Preventing overdiagnosis 2018: Three key points to reduce overdiagnosis

8 Nov
Johanna Caro Mendivelso

This year, the annual Preventing Overdiagnosis conference was held in Copenhagen, co-sponsored by the World Health Organisation, where delegates from about 30 countries attended.

The space generated in this conference provides the opportunity to approach the subject of how health professionals, researchers and patients can implement solutions to problems related to overdiagnosis, overtreatment and overuse by using the evidence available.

Overall, some of the subjects discussed were the implementation of recommendations to “stop doing”, the challenge of dealing with excessive diagnosis in clinical visits, the impact of overdiagnosis, the fact of converting citizens into patients and the role of risk factors in excessive diagnosis.

John Brodersen, professor of family medicine at the University of Copenhagen, started the conference by making a reflection on what is and what is not overdiagnosis. In general, overdiagnosis means turning people into patients unnecessarily by identifying problems that were never going to cause harm or by medicalising ordinary life through expanded definitions of diseases. This overdiagnosis can trigger a cascade of excessive treatments.

Later, Iona Heath, general practitioner and member of the Organising Committee of Preventing Overdiagnosis, asked the audience the question Why are we so afraid of normal? She reflected on why doctors are willing to rush into a diagnosis and pointed out that the task of defining “who is normal” is a challenge. Who should define who is normal and with what criteria?

Gisle Roksund, general practitioner in Norway stated that the general tendency in medicine is: “find it as soon as possible and do more”. Similarly, he pointed out that people are being labelled as ill with “pre” conditions when they are not. And he ended off by saying that life itself is a “pre-mortality” condition.

On his part, Paul Glasziou, general practitioner and professor at the Bond University in Australia, presented three key points to reduce overdiagnosis: reducing over-detection, over-definition and medicalisation. Juan Pablo Brito, endocrinologist and researcher at the Mayo Clinic, talked about a new term in his conference on diagnosis centred on the person: Extradiagnosis: when the diagnosis is not appropriate for the biology, context or preferences of a patient. The diagnosis centred on the patient is based on identifying the problem and carrying out actions to find the solution. That is, “reaching a conclusion together which makes intellectual, emotional and practical sense”.

In mental health, Allen Frances, psychiatrist in the United States, highlighted that overdiagnosis in psychiatry could be avoided if general practitioners had more time in their visits to get to know their patients better.

On the other hand, Steven Woloshin and Lisa Schartz, general internists and co-directors of the Center for Medicine and Media at The Dartmouth Institute, explained that some advertising campaigns could broaden the definition of diseases which can lead to an overdiagnosis and a medicalisation of life experiences. These reflections highlight the importance of having regulation related to these campaigns.

Lastly, the Preventing Overdiagnosis is a space which allows for the sharing of experiences, both theoretical and practical, of what is being done in the world with regards overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

From the AQuAS, and in collaboration with health professionals and scientific societies, the Essencial project in Catalonia tries to address these issues by contextualising them in our environment and by trying to implement recommendations that avoid low value practices and in consequence, an overuse.

Post written by Johanna Caro Mendivelso (@jmcaro103).

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