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Why Do Doctors Over Treat?

Listen to “Why Do Doctors Over Treat?“.


The advancements in modern medicine have been incredible. Who would want to live in a world without antibiotics, anaesthesia, joint replacements, cardiac stents, and other medical miracles?

However, despite all the advancements, a 2017 survey of more than 2000 U.S. physicians showed that doctors believe 20.6% of all medical care is unnecessary. In their introduction, the authors state: “Waste in health care is increasingly being recognised as a cause for patient harm and excess costs.”

On average, doctors estimated that 22.0% of prescription medication, 24.9% of tests, and 11.1% of procedures in their specialised areas are unnecessary.

When asked about the causes of overtreatment, the two most popular answers were fear of malpractice (84.7%) and patient demands/requests (59%). More than a third of doctors also said that the following factors play a role: difficulty accessing medical records, borderline indications, inadequate time spent with patients, and lack of adequate patient information.

Most respondents to the survey believed that financial incentives have an impact on overtreatment; more than 70% said that some doctors perform unnecessary procedures if they stand to profit from them. Approximately half of those who took part in the survey said that at least 15% of doctors do this.

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Rand Corporation concluded that one-third of people who were told they needed heart bypass surgery did not need it. In addition, 17% of patients who had the operation did not have severe enough heart disease to warrant surgery. The problem was that the angiograms were misread. If we apply the 17% figure to the total number of bypass surgeries performed in the U.S. annually, it would mean that there could be as many as 42,500 unnecessary surgeries performed each year.

Hopefully, the ever-increasing cost of medical care will wake people up if nothing else does. Society will never be able to afford medical care for all those who need it as long as so much is spent on unnecessary and sometimes-harmful care for those who do not.


There is a lot of information now being published about the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, or Big Pharma, and how it promotes drugs that aren’t safe, let alone needed, as well as creating a perception of ‘diseases’ that aren’t really diseases at all. Even drugs that haven’t been proven harmful can have adverse effects on patients who take them unnecessarily.

What can be done to protect yourself from overuse?

If you are facing a medical decision about a procedure or treatment, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the procedure?
  • What will it do for me?
  • What are the risks?
  • Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
  • What treatment options exist that may be less risky and costly, yet provide similar benefits?
  • How will my quality of life be affected?
  • How much pain will there be and for how long?
  • Will I ever get back to normal?

Ask your doctor these questions, and ensure that you have your questions answered, before making a decision.

If your condition is not critical, consider integrative therapy for treatment. Treatments that are not standard Western medical practice are referred to as ‘alternative’, ‘complementary’ or ‘integrative’.

Integrative therapy encompasses a variety of disciplines that include everything from diet and exercise to mental conditioning and lifestyle changes. In the U.S., approximately 38% of adults are using some form of alternative medicine.

Studies show that the use of alternative medicine in adults is greater among women and those with higher levels of education and higher incomes.

It is common knowledge that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Many problems can be completely prevented, but not many can be completely cured.

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