Over-Treatment in Healthcare: The Unsung Tragedy of Medicine?

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imageThe eye of the media is constantly focused on Americans who are lacking in healthcare. But what about the many individuals who do have health insurance and are being subjected to medical overtreatment?

Far too often we are running too many scans, too many labs, and performing far too many procedures. And according to the Institute of Medicine, this overtreatment is costing health care systems over $210 billion a year. Not only are the costs financially high, but the burden of pain, complications, and even potential death are on the line in this epidemic.

A recent article in the New York Times featured the following quotes:

“What people are not realizing is that sometimes the test poses harm,” said Shannon Brownlee, acting director of the health policy program at the New America Foundation and the author of “Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer.”

“Sometimes the test leads you down a path, a therapeutic cascade, where you start to tumble downstream to more and more testing, and more and more invasive testing, and possibly even treatment for things that should be left well enough alone.”

She’s right about the potential for tests to case harm. Each scan puts you at increasing risks for problems later in life including cancer and other life-threatening conditions. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medication, the amount of radiation you receive in 2 or 3 CT scans is about the same as the amount of radiation exposure you’d get after an atom bomb exposure. The scary part is that most people consent to these tests willingly.

It makes you question just why exactly medical professionals would be willing to expose patients to these risks. According to Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the national office of the American Cancer Society, “Our medical care system is rewarding doctors much more for ordering and reading scans than for talking to a patient.”

Physicians are reimbursed for individuals tasks they perform for patients, not for providing holistic care. It seems that our healthcare standards just encourage more and more duplications and excess. This can often be exaggerated when specialists are involved. They are sometimes eager to order costly test and just to procedures and surgery as answers to problems.

I often wonder if I was a victim of this overtreatment phenomena. The surgeon I was referred to when I told that I had a brain tumor seemed far too eager to probe around in my head. And out of fear I blindly agreed to go through with the procedure. During the surgery he found no tumor and instead proceeded to poke around in my cranium. This resulted in a spinal fluid leak, 2 subsequent hospitalization, multiple MRIs, and CTs. The total cost of my hospitalizations and treatments was well over $50,000. And I am responsible for thousands out of pocket costs. 

And all this medical “care” started because of a headache.

So this begs the question: How can we fix healthcare? How can we ensure that we get the right amount of healthcare and aren’t just tested, probed, and prodded, and milked for every dollar?

Since healthcare providers are reimbursed based on tasks, they are going to continue performing those tasks. How can we shift the medical model to one that focuses on holistic healthcare, rather than symptom based treatment for individual diseases?

Have you been a victim of overtreatment?

via Overtreatment Is Taking a Harmful Toll

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