Hospitals and health systems are always looking to boost brand awareness and attract new patients, so it’s not surprising that some sponsor high-profile medical screening buses to get the word out and bring patients in. I’ve always been dubious of this approach, which reminds me of garages that offer free 150 point inspections as a benefit to customers. Obviously the garage expects to make back any cost of the diagnostic by uncovering new problems to treat. Hospitals aren’t that different.
There are downsides other than cost to unnecessary screening tests. Positive results can lead to invasive, dangerous and expensive follow-up tests along with anxiety.
One organization, Health Fair runs buses in the Washington, DC region that offer a package of five tests for $139. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends against all five of these tests. Abnormal results of one kind or another are found in almost half of all patients screened. You can bet a whole lot of those are false positives or minor issues that are best ignored.
I’m glad to see Kaiser Health News go after this kind of story so people are aware that what looks like a friendly, innocuous service may be something less positive.
By David E. Williams of the Health Business Group.May 17, 2013