Unnecessary medical care is common in the United States, and a fear of malpractice seems to be a main driver for ordering unneeded tests and treatments, a new survey finds.
Other factors include patient demand and doctors’ desire to boost profits, the researchers said.
“Unnecessary medical care is a leading driver of the higher health insurance premiums affecting every American,” said study senior author Dr. Martin Makary, professor of surgery and health policy at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Unneeded medical care accounts for the largest chunk of wasted health care resources and costs in the United States and leads to about $210 billion in extra spending each year, according to the National Academy of Medicine.
The researchers surveyed more than 2,000 U.S. doctors in a wide variety of specialties and found that most believed 15 to 30 percent of medical care is not needed, including 22 percent of prescription medications, 25 percent of medical tests, 11 percent of procedures and 21 percent of overall medical care.
Leading reasons cited by the doctors for overuse of medical resources were fear of malpractice (85 percent), patient pressure/request (59 percent), difficulty accessing prior medical records (38 percent), and profit (17 percent).
Specialists and doctors with at least 10 years of experience after residency were more likely to believe that doctors perform unnecessary procedures when they stand to profit, according to the study.
“Interestingly, but not surprisingly, physicians implicated their colleagues [more so than themselves] in providing wasteful care. This highlights the need to objectively measure and report wasteful practices on a provider or practice level so that individual providers can see where they might improve,” said study co-author Dr. Daniel Brotman, a professor of medicine at Hopkins.
The respondents said the best ways to reduce unneeded care include training medical residents on appropriateness criteria for care (55 percent), easy access to outside health records (52 percent), and more evidence-based practice guidelines (51.5 percent).
“Most doctors do the right thing and always try to, however, today ‘too much medical care’ has become an endemic problem in some areas of medicine. A new physician-led focus on appropriateness is a promising homegrown strategy to address the problem,” Makary said in a university news release.
The study was published Sept. 6 in the journal PLOS ONE.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on health care spending.