Overtreatment in the United States

Background

Overtreatment is a cause of preventable harm and waste in health care. Little is known about clinician perspectives on the problem. In this study, physicians were surveyed on the prevalence, causes, and implications of overtreatment.

Findings

The response rate was 70.1%. Physicians reported that an interpolated median of 20.6% of overall medical care was unnecessary, including 22.0% of prescription medications, 24.9% of tests, and 11.1% of procedures. The most common cited reasons for overtreatment were fear of malpractice (84.7%), patient pressure/request (59.0%), and difficulty accessing medical records (38.2%). Potential solutions identified were training residents on appropriateness criteria (55.2%), easy access to outside health records (52.0%), and more practice guidelines (51.5%). Most respondents (70.8%) believed that physicians are more likely to perform unnecessary procedures when they profit from them. Most respondents believed that de-emphasizing fee-for-service physician compensation would reduce health care utilization and costs.

Conclusion

From the physician perspective, overtreatment is common. Efforts to address the problem should consider the causes and solutions offered by physicians.



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