A Doctor's Bedside Manner Is Great, but People Find Comfort in Technology

Sure, many of us love our doctors; but when it really hurts, we long for ... medical technology. Something with lights, something that hums, something that makes images or provides a cool graph.

In a recent survey, doctors in Norway found that 72% of their back pain patients demanded an X-ray, even though in most cases it was unnecessary. Asked why they insisted on the expensive, needless test, many patients answered, "Because my back hurts."

Patients also assumed the X-rays would help explain their problem. Not true, in most cases, doctors say. Researchers have shown that X-ray machines can "find" disc problems in people with no back pain and even lead some patients with pain into unnecessary surgery. For most people with lower back pain, doctors learn about all they can with a physical examination.

But it's precisely because the pain often cannot be explained, psychologists say, that sufferers may insist strongly on taking various diagnostic tests, regardless of their usefulness. The Norwegian doctors conclude that addressing patients'--and physicians'--expectations of medical technology could help reduce needless medical expenses.

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