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Think twice about that medical test or treatment this summer

January 2019

Summer in New Zealand is about days at the beach, the sound of cicadas and the smell of melting tar.

But for some people it can also be synonymous with having skin rashes and sore knees and backs from gardening or backyard cricket; not to mention tennis elbow.

It can be tempting to ask your doctor to send you for a scan just to make sure there’s nothing really wrong, or to give you antibiotics.

But Choosing Wisely chair Dr Derek Sherwood says just because tests and treatments are available doesn’t mean we should always use them. Choosing Wisely, coordinated by the Council of Medical Colleges, supports reducing unnecessary tests, treatments and procedures in health care.

“There is mounting evidence that more tests and procedures don’t always equal better care. While modern medicine has given us more ways than ever to diagnose and treat illness, sometimes, the best option may be to do nothing.”

He points to X-rays for people with back pain as among the tests that need to be considered carefully before use.

“Back pain is one of the most common reasons we visit the doctor. But evidence shows most of us recover without needing scans or other tests.

“Not only do X-rays and CT scans expose patients to potentially cancer-causing radiation but many studies have shown scans frequently identify things that require further investigation but turn out to be nothing. This means patients can undergo stressful and potentially risky follow-up tests and treatments.”

Tennis elbow causes pain around the outside of the elbow and is often triggered by overuse of the muscles and tendons of the forearm.

“People sometimes request steroid injections,” Dr Sherwood says, “but resting the arm and avoiding doing things that make the injury worse is the best way to recover. While steroid injections can provide short-term relief, in the longer term, they can hold back recovery.”

He says rashes such as eczema, that are not infected, will not be helped by antibiotics.

“You can control eczema better with moisturisers. To relieve itching and swelling, ask your doctor about creams or ointments containing a steroid or other medicines.

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

Choosing Wisely sponsors are the Council of Medical Colleges, Southern Cross Health Society, Pacific Radiology and PHARMAC. Consumer NZ and the Health Quality & Safety Commission are Choosing Wisely partners, and there is wide health sector support for the campaign.


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