HomeNews Medication Errors The Risks of Overtreatment

Aug 19, 2021 in News --> Medication Errors

The Risks of Overtreatment

overtreatment, medication error, medical malpractice lawyers

When we think about medical malpractice, we generally think of medical errors or omissions that lead to patient injuries. Common forms of medical malpractice include surgical errors, missed or delayed diagnoses, failure to provide appropriate post-operative care, errors causing injuries during childbirth, etc. But, as medical malpractice lawyers know, there are many other forms of malpractice including, in rare situations, overtreatment.

Overtreatment is the provision of unnecessary medical care or medication. Though many instances of overtreatment do not result in patient harm, every medical procedure carries a certain amount of risk, and unnecessary exposure to these risks should be avoided. There are also financial implications to overtreatment; medical care is expensive, and unnecessary test and procedures create inefficiencies in our healthcare system.

In the United States, where patients are more likely to sue their doctors and where per capita medical costs are roughly twice as high as in Canada, there has been extensive research on this subject. In 2017, John Hopkins released the results of a survey of more than 2,000 US physicians; a majority agreed that ‘at least 15 to 30 per cent of medical care is not needed.’ The respondents also reported that 22 per cent of prescription medications, 24.9 per cent of medical tests, 11.1 per cent of medical procedures, and 20.6 per cent of overall medical care was unnecessary.

“Studies consistently show that overtreatment is also directly associated with preventable patient harm and, on a national scale, the issue represents a significant opportunity to improve patient safety and lower health care costs,” the institution concluded in a release.

In Canada, less information is available on the prevalence of overtreatment. However, Choosing Wisely Canada, the Canadian branch of a US initiative to ‘advance a national dialogue on avoiding unnecessary medical tests, treatments and procedures,’ estimates that ‘up to 30% of tests, treatments, and procedures in Canada are potentially unnecessary,’

Why Does Overtreatment Happen?

According to the physicians surveyed by John Hopkins, the most common reason for overtreatment is doctors’ fear of being pursued by medical malpractice lawyers. Other causes include patient pressure or requests, difficulty accessing prior medical records, and monetary incentives.

Choosing Wisely Canada adds to that list the lack of time for shared decision-making between clinicians and patients; outdated decision-support systems; and the fact that practice habits are traditionally difficult to change, even with new evidence.

What are the Risks to Patients?

Significant medical procedures, like surgeries, come with inherent risks, and physicians have a duty to limit the risks faced by their patients. When a doctor orders an unnecessary procedure that results in injury, medical malpractice may have occurred.

The prescription of unnecessary medications is also a major concern for healthcare experts and medical malpractice lawyers. Choosing Wisely Canada uses benzodiazepines as an example: while domestic and international guidelines do not recommend long-term prescriptions of these powerful tranquilizers, citing the elevated risk of car accidents and slip and falls, a study from CIHI found rates of long-term use among Canadian seniors ranging from 5 per cent in Saskatchewan to 25 per cent in New Brunswick. Similarly, the aggressive prescription of opioid painkillers has come under intense scrutiny in both the United States and Canada.

Contact Neinstein Medical Malpractice Lawyers

If you believe that you or a member of your family has been the victim of overtreatment, or if you have been otherwise injured in a medical setting, contact Neinstein today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with a member of our experienced team. We will be happy to listen to the details of your case and explain your next steps in the legal process.


Image: Shutterstock