Importance: For healthy adults, routine testing during annual check-ups is considered low value and may trigger cascades of medical services of unclear benefit. It is unknown how often routine tests are performed during Medicare annual wellness visits (AWVs) or whether they are associated with cascades of care.
Objective: To estimate the prevalence of routine electrocardiograms (ECGs), urinalyses, and thyrotropin tests and of cascades (further tests, procedures, visits, hospitalizations, and new diagnoses) that might follow among healthy adults receiving AWVs.
Design, setting, and participants: Observational cohort study using fee-for-service Medicare claims data from beneficiaries aged 66 years and older who were continuously enrolled in fee-for-service Medicare between January 1, 2013, and March 31, 2015; received an AWV in 2014; had no test-relevant prior conditions; did not receive 1 of the 3 tests in the 6 months before the AWV; and had no test-relevant symptoms or conditions in the AWV testing period. Data were analyzed from February 13, 2019, to June 8, 2020.
Exposure: Receipt of a given test within 1 week before or after the AWV.
Main outcomes and measures: Prevalence of routine tests during AWVs and cascade-attributable event rates and associated spending in the 90 days following the AWV test period. Patient, clinician, and area-level characteristics associated with receiving routine tests were also assessed.
Results: Among 75 275 AWV recipients (mean [SD] age, 72.6 [6.1] years; 48 107 [63.9%] women), 18.6% (14 017) received at least 1 low-value test including an ECG (7.2% ), urinalysis (10.0% ), or thyrotropin test (8.7% ). Patients were more likely to receive a low-value test if they were younger (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.69 for ages 66-74 years vs ages ≥85 years [95% CI, 1.53-1.86]), White (aOR, 1.32 compared with Black [95% CI, 1.16-1.49]), lived in urban areas (aOR, 1.29 vs rural [95% CI, 1.15-1.46]), and lived in high-income areas (aOR, 1.26 for >400% of the federal poverty level vs <200% of the federal poverty level [95% CI, 1.16-1.37]). A total of 6.1 (95% CI, 4.8-7.5) cascade-attributable events per 100 beneficiaries occurred in the 90 days following routine ECGs and 5.4 (95% CI, 4.2-6.5) following urinalyses, with cascade-attributable cost per beneficiary of $9.62 (95% CI, $6.43-$12.80) and $7.46 (95% CI, $5.11-$9.81), respectively. No cascade-attributable events or costs were found to be associated with thyrotropin tests.
Conclusions and relevance: In this study, 19% of healthy Medicare beneficiaries received routine low-value ECGs, urinalyses, or thyrotropin tests during their AWVs, more often those who were younger, White, and lived in urban, high-income areas. ECGs and urinalyses were associated with cascades of modest but notable cost.