Unnecessary medical testing, says Dr. Eugene Robin, is common. He gives this example.

A woman of 74 was hospitalized for fever and weakness. Her chest X-ray showed a possible infection. When other studies failed to show the cause, an open-lung biopsy was ordered. This meant opening her chest, in itself far from a risk-free operation, and removing a bit of lung tissue.

Before the operation was performed, she began improving spontaneously. Despite this, the operation was done, anyway. It did reveal an infection, "but one for which there is no satisfactory treatment -- cytomegalovirus infection. Spontaneous recovery is the rule."

The patient, happily, continued to recover. The case was then presented at a teaching conference "of a famous hospital" as an example of the value of lung biopsies, though in actuality "the biopsy [had proved] useless from the standpoint of providing treatment . . . as there is no specific treatment available for her disease."

Dr. Robin concludes: "Whether this patient should ever have been scheduled for a lung biopsy is perhaps debatable. To have performed it when she was improving is almost inconceivable. After all, operations are not like Broadway plays; the show does not have to go on! To use her example as a general justification for performing lung biopsies is a mockery of patient care."