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Campaign launched to stop doctors over-treating

Thursday 14th May 2015
A new campaign has been launched to try and stop doctors from over-treating patients. Image Credit: Mark Bowden
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A new report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has called on doctors to stop over-treating patients, saying their good intentions could actually harm people in the long run.

Written by a number of doctors' leaders such as the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC), the article suggests that some doctors give patients pills or run certain tests because they have been pressured into doing so.

It's important, according to the report, to discuss other options with the patient and make them aware of any simpler, safer or more appropriate alternatives for them. 

There is evidence that doctors feel pressured to "do something" and this is leading to them giving treatments and tests that have little or no benefit for the patient, the AoMRC says.

With the Choosing Wisely campaign, the authors behind the report hope to encourage medical organisations to determine five procedures that should not be offered routinely, instead of the current culture, which it says takes a "more is better" approach.

Such practices might include pills for mild depression or many blood tests.

Professor Dame Sue Bailey, a leading psychiatrist and chair of the AoMRC, told the BBC that many people with mild depression could benefit from trying group exercise classes or talking therapies before medication.

She also says that blood tests can be distressing, especially for elderly people.

The new Choosing Wisely initiative, which has already been used in the US and Canada to tackle over-diagnosis and waste, has also been adopted in a number of European countries like Germany and Switzerland.

"This culture threatens the sustainability of high quality healthcare and stems from defensive medicine, patient pressures, biased reporting in medical journals, commercial conflicts of interest, and a lack of understanding of health statistics and risk," the report states.

The article highlights a recent study where patients were told the lack of prognostic benefit for angioplasty, only 46 per cent wanted to go ahead with the procedure, compared to 69 per cent before this information was given.

The programme also encourages patients to ask their doctor whether or not a proposed test is necessary. 

After participating organisations have compiled their five tests or procedures commonly used that may not always be necessary, they will be divided into lists and the top five for each speciality should not be used routinely or at all.

Professor Dame Bailey said: "The whole point of Choosing Wisely is to encourage doctors to have conversations with their patients and about the value of a treatment.

"It's not and will never be about refusing treatment or in any way jeopardising safety. It's just about taking a grown-up approach to healthcare and being good stewards of the resources we have."

Written by James Puckle

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