About €300,000 spent on ‘unnecessary’ vitamin D tests, study finds

Young people who are most likely to have deficiency not being monitored enough

More than €300,000 was spent on “unnecessary” repeat tests for vitamin D deficiency in patients in Dublin over a period of five years, according to new research.

The study by researchers at Trinity College also found that those who are most at risk of vitamin D deficiency are least likely to have their levels monitored and be given follow-up tests.

Some €61,976 per year was spent on “inappropriate” vitamin D retesting from 2014-2018, equating to €309,880 over the five years, the study found.

A test costs €40 on average. Medical card holders can avail of it free while others would have to pay privately for it.

The study analysed testing of 36,458 patients at St James’s Hospital in Dublin. All tests were requested by GPs.

An overhaul of the current vitamin D testing regime is needed, according to the research.

Vitamin D is linked to good bone health, the immune system, and has been shown to help fight off the Covid-19 virus.

Due to increased awareness of the vitamin’s properties, there has been a surge in the number of people requesting a vitamin D test in Ireland, putting increased pressure on healthcare systems, the researchers said.

However, the study claims that the right people are not being tested at the right time.

Young adults aged 18-39 years, who are more likely to be deficient in the vitamin, are less likely to have their levels monitored or rechecked by GPs, according to the study.

One in four patients who were analysed as part of the study had their vitamin D retested.

One in 10 of these tests were requested earlier than recommended, and one third of retests were done too frequently.

More than half of these retests were carried out on patients who had adequate vitamin D levels, which incurred significant costs.

Women were also more likely to have repeat tests, yet they were less likely to be deficient than men.

The research also discovered that levels of vitamin D deficiency fell considerably between initial and repeat tests, however, 23 per cent of patients still remained deficient after two or more retests.

It is hoped that the research will inform new guidelines for GPs on vitamin D retesting.

The Trinity researchers suggest that retesting should be aimed at patients with metabolic bone disorders, and that retests should be limited to one every three months, and no more than two retests should be conducted per year.

“Those who are at most risk of vitamin D deficiency are not being assessed, leading to misdirection of resources from those who need it most,” said Helena Scully, lead author of the study.

“Clear guidelines on who should have their vitamin D retested and when are needed to better identify deficiency in the population.

“Instead of going to their GP and requesting multiple vitamin D tests, the public should focus on getting enough vitamin D, via their diets [by eating] oily fish, egg yolk, fortified dairy products, and by taking a vitamin D supplement of 10µg per day for those age 5-65 years.”

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine.