Choosing Wisely – what health care do I need?

The complexity of health care

Australians are fortunate to have access to excellent health professionals, services and treatments. We expect that when something changes in our health, it will be properly investigated and the right treatment recommended. However, with tests, treatments and procedures becoming more complex, and changing technology and research improving practice at a rapid rate, the challenge for practitioners is to determine what will add value to the health of the individual – not detract from it.

Unnecessary practices can lead to more invasive and frequent investigations that might increase the risk of harm, emotional stress or financial cost. The Choosing Wisely Australia campaign aims to help health professionals and consumers, that’s you, to navigate this challenging and complex system.

Choosing Wisely Australia

In 2015 NPS MedicineWise launched Choosing Wisely Australia, a worldwide initiative that aims to enable clinicians, consumers and health care stakeholders to start important conversations about tests, treatments and procedures where evidence shows they provide no benefit, or in some cases, lead to harm.

For patients

Choosing Wisely is committed to educating and encouraging each of us to be an active participant in our own health care.

One way this is done is by providing easy to read, evidence-based information on a variety of different topics. The topics range from different types of tests like medical imaging and blood tests, to condition specific information on topics, such as back pain and diabetes.

Another way is by encouraging us to ask questions, to make sure we end up with the right amount of care, not too much and not too little. Effective communication between patients and their health care professionals is essential to make sure everyone receives the care that is most appropriate for them.

For clinicians

Choosing Wisely has encouraged Australia's peak colleges, societies and associations to create a list of recommendations that health care providers and consumers should question. Each of the 200+ recommendations are based on the best available evidence. From not prescribing antibiotics for the common cold to avoiding arthroscopy for some types of knee pain, the breadth of recommendations is extensive and freely available for health professionals to access.

Five questions to ask your doctor

When your doctor asks “Do you have any questions?”, surprise them with your preparation by asking these five simple questions.

1. Do I really need this test, treatment or procedure?

Tests may help you and your doctor or other health care provider determine the problem. Treatments, such as medicines, and procedures may help to treat it.

2. What are the risks?

Will there be side effects to the test or treatment? What are the chances of getting results that aren’t accurate? Could that lead to more testing, additional treatments or another procedure?

3. Are there simpler, safer options?

Are there alternative options to treatment that could work? Lifestyle changes, such as eating healthier foods or exercising more, can be safe and effective options.

4. What happens if I don't do anything?

Ask if your condition might get worse, or better, if you don’t have the test, treatment or procedure right away.

5. What are the costs?

Costs can be financial, emotional or a cost of your time. Where there is a cost to the community, is the cost reasonable or is there a cheaper alternative?

Print out a wallet sized card so these questions are always on hand.

When less is sometimes more

As a consumer it can be hard to imagine that doing nothing can sometimes be better than doing something, but, when our confidence in the advice we receive is high, a better result is possible. So next time you go to your GP, or other health professional, take the time to be prepared. Research your condition or treatment options with high quality, up to date information on reputable websites like:

 And ask the five questions. You never know where the conversation might take you.