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Unnecessary Medical Procedures Put Patients at Risk

Combining the findings from recent articles and reports from the New York Times, the Associated Press, and MSNBC, it seems that Chicagoans are facing a big problem.

Research shows that physicians and hospitals may be performing unnecessary tests and procedures for the sake of making an extra buck. The Associated Press says that patients whose physicians own the equipment are more likely to get scans they might not need than those whose doctors have no financial interest; the New York Times states that dentists are treating tooth abnormalities that may or may not develop into cavities; MSNBC reports that many doctors give women pelvic exams when medical guidelines don’t require them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is a concern because, “not only are the exams invasive, they also come with a risk of false positives that can lead to more unnecessary tests and procedures.”

As per a study that was presented at this week’s Radiological Society of North America meeting in Chicago, many doctors who own MRI imaging scanners overuse them and use them to examine patients who don’t need that type of testing, as a way to offset the costs of the expensive equipment. Nevertheless, this isn’t the only study to suggest that overtreatment is a hazard affecting patients when doctors receive financial benefits from the treatments they prescribe. Although Medicare prohibits this kind of financial incentive, there’s an exemption when tests and procedures are performed in-office with the doctors’ own supplies.

Said the Associated Press, physician Dr. Rita Redberg, who as editor of the Archives of Internal Medicine has highlighted overtreatment in medicine, noted that most lower-back pain gets better without treatment. MRIs can lead to needless and risky surgery for harmless abnormalities.

As for unnecessary dental work, the New York Times reports that critics say the procedures are painful, and are driving up the costs of care. Additionally, excessive dentistry may end up harming patients both physically and monetarily. Says Dr. James Bader, a research professor at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry, every time a dentist drills into a tooth, “you’re condemning that person to a refilling” years down the road. The New York Times reports that a number of experts don’t think it’s necessary to operate in the early stages of tooth decay, yet an enormous amount of practitioners are inclined to do so; in fact, a 2010 National Institutes of Health survey showed that 63 percent of more-than 500 practicing dentists said they would operate on a tooth with decay that had not progressed beyond the enamel, even if the patient had a history of good dental hygiene practices.

Finally, when it comes to pelvic exams, although there’s generally no need to do a full pelvic exam to screen for sexually transmitted infections when a urine test or swab is enough, many obstetric and gynecological doctors conduct these unnecessary tests anyway. “Women should know that screening tests come with both harms and benefits, and the pelvic exam is not an exception to that,” said Analia Stormo, who led a study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Moreover, conducting superfluous tests do more harm than good: the exams can lead to false alarms and over-diagnosis, while no evidence has been found to show that pelvic exams prevent women dying from diseases.

As any Chicago personal injury attorney can attest, doctors owe a duty of care to their patients. Part of that duty includes providing the best care, and ensuring that their actions don’t unreasonably put their patients at risk. If the needless tests and procedures cause harm to a patient, the physician may be liable for damages stemming from that injury, and an Illinois personal injury lawsuit may arise.