Stroke screening does more harm than good: Chief Medical Officer

A stroke charity accused of frightening people into having potentially unnecessary scans of their arteries is being investigated by the Commonwealth's Chief Medical Officer.

After Fairfax Media revealed concerns that Strokecheck was targeting people without symptoms of disease and billing Medicare for controversial tests, Health Minister Greg Hunt said he had asked Professor Brendan Murphy to look into doctors' fears about the group.

Mr Hunt said if "something's unnecessary, or something's not up to standard, then we'll take real action and do it urgently".

Professor Murphy said the health department does not support ultrasound screening of patients without symptoms of narrowed arteries, a condition that puts people at risk of stroke.

"There is evidence that such mass screening does more harm than good," he said.

"Ultrasound of carotid and other arteries does have a role in patients who have symptoms related to cerebrovascular disease but has no role in population screening."

Last week, vascular surgeons, the Australian Medical Association, and the Stroke Foundation warned people to avoid Strokecheck - a group Amcal says is paying 300 of its pharmacies to host consultations with patients.

The group has also been partnering with workplaces such as universities, gyms, and retirement villages to see if people want to talk to a GP about their risk of stroke, and depending on their risk, have an ultrasound.

President of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Vascular Surgery, Dr Bernard Bourke said patients may be so alarmed by receiving positive, and often inaccurate, findings they could seek potentially dangerous interventions, such as surgery they didn't need.

???"These ultrasound examinations should be performed by skilled vascular sonographers or in association with vascular specialists or radiologists in accredited practices," he said.

Strokecheck maintains its ultrasounds are performed by unnamed external providers, and says that Strokecheck does not bill Medicare for any of its services.

Betty Kelly, 84, was worried after a Strokecheck consultation and ultrasound at her Frankston South retirement village last month.

She handed over her Medicare number, told a doctor about her blood pressure and medications and then had an ultrasound of her neck, abdomen and ankle, she said.

"He said have you got a good GP?' and I said yes, and he said 'you should go see him within a week," Ms Kelly said.

"I thought ??? oh no something's wrong."

It was nearly a month before she received her results, an emailed report signed by a NSW radiologist with a string of conditions on his registration due to past issues with the quality of his reporting.

Panicked after the consultation, Ms Kelly had gone to see her vascular surgeon, who was already monitoring her arteries and blood pressure, she said.

"He thought it was an unnecessary thing that I'd done," Ms Kelly said.

"I feel its a rip-off of we the people, we the people are paying for it."

A Strokecheck spokeswoman said Medicare numbers were collected "for identification purposes" and not to bill Medicare.

She said it was "unlikely" Ms Kelly would have been sent for an ultrasound if the Strokecheck doctor knew she was already seeing a specialist.

People speaking on Strokecheck's behalf have provided conflicting comments about the group's activities over the past two weeks.

On one occasion, a spokeswoman said it bulk-billed Medicare but later a lawyer representing the group said it did not.

Strokecheck is not registered as a diagnostic imaging provider, which means it cannot bill Medicare for tests.

But a company called Your Ultrasound can. Your Ultrasound is a business registered to the same South Australian home as one of Strokecheck's directors, David Boon, 24, company records show.

A spokeswoman for Strokecheck said the charity "does not provide ultrasound service," and denied any business relationship with Your Ultrasound.

A Health Department spokeswoman would not say whether Medicare was investigating Strokecheck.

This story Stroke screening does more harm than good: Chief Medical Officer first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.