Physician Issues: Unnecessary Medical Exams and Procedures


Are you ordering tests or procedures that are unnecessary? Maybe new studies show that a procedure you’ve always recommended to your patients is actually not as useful as you originally thought. Perhaps there’s a new treatment available. However, you’re a little nervous to use it because you personally haven’t seen its success rates. Whatever your reasons, it is important to keep in mind how often unnecessary medical exams and procedures are happening in the healthcare system. More importantly, consider how these excessive or less effective methods are affecting your patients. Here are a few facts about unnecessary medical exams and procedures that you, as a physician, should know.

Facts About Unnecessary Medical Exams and Procedures All Physicians Should Know

An estimated 21 percent of medical care is uncalled-for, according to a survey conducted by a professor at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Surgery and Health Policy Professor Dr. Martin Makary found that from duplicate blood tests to unnecessary knee replacements, doctors are prescribing millions of patients with treatments that offer little or no benefit.  Plos One published in Makary’s study in September 2017.

His discoveries aren’t new. For example, in 2009 the National Academy of Medicine reported that unnecessary medical services cost the healthcare system at least $210 billion a year.

The ABIM Foundation conducted its own survey in 2015. The foundation discovered that 66 percent of physicians believe they have the responsibility to avoid their patients receiving unessential care. Yet, more than half of the physicians surveyed admitted to prescribing such care because their patient’s insisted, even though they were fully aware it was unneeded. A concerning 72 percent of physicians believe that the average physician orders unnecessary care at least once a week.

So, why do unnecessary medical exams and procedures keep happening?

unnecessary medical exams

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Dr. Bruce Landon, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts told a reporter for an article in Healthcare Finance that many doctors adhere to outdated or unnecessary medical practices out of habit.

“We tend in the health care system to be pretty slow in abandoning technology,” Landon said. “People say, ‘I’ve always treated it this way throughout my career. Why should I stop now?'”

The article in Healthcare Finance, “How unnecessary tests, scans, procedures and surgeries are affecting your patients” used breast cancer treatments as an example. The article cited several personal stories of people who received longer regimen breast cancer treatment when studies show that shorter regiment treatment is just as effective. In fact, Kaiser Health News found that only 48 percent of eligible breast cancer patients today get the shorter regimen. This happens despite the fact that there are additional costs and inconveniences associated with longer treatment.

These statistics “reflect how hard it is to change practice,” Dr. Justin Bekelman, associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine told Healthcare Finance.

A Little More Conversation, A Little Less Action

So, what can you learn from all of this? Next time you’re quick to recommend the same old treatment, try having a little more conversation and a little less action.

Here are three tips for avoiding unnecessary medical exams and procedures:

  1. Make sure you’re confident that whatever treatment you’re recommending is the best option available to your patient.
  2. Take time to do a little research so that you’re up-to-date on the latest medical procedures.
  3. Talk to your patients and learn all of their concerns before confidently sending them in the wrong direction.

Those are just three simple suggestions. As a doctor, how do you try to avoid dishing out unnecessary medical exams and procedures to your patients? Share with us in the comments below!

Author: Lenay Ruhl

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