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Doctors Speak Out on Health Care Waste in U.S.

Unneeded screening, unproven technology among culprits driving costs up by billions, report says

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 3, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- The basic assumption in U.S. health care that more is better is being challenged by a group of doctors who put the cost of unnecessary care at as much as $800 billion a year, according to a new report.

The report, which was published Oct. 2 in the BMJ, estimated that overly aggressive treatment causes 30,000 deaths among Medicare recipients in the United States each year and that unnecessary interventions account for 10 percent to 30 percent of health care spending ($250 billion to $800 billion) a year.

Examples include the overuse of imaging technology and screening tests, along with high numbers of questionable surgeries.

Many doctors have long warned about the dangers of overtreatment, but the growing awareness of the unsustainability of health care spending has brought the issue to the attention of politicians and the media, the report states.

Malpractice fears, biased research, patient demand, rapid adoption of unproven technology and the failure to fully inform patients about the potential harms of elective treatments are among the reasons for the growing problem of overtreatment, the group of doctors from the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada noted in a journal news release.

The group also pointed to the way doctors are trained and paid in the United States as major factors, and believe that significant changes in how doctors are paid are needed to correct the problem of overtreatment.

But changes to the health care system would face considerable opposition from the health care industry and the general public, who believe that any effort to reduce overtreatment is simply a scheme to ration care, the doctors said.

"Rationing means that you are limiting necessary care. What we are proposing is limiting unnecessary care -- harmful care," said Dr. Diane Meier, a professor of geriatrics and internal medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in the report.

More information

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has more about health care costs.

SOURCE: BMJ, news release, Oct. 2, 2012
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