A new study - the first of its kind - reviewed the medical literature on patient's expectations of the benefits and harms of medical treatments, with surprising results. Medical malpractice lawyers discuss this study and how it reflects patient safety in the United States.
The study, Patients' Expectations of the Benefits and Harms of Treatments, Screening, and Tests was published in one of the most esteemed peer-reviewed journals in the world, JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers analyzed more than 30 studies wherein patients were asked whether or not they understood the pros and cons of certain treatments.
Most of the time, patients had no idea what the benefits and risks of their treatments were: on average, 65% of patient overestimated any given treatment's potential gain.
For example, one of the studies involved women who had undergone a double mastectomy. Researchers asked these women to estimate how much the surgery reduced their risk of breast cancer. On average, the women estimated it would reduce their risk by about 65% - a gross overestimation.
Another study asked patients to estimate the pros of bowl and breast cancer screening. 90% of patients overestimated the benefits of breast cancer screening, and 94% overestimated the benefits of bowl cancer screening.
This pattern repeats over and over, from studies on the benefits of drugs to treat cardiovascular disease to hip fractures. The same was found when looking at studies that measured how much harm was being done to patients. One of these asked patients to estimate the risks of a CT scan. More than 40% underestimated how much radiation is involved, and 60% underestimated the risk of cancer from CT scans.
For the record, a single CT scan exposes patients to the same amount of radiation as 300 x-rays, and carries a 1 in 2,000 risk of inducing a fatal cancer.
The crux of the issue is that patients are severely under-informed about the risks they are taking during medical care. The fault partially lies in a lack of doctor communication, but also in the lobbying of drug and medical device companies. Watch any drug commercial and you will hear the benefits overstated, without any real data backing it up, and the risks swept under the rug.
If patients knew about the actual risks and gains of medical care, they would choose to have less of it. This threatens doctors, medical companies, and Big Pharma, which all have extraordinary lobbying power. Keeping patients in the dark about treatments adds to healthcare spending without effectively treating people. It's time we do something to change that.
One of the leading voices in patient safety, Dr. Chuck Denham, recently agreed to pay $1 million in a settlement with the Justice Department. Denham is accused of taking illegal kickbacks from a drug company to promote its products in national health quality guidelines. Unfortunately, these types of doctor kickbacks are incredibly common.