Are We Receiving Too Much Health Care?
September 27, 2011

Are We Receiving Too Much Health Care?

Nearly half of primary care physicians polled confirmed they believe that US patients receive too much health care and more than a quarter said they were practicing more aggressively than they´d like to, suggesting fears of malpractice suits may be to blame, Reuters Health is reporting.

Only six percent of doctors believed their patients were getting too little care.

Doctors fear that they are prescribing more drugs or diagnosing people with diseases even if the patient has never experienced any symptoms.

Twenty-eight percent said they felt they were treating their patients too aggressively, while 45 percent said one of every 10 patients they saw daily had issues that could have been dealt with by phone, email or by a nurse.

Dr. Brenda Sirovich of the VA Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont, who worked on the survey, explained, “Physicians at the frontline of medical care are telling us that their patients are getting too much care. And we don´t think we are just talking about the 627 physicians that we surveyed.”

The findings come at a time when healthcare budgets are stretched and many fear it is about to spiral out of control. “We spend a lot on healthcare in this country, more than anywhere else,” Sirovich, also at the Dartmouth Medical School, told Reuters Health. “We realize that this is unsustainable.”

According to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the US spent $7,960 per capita on healthcare in 2009, with Norway, the nearest runner-up spending only $2,608.

“Our findings show that many primary care physicians believe there is substantial unnecessary care that could be reduced, particularly by increasing time with patients, reforming the malpractice system, and reducing financial incentives to do more,” the report said.

Concerns about possible malpractice suits were the primary reason why doctors gave patients more aggressive treatment. “Physicians believe they are paid to do more and exposed to legal punishment if they do less,” AFP reports.

“The extent to which fear of malpractice leads to more aggressive practice (so-called defensive medicine) has been hotly debated; based on our findings, we believe it is not a small effect.”

Almost 50 percent of physicians said they did not have enough time to spend with patients. While only three percent said their own style of practice was influenced by financial considerations, 39 percent “believed that other primary care physicians would order fewer diagnostic tests if such tests did not generate extra revenue,” said the study.

The study, published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, was led by Brenda Sirovich and colleagues from the VA Outcomes Group in Vermont and the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in New Hampshire.


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