Inappropriate repeats of six common tests in a Canadian city: a population cohort study within a laboratory informatics framework

Am J Clin Pathol. 2015 Nov;144(5):704-12. doi: 10.1309/AJCPYXDAUS2F8XJY.


Objectives: To identify inappropriate repeats of six common laboratory tests in a population sample of patients, using highly specific criteria based only on repeat time and test value.

Methods: We used a laboratory informatics database to conduct a retrospective cohort study using a population sample of 103,000 patients in the city of Calgary with an index test in 2010 and uniform follow-up of 1 year. We examined six tests (cholesterol, hemoglobin A1c, thyroid-stimulating hormone, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and ferritin) with consensus-based or easily justified criteria for inappropriate repeats based solely on time to repeat and the index test value.

Results: The percentages of tests repeated at 3, 6, and 12 months were 11%, 23%, and 41%, respectively. In total, 16% of these six tests were inappropriately repeated, representing an annual internal cost of $0.6 to $2.2 million Canadian dollars and corresponding to population-scaled national estimates for Canada and the United States of $160 million and $2.4 billion, respectively.

Conclusions: Objective definitions based on repeated testing identified 16% of six studied tests as inappropriate, delineating a subset of inappropriate testing that is well suited to automated identification and intervention and that provides a likely lower bound on the true burden of inappropriate testing.

Keywords: Cholesterol; Ferritin; HbA1c; Inappropriate testing; Laboratory utilization; Repeated testing; TSH; Vitamin B12; Vitamin D.

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Databases, Factual
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine / economics*
  • Humans
  • Laboratories, Hospital / economics*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Unnecessary Procedures / economics*