What is Overtreatment & How Can it Be Prevented?

Most people would probably say they’d rather be overtreated than undertreated when they have some kind of medical condition, but the reality is that overtreatment can cause significant medical issues as well. Between 2019 and 2021, the government says the Medicare program spent as much as $2.4 billion on unnecessary coronary stents. This is just a preview of the overall problem.

Here, we want to define what overtreatment means, review some of the most common causes of overtreatment, and discuss what you can do if you think you have been overtreated unnecessarily. A medical malpractice attorney in Portland may be able to help if you have been overtreated.

What is Overtreatment?

Overtreatment includes overuse of services, over testing, and overdiagnosis. The problem is pervasive in both high-income and low-and-middle-income countries, leading to resource misallocation and affecting public budgets and population health. Measuring overtreatment is challenging due to the difficulty in defining appropriate care and quantifying benefits and harms.

Ultimately, overtreatment can be a violation of the medical standard of care, which is what we will look at if you move forward with a medical malpractice claim related to your case. The concept of the standard of care in medicine describes the expected level and quality of care that a healthcare professional with comparable training and experience situated in a similar community should provide in the given circumstances that culminate in a potential malpractice claim.

This benchmark for evaluating medical practice is tailored to specific situations. This shifts based on various elements, such as the patient’s health status, the prevailing medical understanding at the time of care, and the norms within the local medical environment.

What Drives Overtreatment?

Several interrelated factors contribute to overtreatment:

  1. Expanding Disease Definitions. Advances in medical technology have led to lower diagnostic thresholds and reclassification of what was previously considered normal.
  2. Advertisements and Pharmaceutical Industry Influence. Misleading advertisements and pharmaceutical marketing can lead to unnecessary prescribing and overmedication.
  3. Medical Training and Remuneration. Medical training often emphasizes action and problem-solving, potentially encouraging overtreatment. Additionally, fee-for-service models in private practice can incentivize quantity over quality.
  4. Patient and Family Expectations. Advancements in medicine have raised expectations for treatment, even when not clinically viable.
  5. Uncertainty and Fear of Complaints. The inherent uncertainty in medicine can lead to defensive medicine practices, contributing to overtreatment.

Consequences of Overtreatment

Unfortunately, patients can sustain significant long-term consequences as a result of overtreatment. The term “too much of a good thing” can apply here because too much medical care, even medical care that would not inherently cause harm, can ultimately have the reverse effect. Some of the main consequences of overtreatment include physical health and psychological consequences as well as financial strain.

Physical Health Implications

Overtreatment can lead to a cascade of unnecessary medical interventions, each carrying its own set of risks. For instance, unnecessary diagnostic tests can expose patients to harmful radiation, while unwarranted surgeries may lead to complications such as infections, blood clots, and adverse reactions to anesthesia. The cumulative effect of these interventions can significantly degrade a patient’s quality of life and, paradoxically, health status.

Psychological Consequences

The psychological impact of overtreatment can be profound and multifaceted. Patients subjected to unnecessary medical procedures may experience increased stress, anxiety, and a sense of vulnerability. The stress associated with overtreatment can exacerbate underlying health conditions and deter patients from seeking appropriate medical care in the future, fearing further unnecessary interventions.

Financial Strain on Patients

The financial implications of overtreatment are substantial. Unnecessary medical procedures can result in hefty out-of-pocket expenses for patients, leading to financial strain and, in severe cases, bankruptcy. Additionally, the broader healthcare system bears the cost of overtreatment through increased insurance premiums and wasted resources, ultimately affecting healthcare affordability and accessibility for all.

Reducing Overtreatment – What Can You Do?

The efforts to reduce overtreatment should begin with your healthcare professional, but you should remain diligent as well. You should remain diligent for your health, as well as the health of your family members. Reducing overtreatment can include:

  1. Discussions Between Doctors and Patients. Shared decision-making and informed consent are crucial. Patients should understand their treatment options, including the risks and benefits. Unfortunately, many healthcare professionals do not make it easy to communicate with them about treatment. Patients may be intimidated by a medical professional setting, leading to them becoming less likely to speak up when they have concerns about their care. Additionally, many individuals tend to simply trust their medical professional to do what’s right for them without opening up enough discussion about why the treatment is needed.
  2. Doctor’s Humility. Recognizing the limits of medical knowledge and embracing uncertainty can lead to more patient-centered care. Hubris. It’s unfortunate to even think that a doctor’s ego could affect patient care, but doctors are people too. Medical professionals should focus on treating each patient individually, not as copies of one another. Everyone deserves individualized care, which, if done correctly, can decrease overtreatment.
  3. Questions Before Treatment. Campaigns like Choosing Wisely encourage patients to ask questions about the necessity, risks, and alternatives to proposed treatments. Take some time to do additional research about your particular medical condition, no matter how major or insignificant you think it may be. The more you know about your path forward, the better. However, do your own research as a means to open a conversation with your medical professional. At the end of the day, we strongly encourage you to follow the advice of your doctors if you have done your due diligence. If you believe your doctor has put forth a treatment plan that is unnecessary, we encourage you to seek a second opinion from another medical professional.

Do You Need a Medical Malpractice Lawyer?

If you believe you have sustained harm due to overtreatment by a medical professional, we encourage you to contact an attorney as quickly as you can. Medical malpractice claims are challenging, and moving forward involves multiple steps and limited time frames. A medical malpractice lawyer can help individuals throughout the Pacific Northwest recover compensation for their losses by conducting an extensive investigation into the incident and working with trusted medical professionals to help evaluate your claim.

Ultimately, a successful claim could help you recover compensation for your medical bills associated with the over treatment, any lost wages you incur as a result of the over treatment, as well as physical and emotional pain and suffering damages.