Overtreating injuries and illnesses is a common problem that can cause suffering for patients and result in extended recovery periods, new medical conditions, permanent injuries, and death. Overtreatment can include ordering unnecessary surgeries and tests or administering medications that are of limited value to the patient’s health status. When doctors overtreat their patients, they negligently put patient health and safety on a back burner.
Overtreating Is Common
According to a survey conducted by PLOS One of more than 2,000 physicians in the United States, approximately 20% of all medical procedures were unnecessary. These included 22% of prescriptions, 25% of diagnostic tests, and 11% of procedures. About 85% of respondents cited the number one reason for overtreating patients was the fear of medical malpractice claims. However, this fear is significantly overblown as less than 3% of patients ever file a medical malpractice suit against their physician. Approximately 71% of physicians who responded to the survey cited profit as the motive. By comparison, only 59% listed pressure from the patient as the cause, and 38% cited difficulties assessing medical records and patient health as the cause.
Risks of Overtreatment
Overtreatment can cause serious harm to patients. For instance, performing unnecessary medical procedures can extend recovery times and result in costly rehabilitative therapy. Administering prescriptions that are of little to no benefit can affect the effectiveness of other prescriptions the patient is currently taking. This can lead to the exacerbation of certain conditions and potentially cause the emergence of new health conditions.
Ordering unnecessary tests and diagnostic exams takes time and can heighten patient fears about potential health conditions. This can negatively affect their state of mind and cause unnecessary worry that only resolves when the diagnostics come back negative. There is also the financial burden of overtreating injuries. Even with a top tier insurance plan, these costs can add up quickly and create a significant dent in the patient’s budget.
Patients should stay alert for signs their physician is overtreating them. It is advisable to thoroughly research the risks and efficacy of any treatment, prescription, or therapy that is recommended. Patients also have the right to say “no” to treatments or therapies they do not feel are beneficial to their health or long-term recovery. If a patient feels pressured to undergo treatments they are not comfortable with, they should always seek a second opinion.