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Overdiagnosis common, experts say

With the advances in medical imaging technology that many patients in Kentucky and across the nation have access to, it is not difficult to find any abnormality in the body. However, according to experts, all people have some abnormalities, but few of them are actually dangerous. When abnormalities are found, doctors and patients naturally want to take action, but sometimes, the treatment is more harmful to the patient than the disease.

Among experts in the health care field, there is an increasing consensus that doctors tend to request too many tests, and patients end up being overtreated. Overdiagnosis and unnecessary treatments often end up hurting the patients' wallets, and it's taxing on the mind too. Some reports say that health care costs are 10 to 30 percent comprised of unnecessary treatments.

Experts are not sure why doctors tend to order too many tests. Some speculate that doctors may order many tests to prevent malpractice suits for potential failure to diagnose. Some doctors are paid more if they order more tests, so an economic motive is likely under some payroll structures. Patients sometimes request unnecessary testing as well, driven by public awareness campaigns about the benefits of early detection of cancer. To prevent overtesting and overdiagnosis, the National Cancer Institute has even recommended that the term "cancer" not be used at all in a diagnosis unless cell abnormalities are known to be likely to be lethal if not treated.

For many patients, this can present a difficult situation: A doctor could either fail to diagnose a potentially devastating condition, or the doctor could overdiagnose and prescribe rigorous treatment such as chemotherapy for a condition that did not warrant it, thereby lowering the patient's quality of life. In either case, a personal injury attorney may be able to secure compensation to cover the costs of unnecessary treatments that came about due to either scenario for a patient by demonstrating that a physician was negligent.

Source: CNN, "Overtested Americans: When cancer isn't cancer at all", August 30, 2013

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