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Psychologically Mediated Effects of Diagnostic Tests

HAROLD C. SOX Jr, M.D.; IRIS MARGULIES; and CAROL HILL SOX, M.S.
[+] Article and Author Information

Grant support: Contract no. V101(134)P-208 between Stanford University and the Veterans Administration; and a research grant from the Health Services Research and Development Service, Veterans Administration.

▸Requests for reprints should be addressed to Harold C. Sox, Jr., M.D.; (11-C) Veterans Administration Medical Center; 3801 Miranda Avenue; Palo Alto, CA 94304.


Palo Alto, California


© 1981 American College of PhysiciansAmerican College of Physicians


Ann Intern Med. 1981;95(6):680-685. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-95-6-680
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Laboratory tests are purported to affect patients even if they have no diagnostic value. We tested this hypothesis by measuring clinical outcomes of 176 patients thought clinically to have nonspecific chest pain. They were randomly allocated either to have a routine electrocardiogram and serum creatine phosphokinase test (test group) or to have all diagnostic tests withheld (no-test group). Fewer patients in the test group (20%) reported short-term disability after the index visit than patients in the no-test group (46%) (p = 0.001). Logistic discriminant analysis confirmed that the use of diagnostic tests was an independent predictor of recovery. Patients in the test group felt that care was "better than usual" more often (57%) than patients in the no-test group (31%) (p = 0.001). After the index visit, the two groups were equally worried about serious disease and equally sparing in their use of other medical care for chest pain.

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