Choosing Wisely’s Curious Omissions

By Dr. Kenny Lin

First Posted at Common Sense Family Doctor on 3/3/2013

Kenny Lin, MD, The Common Sense Family Doctor
Kenny Lin, MD, The Common Sense Family Doctor

Last month, the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation’s Choosing Wisely Initiative announced the release of a second round of lists of 5 things that physicians and patients should question, based on evidence that certain tests or procedures are not beneficial in specific clinical situations. American Family Physician will soon be updating its list of primary care-relevant items from the Choosing Wisely campaign, and its Facebook and Twitter accounts will highlight old and new entries daily over the next few months. This AAFP News Now article provides more information about the American Academy of Family Physicians’ most recent items, which include elective labor inductions and unnecessary cervical cancer screenings.

Notably absent from the lists of the primary care specialty societies and the American Urological Association is routine prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing, which both the Cochrane Collaboration and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force have concluded does not improve men’s health outcomes. Even though the American Cancer Society and the AUA still support selective use of the PSA test in older men who have been adequately informed of its potential harms, no medical group supports the still-common practice of ordering PSA screening without first discussing it with the patient.

Another curious omission from the top 5 lists of cardiology and thoracic surgery organizations is angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery for stable coronary artery disease, which are frequently performed in the U.S. but have no clinical advantages over initial medical management.

From a population health perspective, curtailing prostate cancer overdiagnosis and unnecessary cardiac interventions would be worthy goals to add to a “don’t do” list that collectively includes more than one hundred items. Instead, these omissions say quite a bit about the persistence of perverse financial and medicolegal incentives in primary and subspecialty medicine. After all, no one ever sued a doctor for diagnosing cancer (even if it didn’t need to be diagnosed) or placing a stent in a partially occluded coronary artery (even if it didn’t need to be placed), and insurers rarely (if ever) decline to pay for these wasteful tests and procedures.


A shortened version of the above post first appeared on the AFP Community Blog.

Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the founder and host of The Doctor Weighs In. She is also the CEO of Health Tech Hatch, the sister site of TDWI that helps innovators tell their stories to the world. She is also a physician executive who has worked in all aspects of healthcare including practicing emergency physician, health plan executive, consultant to employers, CMS, and other organizations. She is a Board Certified Internist and Emergency Physician who loves to write about just about anything that has to do with healthcare.


  1. I wonder if anyone has done a study of how useful the PSA would be if a significantly higher cutoff for ‘positive’ were used. It was my observation as a pathologist (now retired) for many years that the problem with the PSA was that defensive medicine led to biopsies for marginally positive PSA levels. If the cutoff were raised to, say over 10 or higher, the predictive value might rise. Just talking off the top of my head as I have not researched this.