Expectations in healthcare testing: A sociological study

Australians have high expectations of tests in healthcare. But are they higher than warranted? And are they impacting on healthcare expenditure? While many people undoubtedly benefit from early diagnosis through testing, research shows that some tests may lead to unnecessary and costly, if not harmful, treatment. Critically, the role of tests is often not straightforward; while they might lead directly to treatment, they might also prompt a cascade of further—and potentially unwarranted—tests. Notwithstanding these issues, Australia’s overall use of diagnostic imaging and tests has increased significantly in recent years, which is contributing to rapidly rising healthcare costs. Despite this growth, we know little about the sociocultural factors that underpin this use. In particular, we have limited understanding of the factors shaping the optimistic expectations for particular tests and for testing in general in healthcare.

Responding to these gaps in knowledge, this project aims to understand the sociocultural processes underpinning optimism for the use of testing technologies in healthcare. The Australian national cancer screening programs and routine clinical practice will be used as case studies to determine the mechanisms by which optimistic expectations of healthcare testing emerge and function among different stakeholder communities. Insights from this study will ultimately help to inform the development of policies and strategies that ensure a cost-effective use of healthcare resources.

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