Overuse of medical care, overdiagnosis and overtreatment questioned

Astounding Number of Medical Procedures Have No Benefit, Even Harm

A concerning new review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association online ahead of print on the topic of overuse of medical care, i.e., health care for which “risk of harm exceeds its potential for benefit,” finds that many commonly employed medical procedures, to which millions are subjected to each year, are based on questionable if not also, in some cases, non-existent evidence.

2015 Study Abstract

Overuse of medical care, consisting primarily of overdiagnosis and overtreatment, is a common clinical problem.

To identify and highlight articles published in 2014 that are most likely to influence medical overuse, organized into the categories of overdiagnosis, overtreatment, and methods to avoid overuse, and to review these articles and interpret them for their importance to clinical medicine.

A structured review of English-language articles in PubMed published in 2014 and a review of tables of contents of relevant journals to identify potential articles that related to medical overuse in adults.

We reviewed 910 articles, of which 440 addressed medical overuse. Of these, 104 were deemed most relevant based on the presentation of original data, quality of methods, magnitude of clinical effect, and number of patients potentially affected. The 10 most influential articles were selected by author consensus using the same criteria. Findings included

  • lack of benefit for screening pelvic examinations (positive predictive value <5%),
  • carotid artery screening (no reduction in stroke),
  • and thyroid ultrasonography (15-fold increase in thyroid cancer).
  • The harms of cancer screening included
    • unnecessary surgery
    • and complications.
  • Head computed tomography was an overused diagnostic test (clinically significant findings in 4% [7 of 172] of head computed tomographic scans).
  • Overtreatment included
    • acetaminophen for low back pain,
    • perioperative aspirin use,
    • medications to increase high-density lipoprotein cholesterol level,
    • stenting for renal artery stenosis,
    • and prolonged opioid use after surgery (use >90 days in 3% [1229 of 39 140] of patients).

Many common medical practices should be reconsidered. It is anticipated that our review will promote reflection on these 10 articles and lead to questioning of other non-evidence-based practices.

Sources and more information
  • Update on Medical Practices That Should Be Questioned in 2015, JAMA Internal Medicine, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.5614, November 09, 2015.
  • Astounding Number of Medical Procedures Have No Benefit, Even Harm, greenmedinfo, November 10th 2015.

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