Yup, some treatments may be unnecessary. Over treatment is real, but most Americans don’t want to hear about that.
Covid-19 is opening the door for researchers to address a problem that has vexed the medical community for decades: the overtreatment and unnecessary treatment of patients.
On one hand, the pandemic caused major health setbacks for non-covid patients who were forced to, or chose to, avoid tests and treatments for various illnesses. On the other hand, in cases in which no harm was done by delays or cancellations, medical experts can now reevaluate whether those procedures are truly necessary.
Numerous studies have shown that overtreatment causes unnecessary suffering and billions of dollars in unnecessary health care costs. But never before, said researcher Allison Oakes, has there been such a large database to compare patients who received a particular test or treatment with those who did not.
Oakes was a principal author of an October paper in Health Affairs by the Research Consortium for Health Care Value Assessment. The paper noted that covid provided an important new measurement — examining outcomes for patients who received treatment before hospitals canceled care because of covid and those who had their care canceled.
Areas ripe for study, said Oakes: colonoscopies done on patients older than age 85; hemoglobin blood work for Type 2 diabetes patients; semi-elective surgeries, such as knee arthroscopy for articular cartilage surgery; and yearly dental X-rays.
All were done less often because of covid, she said. “There are two sides of the pie: low-value care and care that people get in trouble if they don’t get,” said Oakes, who expects researchers to take advantage of all the data provided from covid on “both types of care.”