary to confirm or exclude a diagnosis or help with the management of your patient.
As a family member or patient, make sure that a test that you are requesting is warranted and in line with the medical team’s management plan. The medical team can make mistakes, so advocating is necessary if you think that obtaining a test or study is important in your care or the care of a family member. However, the best management is a collaborative relationship between the medical team and the patient or the patient’s family. Understanding which tests or studies are necessary and which are not is critical to reducing avoidable confusion and harm from medical management by the healthcare team and advocacy by the patient or their family.
Just because there is a test or study available doesn’t mean that it needs to be performed.
Justifying data collection needs to be supported by the context of the situation. This context is the history of the present illness, current medical condition, and physical exam. Laboratory tests and other studies should support what you’ve already concluded, based on the medical history and exam, and should not be performed on a whim or for intellectual curiosity. If you suspect that a test or study will confuse the situation, cause harm, or not provide any useful information, just don’t do it.