Author Interviews, Cost of Health Care, JAMA, Ophthalmology, Surgical Research, UCSF / 23.01.2018 Interview with: Catherine L. Chen, MD, MPH Assistant Professor UCSF Department of Anesthesia & Perioperative Care What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Response: Routine preoperative medical testing (such as common laboratory tests looking at a patient's blood cell counts and kidney function, or cardiac tests like an EKG) are not recommended in patients undergoing cataract surgery, but these tests still occur quite frequently among Medicare cataract surgery patients because these patients tend to be older and sicker than the general population. In the past, researchers have used a 30-day window counting backwards from the date of surgery to determine whether a given test should be categorized as a routine preoperative test. However, we know that testing often takes place outside this window and therefore, the frequency and cost of routine preoperative medical testing has generally been underreported. In our study, we used a new method to figure out how to determine the start of the routine preoperative testing period. In cataract patients, ocular biometry is a diagnostic test that is performed in anticipation of cataract surgery, and this test is only performed in cataract patients who will be having cataract surgery in the near future. For each patient, we calculated the elapsed time between the ocular biometry and cataract surgery dates to get a better idea of when to start looking for unnecessary routine preoperative testing. Our goal was to identify all the routine preoperative medical testing that occurs once the decision has been made to operate and better estimate the cost to Medicare of this unnecessary testing. In a previous study that we published in the New England Journal of Medicine, we reported a significant spike in the rate of routine preoperative medical testing that occurs in the 30 days before surgery compared to the baseline rate of testing. In our current study, we discovered that there is a second spike in testing that occurs in the 30 days after ocular biometry. In fact, even if you exclude the testing that takes place during the 30 days before surgery, there is still a 41% increase in testing rates during the interval between ocular biometry and cataract surgery over the baseline rate of testing. In addition, we found that the cost of routine preoperative testing was 47% higher when looking at the entire biometry to surgery timeframe compared to testing that occurs just in the 30 days before surgery. We estimate that the cost to Medicare of all of this unnecessary testing approaches $45.4 million annually. (more…)