Medical tests

What are medical tests and why are they useful?

Medical tests are a range of checks and procedures used to:

  • screen for possible illness
  • diagnose the likely cause of symptoms
  • monitor health conditions or the effects of treatment.

Medical tests include pathology tests, such as blood and urine tests, and a range of imaging tests like X-rays, computed tomography (CT scans), ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Is a medical test the best option?

Deciding whether a medical test is the best option involves weighing up several factors, especially the benefits and risks for your individual situation. For example:

  • how likely it is that you have a problem or medical condition
  • the test's accuracy (including false positives and false negatives)
  • any possible harms of doing the test
  • the impact of uncertain or inconclusive results.

For health professionals, medical tests are an important part of medical practice. However, the wrong test may actually do more harm than good.

Quality use of medical tests means choosing the right test for the patient and using it at the right time. NPS MedicineWise has compiled some of the latest evidence on medical tests commonly used in primary care.

Read more about medical tests and tests for some common conditions.

Understanding medical tests Understanding medical tests

Information to help you make an informed decision, in partnership with your health professional, about medical tests, including questions to consider, how to weigh up your options, and understanding the relevance of your medical history.

Pathology tests Pathology tests

Quality use of pathology tests means choosing the right test at the right time. Find out more about the best use of pathology tests in clinical practice.

Medical imaging Medical imaging

Medical imaging tests such as X-ray, CT scans, MRI and ultrasound provide a range of options. Find out more about these types of imaging (radiology), when they are used and their benefits and risks — including for children.

Acknowledgement

NPS acknowledges the in-depth and broad consumer information available from Lab Tests Online, Inside Radiology and Diagnostic Imaging Pathways, and has referred to these sites throughout the development of our medical test pages.