5 Often Overused Medical Treatments

Photo (cc) by rbrwr

Two of the country’s largest medical organizations recently held a special meeting to solve a pressing medical problem that costs patients, taxes the U.S. health care system, and sometimes risks lives.

Go ahead, take a guess at the national topic debated by representatives from the American Medical Association and The Joint Commission, a nonprofit that accredits health organizations like hospitals. This year’s record-breaking West Nile virus outbreak? The recent uptick in suicides? A cure for Alzheimer’s disease?

Nope, nope, and nope. These doctors and researchers talked about overused medical treatments. That’s right: Even doctors admit there’s a problem.

“Overuse of medical tests, treatments, and procedures is a serious quality and patient safety concern that needs urgent attention,” says Dr. Mark R. Chassin, president of The Joint Commission. “Our aim is to help improve safety for patients by raising awareness about the inappropriate indications for these procedures and treatments. Widespread and effective dissemination of this important information will help physicians and patients make informed decisions and avoid overuse.”

So while the professionals educate their peers about the conclusions of the National Summit on Overuse, patients should educate themselves. Familiarizing yourself with overused treatments is the best way to ensure you don’t end up paying for one unnecessarily. Once you know what they are, you’ll know to discuss them with your doctor before you consent to one.

But these treatments can all serve a purpose – and can save lives – so don’t dismiss them automatically. Just be sure to quiz your doctor about their purpose for you. If you’re still unsure after that, consider a second opinion.

According to Dr. Steven J. Stack, an American Medical Association board chair, the goal is not to avoid these treatments but to “ensure that the right patient gets the right treatment at the right time.”

1. Heart vessel stents (aka percutaneous coronary intervention or PCI)

Stents are tiny tubes inserted into heart vessels during a procedure called an angioplasty, which increases blood flow to the hearts of patients with clogged arteries. Not all angioplasties involve stents, though.

According to Dr. Carl L. Tommaso, a cardiologist who attended the summit, stents are not considered overused in patients with acute coronary syndromes, which are heart problems that reduce blood flow to the heart, such as…

  • Acute myocardial infarction, or heart attack (because for patients with this problem, stents are known to decrease chances of death)
  • Unstable angina, a type of chest pain (because for patients with this problem, stents are known to reduce chances of future hospitalizations and improve symptoms)
  • Non-ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction, a specific type of heart attack (because for patients with this problem, stents are known to reduce chances of future hospitalizations and improve symptoms)

Stent overuse is seen in patients with chronic stable angina who undergo elective angioplasties. The only benefit to an angioplasty or stent for such patients is to reduce symptoms, Tommaso says. So with rare exception, the procedure will not decrease chances of death or rehospitalization.

2. Blood transfusions (blood management)

A recent Johns Hopkins Medical study found “frequent” transfusions for patients who didn’t need it.

Not only is this wasteful, it can be dangerous: “The resulting overuse of blood is problematic, the researchers say, because blood is a scarce and expensive resource and because recent studies have shown that surgical patients do no better, and may do worse, if given transfusions prematurely or unnecessarily.”

Exceptions include trauma and hemorrhage, in which cases transfusions can save lives.

3. Ear tubes (tympanostomy tubes) for brief periods of fluid behind the ear drum

Usually, ear tubes are inserted to provide long-term drainage and ventilation of the middle ears of patients who have had “persistent fluid buildup, chronic middle ear infections, or frequent infections,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

In such situations, ear tubes can relieve symptoms like ear pressure, decrease the frequency of infections, and prevent hearing loss.

So the key to avoiding unnecessary ear tube surgery is the word brief: The summit attendees “agreed as a position statement that tubes should not be placed in children who have had isolated otitis media with effusion [an infection of the middle ear that involves fluid] of less than 90 days duration unless there are other medical or social exacerbating factors or special circumstances,” says Dr. David W. Roberson, an ear/nose/throat surgeon who attended the summit.

4. Antibiotics for the common cold (viral upper respiratory infections)

Antibiotics treat bacterial infections.

For viral infections like colds, “Waiting and monitoring is the best therapy,” says Dr. Donna E. Sweet, an internist who attended the summit. “It’s not antibiotics that [patients] need. It’s time to see if [their infections clear up] on their own, which they will for the most part.”

Even sinus infections caused by viruses don’t require antibiotics, according to the Infection Diseases Society of America.

Sure, antibiotics are generally cheap, but that doesn’t mean they don’t cost us. They kill good bacteria along with bad ones, and overuse leads to drug-resistant bacteria. A bacterial infection called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is difficult to treat because it’s resistant to multiple common antibiotics. Some patients must undergo surgery, including limb amputations, to beat the infection. Some patients succumb to it. In 2005, more people died of MRSA than AIDS in the U.S., WebMD reported.

5. Early scheduled births (early induction) without medical need

“Early” is defined here as any time before 39 weeks, according to Dr. Bryan T. Oshiro, a perinatologist who attended the summit.

If your doctor pushes for an early scheduled birth, consider getting a second opinion. Oshiro said one of the reasons scheduled births are overused is simply that obstetricians often prefer them because they’re more convenient for the doctor.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
2 Costly Rewards Credit Card Mistakes — and How to Fix Them
2 Costly Rewards Credit Card Mistakes — and How to Fix Them

If you commit either of these credit card sins, you are likely losing money every time you use a card. Here’s how to easily right this wrong.

Replace These 8 Things — for Your Health and Your Budget
Replace These 8 Things — for Your Health and Your Budget

Being frugal isn’t smart if you put off replacing these things. Waiting too long can cost money or even endanger your health.

Retiree Households Lose $111,000 to This Social Security Misstep
Retiree Households Lose $111,000 to This Social Security Misstep

A study finds 96% of retirees make this mistake when claiming Social Security benefits.

5 Ways Anyone Can Save on Out-of-Pocket Health Care Costs
5 Ways Anyone Can Save on Out-of-Pocket Health Care Costs

Here’s how to lower your health care costs without skimping on care.

10 Ways Anyone Can Earn More Income
10 Ways Anyone Can Earn More Income

Looking for additional cash? Here are a bunch of options that are accessible to anyone with internet access.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
9 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Shopping on Amazon
9 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Shopping on Amazon

Are you losing money due to any of these missteps?

Can a Divorced Widow Claim Her First Husband’s Social Security Benefits?
Can a Divorced Widow Claim Her First Husband’s Social Security Benefits?

The rules are complicated when it comes to eligibility for survivors benefits.

Can a Twice-Divorced Woman Claim Social Security Survivors Benefits?
Can a Twice-Divorced Woman Claim Social Security Survivors Benefits?

Understanding survivors benefits rules is the key to getting the most from your benefit.

These Are the 10 Worst Cars for Depreciation
These Are the 10 Worst Cars for Depreciation

Two types of vehicles are especially likely to see steep plunges in value.

10 Things I Always Buy at Trader Joe’s
10 Things I Always Buy at Trader Joe’s

From snacks to sweets to side dishes, stock your cart with these time-tested favorites on your next TJ’s run.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

5 Ways Social Security Will Change in 2021
5 Ways Social Security Will Change in 2021

These adjustments will affect both workers and retirees in the new year.

11 ‘Disposable’ Items You Should Be Reusing
8 Things You Should Buy at Restaurant Supply Stores
8 Things You Should Buy at Restaurant Supply Stores

You don’t have to be a chef or a restaurant owner to shop here.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

There are easy high-paying majors available in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required. We’re here to help you find easy degrees that pay well.

Stop Buying These 19 Things Online
Stop Buying These 19 Things Online

The internet has changed how we shop. But for some things, you’re still better off buying the old-fashioned way.

Cut These 11 Expenses Now If You Hope to Retire Early
Cut These 11 Expenses Now If You Hope to Retire Early

Like the idea of financial independence? Part of the FIRE equation is cutting costs.

27 Things You Should Never Pay For — and How to Get Them for Free
27 Things You Should Never Pay For — and How to Get Them for Free

When you know the tricks, you can save big on all kinds of useful things that others pay for.

4 Tax Credits That Will Be More Generous in 2021
4 Tax Credits That Will Be More Generous in 2021

If you are eligible for these tax breaks, they will slash your federal income tax bill — dollar for dollar.

15 Things You Can Get for Free in December
15 Things You Can Get for Free in December

December is here, which means it’s your last chance to take advantage of fabulous freebies in 2020.

7 Tips for Building an Emergency Food Supply
7 Tips for Building an Emergency Food Supply

A pandemic or natural disaster could leave you reliant on your existing emergency food supply. Is your pantry well-prepared for emergencies? Knowing what to stock up on for emergencies can be a difficult task and we’re here to help.

7 Reasons to Carry Mortgage Debt Into Retirement
7 Reasons to Carry Mortgage Debt Into Retirement

It often makes financial sense to not pay off your mortgage before retiring.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.