Which tests make a difference? Messages for GPs

23 May 2013

NPS MedicineWise is launching a new educational program on preventive activities in general practice.

The program, which primarily focuses on healthy people aged 40 – 49, builds on the work NPS MedicineWise has undertaken in the area of medical tests since 2009, and marks its first educational visiting program in this area.

NPS MedicineWise clinical adviser Dr Andrew Boyden says that the program acknowledges there is complexity in deciding which tests are appropriate.

“There is a great opportunity to identify people who are at increased risk of developing chronic conditions and give them the opportunity to make lifestyle changes that will benefit them into the future,” says Dr Boyden.

“However tests are just one part of the story and are not infallible. Taking a good clinical history and physical examination and considering family history and lifestyle issues will best determine which patients are most likely to benefit from which tests.”

The new program encourages GPs to prioritise the use of evidence-based risk assessments and tests and avoid inappropriate testing that may cause more harm than good.

“Harm can be caused through overdiagnosis — for example a test may identify a condition that if left alone would not impact on a person’s health, but once identified could lead to further investigations and treatments with harmful side effects,” says Dr Boyden

“Helping patients understand the risks and benefits of tests inrelation to their individual health needs will help them to make informed decisions in partnership with their doctor.”

The latest edition of Medicinewise News, “Testing times: Which tests are best for assessing risk in preventive health care?” will be distributed to over 78,000 health professionals around Australia from Friday 24 May. It explores why some tests are recommended for cancer screening by comparing the evidence for two common tests: the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test for prostate cancer and the faecal occult blood test for colorectal cancer.

A new online information hub on the NPS MedicineWise website (live 24 May) also provides a more detailed appraisal of the latest evidence on a range of tests used during preventive activities.

“General practice has the opportunity to make a difference through targeted  preventive health activities which include appropriate testing,” says Dr Boyden.

“While lipid testing as part of an absolute cardiovascular disease risk assessment, and Pap testing for cervical cancer are both supported by evidence; PSA, thyroid function and vitamin D testing are not well supported as routine tests in healthy people with no symptoms or risk factors.”

This program aims to align with national guidelines, particularly the RACGP Red Book, and was developed with input from a wide range of experts including GPs and pathologists.  The program also recognises the importance of ensuring that vulnerable people including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are identified and covered through preventive activities in general practice and community care.

GPs who would like to receive an educational visit should register interest by emailing their contact details to customerservice@nps.org.au.

For more information, and to read more about the evidence behind a range of tests, including PSA, vitamin D, thyroid, diabetes risk assessment and the absolute CVD risk assessment, visit the new online information hub, available from 24 May, at www.nps.org.au/preventive-health.


Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

Media enquiries: Stephanie Childs on 02 8217 8667, 0419 618 365 or schilds@nps.org.au or Erin Jardine on (02) 8217 8733 or ejardine@nps.org.au