When we go to the doctor for a checkup, the doctor usually runs a full panel of tests just to cover all bases, even if they aren't needed. A new study out of Johns Hopkins Hospital indicates that when doctors saw the price of the tests before ordering them, they either ordered fewer tests or chose less expensive alternatives.

The study found that when doctors were presented with the cost of individual tests they ordered nine percent fewer tests than they would have otherwise. The invisible cost of tests to both doctors and patients contributes significantly to the soaring cost of healthcare in the United States.

"We generally don't make decisions based on what is cost-effective or what is known to be absolutely necessary for our patients, but knowing the cost of things appears to make us more thoughtful about what we think might be best for their health," said Leonard S. Feldman, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in a press release. "There's a lot of waste in medicine because we don't have a sense of the costs of much of what we do."

To perform the study, 61 laboratory blood tests were identified as the most frequently requested and prices were attached to half of the tests over a six-month period. Over the course of the study, Johns Hopkins Hospital saved hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless of man-hours spend on running the lab tests.

"It's like getting practitioners to switch from a $3.50-a-day latte habit to a cheaper $1-a-day cup of regular coffee," says Daniel J. Brotman, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study's senior author.

The researchers compared the expenditures on tests during the six-month period that had prices next to the test and a year earlier when there were no prices presented. There was a nearly nine percent decrease in tests performed when prices were presented and when no price was given, they saw a six percent increase in test requests. The total savings was over $400,000 for the six-month period with no discernible reduction in patient care.

"Our study offers evidence that presenting providers with associated test fees as they order is a simple and unobtrusive way to alter behavior," Feldman says. "In the end, we ordered fewer tests, saved money and saved patients from extra needle sticks without any negative outcomes."

The research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine and can be found here.