Despite a health care system burdened by high costs and patients facing long waits for medical procedures, many Canadians are getting unnecessary diagnostic tests and surgeries that may leave them worse off, physicians say.
Patients in their 40s and 50s who have elective knee-replacement surgery, for example, are at increased risk for early failure of the artificial joint, said Gillian Hawker, a rheumatologist and clinical epidemiologist at the University of Toronto.
Revision surgery to repair the artificial joint is a complex procedure that does not always go well, she said. But try telling that to middle-aged patients who insist they need a new knee or hip so they can ski into their golden years, she added. “They will keep looking until they find a surgeon who will operate,” Hawker said. “Then they have surgery and are surprised that, when you hit a new joint hard, it wears out fast.”
Knee replacement surgery is on a list of procedures under review by Canadian provinces in a recent push to reduce unnecessary medical treatments and diagnostic tests. The Health Care Innovation Working Group, an interprovincial body, is re-evaluating procedures including MRIs, joint replacements and cataract removal to set new guidelines on when such interventions are necessary and when they are of questionable benefit.
In the past two years, “there’s been a groundswell of energy focused on overdiagnosis and overtreatment,” said Alan Cassels, a pharmaceutical policy researcher at the University of Victoria and the author of Seeking Sickness: Medical Screening and the Misguided Hunt for Disease (2012).