Clinical practice guidelines discourage routine preoperative screening tests for patients undergoing low-risk procedures. This study sought to determine the frequency and costs of potentially low-value preoperative screening tests in Veterans Health Administration (VA) patients undergoing low-risk procedures.
Using the VA Corporate Data Warehouse, we identified Operative Stress Score class 1 procedures (“very minor”) performed without general anesthesia in VA during fiscal year 2019 and calculated the overall national and facility-level rates and costs of nine common tests received in the 30 preoperative days. Patient factors associated with receiving at least one screening test, and the number of tests received, were examined.
Eighty-six thousand three hundred twenty-seven of 178,775 low-risk procedures (49.3%) were preceded by 321,917 potentially low-value screening tests representing $11,505,170 using Medicare average costs. Complete blood count was the most common (33.2% of procedures), followed by basic metabolic profile (32.0%), urinalysis (26.3%), electrocardiography (18.9%), and pulmonary function test (12.4%). Older age, female sex, Black race, and having more comorbidities were associated with higher odds of low-value testing. Transthoracic echocardiogram occurred prior to only 4.5% of the procedures but accounted for 47.8% of the total costs ($5,499,860). In 129 VA facilities, the facility-level proportion of procedures preceded by at least one test ranged from 0 to 81.2% and facility-level costs ranged from $0 to $388,476.
Routine preoperative screening tests for very low-risk procedures are common and costly in some VA facilities. These results highlight a potential target to improve quality and value by reducing unnecessary care. Measures of low-value perioperative care could be integrated into VA’s extensive quality monitoring and improvement infrastructure.