KARE 11 criticized for hosting "potentially harmful" health screenings at State Fair

Schwitzer (left) doesn't think the benefits of KARE-promoted health screenings are worth the potential cost.
Schwitzer (left) doesn't think the benefits of KARE-promoted health screenings are worth the potential cost.

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Think there's no harm in swinging by the KARE 11 booth while you're at the State Fair for a quick bone density scan? Health care journalist Gary Schwitzer and a new paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine urge you to think again.

Last year, Schwitzer criticized KARE for co-sponsoring a prostate cancer screening campaign. Now, he's taking the station to task for hosting a variety of health screenings in the Health Fair 11 building at the State Fair.

From KARE's site, here's some info about the Health Fair event:

Health Fair 11 at the Fair celebrates its twelfth year of providing free or low-cost health screenings and information to people attending the Minnesota State Fair. Each year, fairgoers flock to the Health Fair 11 building to take advantage of great health-related offerings for people of all ages. Since 2001, more than 553,000 health screenings have been documented at Health Fair 11 at the Fair.

When you Know Your Numbers you can gain insight into your overall health. This year, Health Fair 11 building visitors will find blood pressure checks, diabetes screenings, bone density and body mass measurements, hearing and vision assessments, blood typing, and concussion recovery exercises. Fairgoers can step on the official weight scale, pick up information on food allergies and celiac disease, and have children tested for lead exposure.

But some doctors don't believe those health screenings are all they're cracked up to be. From a brand new academic paper written by Erik A. Wallace, MD; John H. Schumann, MD; and Steven E. Weinberger, MD:

"Particular concerns about "the use of ultrasonography (for example, ultrasonography of the carotid arteries to assess for plaques and stenosis, ultrasonography of the heel to assess for osteoporosis, and echocardiography) in the direct-to-consumer screening market as a driver of expensive and unnecessary care...

When screenings are provided in a church and sponsored by a trusted medical organization, consumers may have a false sense of trust in the quality and appropriateness of services provided. Consumers are generally unaware of the potential harms of screening.

Because of a lack of counseling by these companies about the potential risks of an "abnormal" test result, the consumer is initially unaware that this may open a Pandora's box of referrals and additional testing to monitor or treat these abnormal findings. Our medical system and society bear the cost of poor coordination of care and additional testing and treatment to follow up on unnecessary "abnormal" screening test results. That most of these tests are not medically indicated in the first place is left undisclosed to the consumer, nor is there a discussion of potential adverse consequences or additional costs.

Judicious and appropriate use of preventive services can certainly improve the health of our population and lower overall health care costs. However, misuse of preventive services, under the guise of saving lives and saving costs, may actually lead to increased cost and harm due to unnecessary follow-up testing and treatment with associated avoidable complications. We suggest that medical entities and physicians withdraw from the unethical business of promoting unproven and potentially harmful screening tests.

On his website, Schwitzer writes: "[KARE] promotes this as 'Know Your Numbers.' Maybe they should know the evidence (or lack thereof) for some of what they're promoting."

-- Hat-tip: David Brauer

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