By St. Cloud Times, Minn.
Jun. 8 -- Everyone's talking about a recent report from The Associated Press about how we handle medical problems. Here's the gist of it: "More medical care isn't always better." Even modern medicine doesn't have all the answers, and sometimes alternative medicine can produce better results. But today's doctors generally have a philosophy of "treat, treat, treat" ... regardless of the costs or results.
The AP report, which relied on hundreds of pages of studies and used dozens of specialists as sources, provided some riveting details about how too much doctoring not only wastes your money, but does not fully cure you and even could make you more susceptible to other health problems.
To say the least, the report sends a serious chill into all the hot air involving "rationing," much less the hugely misleading chatter about "death panels." Among the findings:
Back pain reigns as the most overtreated condition, from repeated MRI scans that can't find the cause to surgery on people who could have gotten better without it. The real kicker: Twenty percent of those who have one back operation have a second surgery within 10 years.
Electronic fetal monitors are used in 85 percent of births. However, research and resulting guidelines issued just last summer showed the monitors haven't reduced deaths or cerebral palsy but they do increase the chances of a C-section.
Nationwide, anywhere from one-fifth to nearly one-third of the tests and treatments Americans undergo are estimated to be unnecessary or run contrary to guidelines that show them to be beneficial to the patients.
For example, one-third of men older than 75 get routine PSA tests despite guidelines that say most are too old to benefit. Meanwhile, millions of women at low risk of cervical cancer get more frequent Pap smears than recommended; millions more have been screened even after losing the cervix in a hysterectomy. And then there are tens of millions of antibiotics prescriptions issued for viruses such as colds that the drugs simply can't help.
If Americans knew then what we know now, might lawmakers have had the courage to more forcefully push ideas that yielded higher-quality, lower-cost care? Instead, talk of "rationing" undoubtedly intimidated lawmakers into shying away from reforms addressing this overcare epidemic.
Still, perhaps this report can inspire change. Not only did it uncover acute overcare and how ineffective and expensive it is, but it highlighted how some health providers and researchers are trying to step away from overcare by focusing more on educating and discussing with patients all of their options.
It may sound simple, but as the AP showed, it's become an overlooked approach in a health-care era driven by high-tech tests and prescriptions that seem to cure almost everything. Or not.
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