Archives of Internal Medicie editor Rita Redberg writes:
“I was troubled to read that the President’s physical examination included an electron beam computed tomographic (CT) scan for coronary calcium. This screening test likely exposed Mr Obama to significant radiation unnecessarily, increasing his risk of future cancer. …In light of this radiation risk, and the lack of proven benefit in low-risk persons, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends against this test in men such as Mr Obama. In addition, the leading professional cardiology societies do not recommend coronary calcium screening for such men. …According to news reports, Mr Obama also underwent colon cancer screening, even though this screening is not recommended in his age group. Moreover, even when he reaches age 50 next year, the recommended colon cancer screening tests are either fecal occult blood test or colonoscopy. The USPSTF does not recommend virtual colonoscopy for screening, as performed on Mr Obama, owing to the lack of supporting evidence. This CT colonography test, like the electron beam CT scan, increased his radiation exposure and subsequent cancer risk.
Inadvertently, but perhaps fittingly, the reports of Mr Obama’s physical examination reflect some of the key challenges facing health care reform today–Mr Obama appears to have been administered 2 cutting edge, expensive diagnostic tests that exposed him to a radiation risk while likely providing no benefit to his care. Some might defend these tests on the grounds that the President, of all people, deserves the very best our health care system can provide, but that would miss the point: more care is not necessarily better care. If the tests have no proven benefit for patients like Mr Obama, then they have no benefit for Mr Obama himself. Worse, evidence shows that the performance of unnecessary tests is not limited to Mr Obama or some select few patients. On the contrary, Mr Obama’s case is multiplied many times over at extraordinary cumulative financial cost to society and personal cost to the individuals who receive tests with known adverse effects and potential harms but without benefits.
It is unlikely that Mr Obama will have a dispute with his insurance company over the costs of the tests performed at his physical examination, whether or not they were necessary, but it is a certainty that we all will have great disputes over the spiraling costs of health care for the rest of us.”