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Doctors Identify 40 Different Treatments That Bring Little Or No Benefit To The Patient

Doctor and patient

Doctors need to do more to explain to patients the costs and benefits of certain treatments. Alexander Raths/Shutterstock

Doctors have identified at least 40 different treatments that they say frequently provide little or no benefit to the patient. These range from giving people unnecessary CT scans to unneeded blood tests, and which are costing the National Health Service in the UK. The list has been complied by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, who represent all 22 medical colleges in the UK.

Some of the treatments that are being offered are done so unnecessarily, and require a better understanding by the patient. These include cases where children with minor fractures don't always require a plaster cast (and instead could be sent home with a removable splint) and the fact that tap water is just as good for cleaning cuts and grazes as saline solution. Another of the recommendations states that children with bronchiolitis, or breathing problems, usually get better without treatment.


You can read the full list of unnecessary treatments here.

There are a couple of reasons why doctors say that they commonly order X-rays, drugs, and scans that they know might not be strictly necessary. Over 60 percent of doctors surveyed admit to doing tests or scans as a precaution against possible litigation, while the same proportion of doctors also revealed that pressure from the patient can influence them to order unnecessary tests. This not only leads to a climbing healthcare bill, particularly in the UK, but also to other serious issues such as driving antibiotic resistance.

Other treatments, the report recommends, should be fully explained to patients so they clearly know some of the side effects that will occur. They highlight the situation in which patients diagnosed with terminal cancer are given further aggressive chemotherapy. The medics say that there should be more of an open dialogue between the doctors and those who receive care to make sure they fully understand the trade-off between potentially increasing their lifespan and significantly reducing the quality of it. Then, the patient can make a fully informed decision.

“Of course, we live in an age of more scientific discovery. The more we can do, the more we will do,” explains Professor Dame Sue Bailey, chairwoman of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, to BBC Radio4. “What we’re asking is a shift in the conversation between the doctor and the patient from not what can we do, but to what should we do.”


The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges asked medical experts from 11 different specialities to pick out five treatments that they thought were commonly carried out but that might not be strictly necessary as part of the Choosing Wisely campaign. More will be added to the list as additional treatments are identified.


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