Choosing Wisely Alberta aims to reduce unnecessary medical tests and treatments

Choosing Wisely Alberta is working with the Alberta Medical Association to reduce the number of unnecessary treatments and procedures in hospitals and medical offices across the province.

Physician-led group targeting unwarranted diagnostic testing for headaches and vitamin D deficiency

A patient prepares to undergo a MRI. (Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images)

A man trying to to deadlift too much weight, soap suds spilling out of a washing machine and a hotdog swimming in mustard.

Those are the images plastered on posters for the More Is Not Always Better campaign created by Choosing Wisely Canada.

The group, which is led and funded by the Canadian Medical Association, has partnered with dozens of physician-led organizations across the country — including the Alberta Medical Association.

A poster made for the More Is Not Always Better campaign. (Choosing Wisely Canada.)

Their goal is to educate patients and the medical community about unnecessary diagnostic tests.

"We do have to make sure that we're not being overly automatic and always ordering tests, investigations, procedures and treatments," said Dr. Lara Cooke, a Calgary-based neurologist and member of the steering committee for Choosing Wisely Alberta.

"Because there are many circumstances where they're really not warranted."

'Test don't always make us feel better'

According to the Choosing Wisely Canada website, "as much as 30 per cent of healthcare in Canada is unnecessary."

Cooke said the national organization has identified more than 160 medical tests, treatments and procedures that both doctors and patients should be questioning.

Dr. Lara Cooke is a neurologist and on the steering committe for Choosing Wisely Alberta. (University of Calgary)

"Tests don't actually always make us feel better."

She said the Alberta branch of Choosing Wisely Canada is targeting routine testing for vitamin D deficiency in adults and imaging for minor head trauma, low back pain and chronic headaches.

If there are "no red flags," Cooke says those tests "don't actually offer value" and "potentially expose patients to harm."

"There's very good evidence in medical and scientific literature already about when these tests are recommended and when they shouldn't be." she said.

"What we should be doing is having a good conversation with our patients and patients should feel free to say, 'You know, do I really need this?' To make sure we're making the right choice, for the right patient at the right time."

Embedding knowledge

Along with providing doctors with campaign posters and videos, Choosing Wisely Alberta is working to get information about this issue into the hands of patients.

"We're really focusing on embedding this into local practice," said the group's spokesperson, Eileen Patterson.

She says physicians now have better access to a series of pamphlets that explain when it does and doesn't make sense to order tests or perform treatments and procedures.

"When they are speaking a patient on one of the key topics they can print out the relevant pamphlet which supports the key messages." 

Patterson says all the information is also available through the Choosing Wisely Canada app, which anyone can download for free to their smartphone. 

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?