Background: Clinical laboratories are under pressure to increase value by improving test utilization. The clinical utility of reverse triiodothyronine (rT3) is controversial. A study was conducted to identify order patterns that might suggest inappropriate utilization of rT3.
Methods: All orders for thyroid tests placed over a period of one year at a national reference laboratory were reviewed. Order patterns by client (hospital) and by provider were analyzed. A Pareto analysis was conducted to determine the percentage of orders placed as a function of the percentage of providers. A systematic review of the indexed literature and an informal review of the web were conducted to identify indications for rT3 testing.
Results: There were 402,386 orders for 447,664 thyroid tests, including 91,767 orders for rT3. These orders were placed by 60,733 providers located at 1139 different organizations. Only 20% of providers who ordered thyroid tests placed an order for rT3. Of those who placed an order for rT3, 95% placed two orders or fewer for rT3. One hundred providers (0.1% of the 60,733 providers who placed orders for thyroid tests) accounted for 29.5% of the orders for rT3. Of the 100 providers, 60 with the highest order volumes for rT3 were classified as practitioners of functional medicine. A systematic review of Medline found little evidence to support the high volumes of orders for rT3. A survey of Web sites for functional medicine suggests that rT3 is useful for the diagnosis of rT3 dominance and can be used to direct triiodothyronine replacement therapy.
Conclusions: There is wide practice variation in rT3 testing. A high proportion of tests are ordered by a relatively small proportion of providers. There is little evidence to support high volumes of rT3 testing placed by some practitioners.
Keywords: practice variation; reverse triiodothyronine; thyroid testing; utilization.