More research needed to curb unnecessary care, spending

Despite reports that doctors spend billions of dollars on unnecessary tests each year, the industry lacks adequate research on the overuse of healthcare services, according to research published in the in the Jan. 23 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

After scouring more than 114,000 relevant literature published between 1978 and 2009, researchers identified only 172 papers with strong evidence about overuse.

"There are very few interventions that have been studied," co-author Deborah Korenstein, an internist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told NPR's Shots blog.

To properly design efforts to reduce unnecessary care (and associated costs), healthcare organizations need to better understand overuse, the authors said in the study abstract.

However, the industry's deficient research on overused services can be attributed, in part, to the difficulty in defining inappropriate use, Korenstein told NPR's Shots. For many tests and treatments, the standards for when the harms outweigh the benefits remain unclear.

The findings suggest that enhancing the research evidence for overuse and creating appropriateness standards for more healthcare services could help eliminate unnecessary care and spending without compromising patient health, according to HealthImaging.

"More investigation into the appropriateness of preventive services would allow for alignment of diverse guidelines and the incorporation of overuse indicators into standard quality measures," the authors said, according to HealthImaging.

To learn more:
- check out the study abstract
- read the Shots blog post
- read the HealthImaging article