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Patients harmed by increase in medical treatments

Recently, doctors and other medical experts have been questioning whether Americans have been receiving excessive amounts of medical treatment. At first glance, additional laboratory tests and prescriptions for medications may seem like a benefit, ensuring the safety of the patient. Unfortunately, unnecessary treatments can sometimes result in negative, unwanted consequences.

When physicians practice defensive medicine, by ordering more tests and treatments than the patient actually requires, the likelihood of a medical error increases. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine released a report examining the number of fatalities caused by medical errors in the United States each year. At that time, the study estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 people died every year as a result of preventable medical errors. While more recent statistics are not available, some suggest that as many as 200,000 people in the U.S. die because of preventable medical mistakes each year.

The preventable medical errors considered in the 1999 Institute of Medicine study included:

In addition to these common medical errors, unnecessary medical procedures can also lead to patients' health worsening. For instance, if a patient receives an unnecessary MRI scan, there is a chance the test will result in a false positive. If the patient then receives surgery that is not warranted, he or she is exposed to potential complications associated with the procedure, such as infections.

Along the same line, if a patient is prescribed medications that are not necessary to treat an illness or infection, the patient could have a dangerous, adverse reaction to the treatment.

How often do doctors order unnecessary treatments?

While it can be difficult to quantify just how frequently unwarranted tests and treatments are administered, the rise in the number of tests being ordered alone suggests some are unnecessary. For example, the number of MRI scans ordered annually has quadrupled since 1996.

In addition, orthopedic surgeons were polled in an anonymous survey regarding the tests they ordered for their patients. The surgeons revealed that 24 percent of the tests they ordered for their patients were actually "medically unnecessary."

Hold negligent physicians accountable

Medical errors can have profound consequences on a family. At times, physician negligence may lead to irreversible harm that will affect an individual for a lifetime. Under such circumstances, the expenses associated with the preventable injury can be exorbitant. If you or your family have suffered a preventable medical injury, a skilled medical malpractice attorney will be able to evaluate your case and ensure just compensation is received.