Choosing wisely: prevalence and correlates of low-value health care services in the United States

J Gen Intern Med. 2015 Feb;30(2):221-8. doi: 10.1007/s11606-014-3070-z. Epub 2014 Nov 6.


Background: Specialty societies in the United States identified low-value tests and procedures that contribute to waste and poor health care quality via implementation of the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation's Choosing Wisely initiative.

Objective: To develop claims-based algorithms, to use them to estimate the prevalence of select Choosing Wisely services and to examine the demographic, health and health care system correlates of low-value care at a regional level.

Design: Using Medicare data from 2006 to 2011, we created claims-based algorithms to measure the prevalence of 11 Choosing Wisely-identified low-value services and examined geographic variation across hospital referral regions (HRRs). We created a composite low-value care score for each HRR and used linear regression to identify regional characteristics associated with more intense use of low-value services.

Patients: Fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries over age 65.

Main measures: Prevalence of selected Choosing Wisely low-value services.

Key results: The national average annual prevalence of the selected Choosing Wisely low-value services ranged from 1.2% (upper urinary tract imaging in men with benign prostatic hyperplasia) to 46.5% (preoperative cardiac testing for low-risk, non-cardiac procedures). Prevalence across HRRs varied significantly. Regional characteristics associated with higher use of low-value services included greater overall per capita spending, a higher specialist to primary care ratio and higher proportion of minority beneficiaries.

Conclusions: Identifying and measuring low-value health services is a prerequisite for improving quality and eliminating waste. Our findings suggest that the delivery of wasteful and potentially harmful services may be a fruitful area for further research and policy intervention for HRRs with higher per-capita spending. These findings should inform action by physicians, health systems, policymakers, payers and consumer educators to improve the value of health care by targeting services and areas with greater use of potentially inappropriate care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Delivery of Health Care / economics*
  • Delivery of Health Care / standards
  • Fee-for-Service Plans / economics*
  • Fee-for-Service Plans / standards
  • Female
  • Health Expenditures / standards
  • Health Services / economics*
  • Health Services / standards
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicare / economics*
  • Medicare / standards
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology