Medical tests and the risks of curiosity

Doctors use a lot of tests, such as blood tests, x-rays, MRI scans, and quite a few others. Some of these tests carry well-known risks in doing them. For example, some people have serious allergic reactions to the contrast dye used in x-ray tests. When doctors order these tests on children we are making a judgment that the information the test will give us is useful enough, or important enough, to justify taking the risk. Most parents understand this notion.

What most parents don’t understand, though, is the risk the test will give misleading information. A blood test, something of little immediate risk to the child, becomes potentially quite risky if the result will confuse the situation, leading to further tests and procedures that might not be appropriate, or which carry further risks. In addition, every medical test has a built-in, inherent error rate; the test result may just be flat-out wrong — it’s a statistical possibility.

My point is that it is never a good idea to ask your doctor to do tests on your child just because you (or your doctor) are simply curious about the result. Any test needs to be clearly justified by a child’s specific situation.


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