Physicians Say One-Fifth of Healthcare is Unnecessary

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Findings from a recent survey of US physicians show that most doctors believe one-fifth of healthcare treatments are unnecessary. Many responded that providers think “overtreatment” is normal due to patient expectations and malpractice fears.

2106 physicians registered with the American Medical Association online were polled for a paper entitled “Overtreatment in United States” that was published in Plos One journal. The main goal of the study was to learn about clinical perspectives on the topic of overtreatment. They were asked to answer the following questions:

In your specialty, what percent of overall care do you think is unnecessary?

Nationally, what do you think are the top reasons for overutilization of resources, if any?

In your opinion, what can decrease overutilization?

What do you think is the percentage of physicians who perform unnecessary procedures when they profit from them?

If physician compensation were to change to de-emphasize fee-for-service bonus pay, what do you think would be the impact on utilization and national healthcare costs?

Physicians reported that 20.6% of overall medical care was unnecessary, including 22% of prescription medications, 24.9% of tests and 11.1% of procedures. The most common cited reasons for overtreatment were fear of malpractice at (84.7%), patient pressure/request (59.0%), and difficulty accessing medical records (38.2%).

These findings show “a significant opportunity to reduce waste in health care,” according to those who penned the study. The authors suggest that one route to combating overtreatment is to introduce guidelines on the topic early on in the medical education curriculum.  

Estimates suggest that overtreatment accounts for $210 billion in health spending each year. It has been tied to patient harm as a result of medical complications that arise due to patients being administered medication they do not require. 47 million prescriptions for antibiotics are written each year that are deemed “unnecessary” yet many physicians write them due to patient expectations.

Interestingly, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported earlier this year that of the $3.2 TRILLION dollars the US spent on healthcare in 2015, the three most costly diseases were diabetes, heart disease, and back & neck pain — all highly preventable. Combined, they generate $277 billion in health spending, and are also typically treated with pharmaceuticals. While being given a prescription for meds may seem like a problem is being “taken care of” many sufferers struggle with these issues for their whole lives.

Chinese medicine doesn’t adhere to the idea of overtreatment. There are many diseases that can be avoided altogether if the patient remains pro-active in his or her health. Instead of waiting until it’s too late, and the only path to restoring your health is by drastic measures (drugs, surgery), take the time to consider what you can do to achieve optimal health today.

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