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MANY DOCTORS DON'T KNOW THE COST OF TESTS THEY ORDER

Doctors wouldn't order so many diagnostic tests for office patients if they knew how much they cost, a study conducted in Indianapolis indicates.

Patients saved an average of $7 per visit when seeing a doctor who was so informed, according to the study reported in the May 24 New England Journal of Medicine.The study, which involved 121 physicians, was conducted in a primary care clinic where tests were ordered at computer work stations. Half the doctors saw a computer display of the price of the tests they were ordering, while the other half didn't.

During the 26 weeks of the study, the doctors who knew the prices ordered 14 percent fewer tests per patient visit.

After the study was stopped and the computer screens no longer showed the prices, the doctors who had reduced the number of tests they ordered went right back to their old ways. When asked for estimates of the costs of the tests they ordered, doctors showed they had not the slightest notion.