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Opinion

Readers React: I don’t want to be sued: What a doctor really means by ‘just to be safe’

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A patient’s heart function is monitored during a cardiac stress test in Augusta, Ga., in 2014.
(Michael Holahan / Associated Press)

To the editor: Dr. Eric Snoey is only partially correct about putting seemingly healthy patients through unnecessary medical tests. When doctors say they’re ordering a test “just to be safe,” they’re often trying to avoid a litigious outcome.

Medicine once relied on the well-trained physician’s clinical judgment and the probability it would be right in the overwhelming majority of cases. In today’s world, any unexpected outcome is grounds for a lawsuit, since every possible outcome was not accounted for by ordering an additional easy-to-obtain test.

Technology also enters into this question. The more advanced technology is pushed by its inventors, the more tests there will be to find small “possible” problems that lead to more testing to rule those problems out.

Dr. Snoey is correct that this has made healthcare much more expensive, but it is sadly the cost of doing business to the public’s expectation.

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Robert Goldstone, MD, Corona del Mar

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To the editor: “Just to be safe” is no reason to get a medical test — until it is.

For four years, I was offered a breast ultrasound because I have “dense breast tissue.” Each year I turned it down because my mammograms were perfect, no one in my family had breast cancer, and I thought it was just a way for the imaging center to make money.

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This year, after discussing it with my gynecologist, I thought, what the heck, I’ll get the ultrasound — what do I have to lose? Well, as it turned out, I had everything to save — my life. The ultrasound found cancer that had been hidden from the mammogram.

So, two surgeries later and on my way to radiation, I say, if you’re offered a test, take it. It’s always better to be safe. You might have everything to gain.

J. Gordon, Santa Monica

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To the editor: Reading Dr. Snoey’s op-ed article made me wonder if I missed something — was there no mention of over-medicating doing more harm than good, with the danger of negative side effects? It happened to me (I am a 90-year-old independent woman), and I could very much relate to Dr. Snoey’s wise words.

Perhaps now we will be more willing to speak up when we are concerned about what we are putting into our bodies.

Joan Lewis, Dana Point

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