These U.S. Hospitals Actually Avoid Unnecessary Tests

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Woman getting CT scan
Tyler Olson /

When you feel unwell, it might seem like any test is a good one. But that is not always the case.

In fact, hospitals routinely perform low-value tests and procedures on older patients, risking harm, according to the Lown Institute, a health care think tank.

Now, the organization has ranked more than 3,100 hospitals nationwide based on how well they avoid tests and procedures that offer little to no medical benefit.

Three types of tests or procedures were especially common among 12 low-value services that Lown examined for its 2021 rankings:

  • Hysterectomy for benign disease
  • Coronary stents for stable heart disease
  • Diagnostic tests like head imaging for fainting

In addition, vertebroplasty — a procedure to inject cement into the spine — is still overused by many hospitals. This is true despite evidence that the procedure is not effective for osteoporosis-related fractures.

The Lown Institute found that more than 90% of hospitals overused low-value tests or procedures on patients with Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people age 65 and older and people with certain diseases or disabilities.

Overall, more than 1 million tests and procedures performed in hospitals on Medicare patients between 2016 and 2018 met established criteria for being labeled as examples of overuse.

In a press release, Dr. Vikas Saini, president of the Lown Institute, said:

“Overuse in American hospitals is a pervasive problem that needs to be addressed.”

However, some hospitals bucked the trend of overusing tests and procedures. These tend to be regional health care providers rather than the nation’s best-known institutions. The 10 best performers for avoiding unnecessary tests and procedures are:

  1. Scott County Hospital (Scott City, Kansas)
  2. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Boston)
  3. West River Regional Medical Center (Hettinger, North Dakota)
  4. Highland Hospital (Rochester, New York)
  5. Mayo Clinic Health System – Lake City (Lake City, Minnesota)
  6. Maine Medical Center (Portland, Maine)
  7. Sidney Regional Medical Center (Sidney, Nebraska)
  8. Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital (Lebanon, New Hampshire)
  9. Healdsburg District Hospital (Healdsburg, California)
  10. Contra Costa Regional Medical Center (Martinez, California)

The Lown Institute notes that the top 50 hospitals for avoiding overuse are most concentrated in New England and the Pacific Northwest. By contrast, the South is home to the vast majority of the 50 lowest-ranked hospitals.

For a complete list of the top 50 and bottom 50 hospitals for avoiding overuse, check out the 2021 Lown Institute Hospitals Index report.

For more on choosing the right hospital, check out “The 20 Highest-Ranked U.S. Hospitals.”

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