The Importance of Diagnostic Procedures

The Importance of Diagnostic Procedures

by Stephanie Meadows

Diagnostic tests improve patient care, contribute to the protection of consumer health, and help to limit healthcare spending by finding potential problems sooner. For the purposes of diagnosing, monitoring, screening and prognosis, diagnostic tests are essential at every step.

  • Diagnosis is the process of finding out if a patient has a specific disease. A medical professional prescribes a test to better make a diagnosis or to exclude possible illness. For some diseases, it is not only important to know what the nature of the disease is, but also the degree of development. Likewise, diagnostic tests also allow doctors to assess whether the chosen treatment is effective in stopping the progression of the disease, a method that has already been commonly used in the treatment of cancer.
  •  Monitoring intends to see if the disease is controlled, a purpose that is very common in chronic diseases such as diabetes. Chronic diseases cannot be cured, but patients can avoid getting worse through the use of medications, hormones, or lifestyle changes. Monitoring allows for the control of such diseases, able to see if there is a decrease or increase in disease, which will in turn dictate treatment options.
  • Screening consists of studying patients who do not yet present any signs or symptoms of a specific illness in order to find out if it has begun to quietly develop, and if so, to be able to apply treatment as soon as possible. These tests are sometimes applied to large segments of the population, and should therefore be simple and cheap. Their primary purpose is not so much diagnosing a disease, but rather identifying those people that may have it.
  • Prognosis allows clinicians to assess the likelihood a patient has for developing a disease in the future, and can therefore take precautions earlier rather than later. Genetic tests, for example, analyze a patient’s predisposition for developing a disease, allowing the patient and doctor to be more attentive to discovering early signs of the disease and to take preventive measures as needed.

Beyond these purposes of diagnostic tests, it’s important to know that they are not meant to treat patients or cure illnesses, but are an integral step toward both.  Some testing does not even involve direct contact with the patient, as they only need a sample from the patient to produce results. The impact of these results on healthcare decisions is significant and vital, though it also relies on a medical professional’s accurate interpretation of the findings, their judgment and appropriate choice of treatment.