The very idea of unnecessary surgery strikes fear in many hearts. None of us want to go through the pain, the missed work days, the expense and the stress without really needing to.
But surely our doctors wouldn’t subject us to this? If we are told to have surgery, we need it, right? Doctors wouldn’t ask us to do anything that wasn’t in our best interests – right?
According to Dr Stephen Duckett, doctors are indeed ordering unnecessary treatment in Australia.
Ahead of the health panel on October 21 where Dr Duckett will be discussing sustainability in the healthcare system, let’s look at his research findings as explained in his article on surgery on The Conversation.
Dr Duckett worked on a Questionable Care Grattan Institute report that looked at treatment decisions and policies. He looked at the warning signs that treatment was ineffective, exploring the ‘clues’ that treatment choices could be wrong.
The first clue that alerted the researchers was variation – for example, between 2010 and 2011 there were 1.3 tonsillectomies for every 1,000 people in Western Sydney, compared to a rate of 7.4 along the Great South Coast in Victoria. The second clue was evidence of ineffective treatments being scheduled regularly.
It is difficult for researchers to find out exactly what is happening when they see these clues. How can they tell if some doctors are performing the surgery too often and others too rarely?
Exploring further, the researchers found evidence that some surgeries were failing to treat the original problem, and they exposed people to possible complications during the surgeries. Dr Duckett:
But it still happens at least 800 times a year in Australian hospitals.’
Unnecessary treatments, particularly surgeries, waste healthcare resources. As our healthcare system becomes pressured by an ageing population, this is a real problem.
The research findings recommended that guidance for doctors and clinicians should be easier to access and suggested that the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care could develop a list of procedures that should be avoided. Once these guidelines are established, monitoring needs to occur and those hospitals where ineffective treatment occurs would be reviewed.
Should these guidelines be taken on board, they will help our healthcare system to become safer and cheaper in the future.
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Image: Doctor by Marion Brun (CC0 1.0)