Overtreated: More Medical Care isn't Always Better
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08 June 2010
More medical care won’t necessarily make you healthier –it may make you sicker. It’s an idea that technology–loving Americans find hard to believe.
Anywhere from one–fifth to nearly onethird of the tests and treatments we get are estimated to be unnecessary, and avoidable care is costly in more ways than the bill: It may lead to dangerous side effects.
It can start during birth, as some of the United States’ increasing C–sections are triggered by controversial fetal monitors that signal that a baby is in trouble when really everything’s fine. It extends to often futile intensive care at the end of the life. For example, Americans get the most medical radiation in the world, much of it from repeated CT scans. Too many scans increase the risk of cancer.
Then there are thousands who get stents for blocked heart arteries when they should have tried medication first. Again, doctors prescribe antibiotics millions of times for viruses such as colds that the drugs can’t help.
Back pain stands out as the No. 1 overtreated condition, from repeated MRI scans that can’t pinpoint the trouble to spine surgery on people who could have gotten better without it. About one in five who gets that first back operation will wind up having another in the next decade.
Overtreatment means someone could have fared as well or better with a lesser test or therapy, or maybe even none at all. Experts say that avoiding overtreatment is less about knowing when to say no, than knowing when to say, “Wait, doc, I need more information!”