According to a report published in the British Medical Journal, there exists the problem of over diagnosis in medical practice today.
This is the practice of erroneously finding healthy people has having ailments and labeling them sick. This means unnecessary care, wastage of resources and unnecessary medication.
Reasons for over diagnosis
Ray Moynihan, Senior Research Fellow at Bond University in Australia has highlighted the problem of over diagnosis which according to him poses significant threat to good health and wellbeing.
According to other experts, there are cultural issues, legal incentives and professional vested interests that could be driving this trend of over diagnosis.
There is the strong cultural belief that early detection and treatment is tantamount to more effective treatment.
There is also a strong faith in the medical profession that makes people trust the medical professionals as well as their diagnosis implicitly.
Then there is another problem according to Roy Moynihan – the perception that risk of a future disease is a condition in its own right that needs treatment.
When there is a perceived risk of a disease, this is seen as the actual disease.
Results of over diagnosis
The most frequently over diagnosed conditions are asthma, high blood pressure and certain cancers such as kidney, breast and thyroid cancers.
In particular, breast cancer does suffer from significant problems of over diagnosis.
Routine mammograms detect any abnormalities in the breast even if they are benign. Women without symptoms who are seen as ‘at risk’ are often treated regardless.
This is then followed by needless procedures such as further tests, biopsies and so on. This not only causes unnecessary stress for women, it also initiates treatment protocols that are unnecessary. It is estimated that about 1 in 3 breast cancers may be over diagnosed and lead to unnecessary treatment.
These treatments have very significant problems in terms of side effects, complications and other illnesses that stem from the treatment. This occurs in spite of the fact that the so-called ‘diagnosis’ will never go on to cause actual symptoms or problems.
One example of over diagnosis is the fact that as many as 33% of those diagnosed for asthma in Canada may not actually have this respiratory ailment. Women with osteoporosis risk are given treatment even when there is no significantly increased chance of their having fractures.
Doctors are now concerned about how to prevent over diagnosis and the attendant problems that stem from it.