How Your Doctor Chooses Tests

Tests are critical to diagnosing and evaluating cardiovascular disease (CVD) and the progress being made from treatment. They deliver data to your doctor that can confirm the presence or extent of the disease. They can suggest a course of action based on professional guidelines for your doctor’s practice area. In that regard, they are part of the science of medicine. But they also factor into the art of medicine as well. Your doctor will use experience, training, education, and professional guidelines to determine which tests to order and what those tests mean for treatment. Your doctor’s professional judgment is as important as the tests themselves.

If you have any questions or concerns about a test a doctor has recommended, ask your treating doctor or practitioner. 

Most cardiac tests carry minimal risk, but risks versus benefits vary by test type. Remember, as the patient, you are also a part of your care decisions. Before you undergo certain types of tests (such as magnetic resonance imaging [MRA] or computed tomography [CT] scan), you’ll be advised of the risks and benefits of the test. You will be asked to sign a form giving your informed consent. Ultimately, the goal of testing will be to guide treatment that can be lifesaving or improve quality of life.

Here are some common reasons your doctor may recommend CVD testing:

  • You have symptoms that suggest CVD
  • You have risk factors for CVD
  • You’re about to undergo surgery and may be at risk for complications
  • You’re being treated for CVD, and the doctors want to verify that the treatment is working

The science of medical testing

Medical professionals within cardiovascular medicine are guided by standards in the field called appropriate use criteria, which describe best practices for conducting tests and performing procedures. Appropriate use criteria are detailed recommendations that are developed and reviewed by the world’s leading experts in the field and published by medical societies such as the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions (SCAI), the American College of Cardiology (ACC), and the American Heart Association (AHA), among others.

The art of medical testing

Sometimes, a test may not provide a complete picture of a patient’s cardiovascular health. That’s where a doctor’s experience is vitally important. Consider the following case study:

While stress tests are a good diagnostic tool, they’re not 100% accurate. In this case, the doctor’s expertise in considering factors beyond the stress test helped identify disease in Cynthia that could’ve been missed. Ultimately, the thinking behind which tests to order is just as important as the tests themselves.

If you have questions about certain tests and procedures

If you have questions about a certain test or procedure, be sure to ask your doctor any questions you may have. Any time you have health questions, the conversations you have with your doctor are the key to successful results. A good starting point is to review these questions to ask about cardiovascular tests and procedures.