Analysis of current thyroid function test ordering practices

Joseph K. Kluesner*, Darrick J. Beckman, Joshua M. Tate, Alexis A. Beauvais, Maria I. Kravchenko, Jana L. Wardian, Sky D. Graybill, Jeffrey A. Colburn, Irene Folaron, Mark W. True

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Rationale: Current guidelines recommend thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) alone as the best test to detect and monitor thyroid dysfunction, yet free thyroxine (FT4) and free triiodothyronine (FT3) are commonly ordered when not clinically indicated. Excessive testing can lead to added economic burden in an era of rising healthcare costs, while rarely contributing to the evaluation or management of thyroid disease. Objective: To evaluate our institution's practice in ordering thyroid function tests (TFTs) and to identify strategies to reduce inappropriate FT4 and FT3 testing. Methods: A record of all TFTs obtained in the San Antonio Military Health System during a 3-month period was extracted from the electronic medical record. The TFTs of interest were TSH, FT4, thyroid panel (TSH + FT4), FT3, total thyroxine (T4), and total triiodothyronine (T3). These were categorized based on the presence or absence of hypothyroidism. Results: Between August 1 and October 31, 2016, there were 38 214 individual TFTs ordered via 28 597 total laboratory requests; 11 486 of these requests were in patients with a history of hypothyroidism. The number (percent) of laboratory requests fell into these patterns: TSH alone 14 919 (52.14%), TSH + FT4 7641 (26.72%), FT3 alone 3039 (10.63%), FT4 alone 1219 (4.26%), TSH + FT4 + FT3 783 (2.74%), and others 996 (3.48%); 36.0% of TFTs ordered were free thyroid hormones. Projected out to a year, using Department of Defense laboratory costs, $317 429 worth of TFTs would be ordered, with free thyroid hormone testing accounting for $107 720. Conclusion: Inappropriate ordering of free thyroid hormone tests is common. In an era of rising healthcare costs, inappropriate thyroid function testing is an ideal target for efforts to reduce laboratory overutilization, which in our system, could save up to $120 000 per year. Further evaluation is needed to determine strategies that can reduce excessive thyroid hormone testing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-352
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • laboratory utilization
  • resource stewardship
  • thyroid function test


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