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AP story focuses on overuse of medical treatments

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Lindsey Tanner of The Associated Press addresses the overtesting and overtreatment that have become the focus of several studies and journal articles.

Tanner points to President Obama’s recent medical checkup, during which he had a prostate cancer screening and a virtual colonoscopy – neither of which is normally recommended for patients his age.

Increasingly, experts are questioning whether doctors are practicing “defensive medicine” – ordering tests and treatments to be sure they have covered all the bases even if they are not indicated. Other factors, such as a fee-for-service system and patients who insist on testing and treatments, also come into play.

This week alone, a New England Journal of Medicine study suggested that too many patients are getting angiograms — invasive imaging tests for heart disease — who don’t really need them; and specialists convened by the National Institutes of Health said doctors are too often demanding repeat cesarean deliveries for pregnant women after a first C-section.

Last week, the American Cancer Society cast more doubt on routine PSA tests for prostate cancer. And a few months ago, other groups recommended against routine mammograms for women in their 40s, and for fewer Pap tests looking for cervical cancer.

The focus on overtesting and overtreatment comes the same week CBS News sent out a press release announcing that Early Show anchor Harry Smith underwent a colonoscopy on live television, reported on by Katie Couric. The press release proclaims:

Following Couric’s on-air colonoscopy in 2000, University of Michigan researchers documented a 20% increase in the number of colonoscopies performed across the country, dubbing it “The Couric Effect.”

(Hat tip to Gary Schwitzer)