What are we doing about low-value medical practices?

8 Feb
Cari Almazán

The aim of the Essencial Project is to improve the quality of healthcare by providing professionals with evidence that is useful for them to make informed decisions in their day to day work.

What is special about this project is that this is done by identifying routine low-value practices in the health system and by using a strategy aimed at avoiding these practices.

Cari Almazán, the person in charge of this project, responds to questions in an interview.

What is the Essencial Project?

It is a project of the Department of Health of Catalonia led by the Agency for Health Quality and Assessment of Catalonia (AQuAS – its Catalan acronym), in which researchers from the AQuAS, health professionals, scientific societies and the Advisory Board of Patients participate. Each and every one, in their role, work with a clear objective: improving the quality of healthcare using a very specific strategy to identify low-value practices and thereby provide information to professionals to help them avoid doing all the things they do which do not offer any health benefits to the patient.

What is a low-value practice?

In usual medical practice, there are known routines that do not offer any benefit to the patient and it is difficult to understand why these occur but it is even more difficult to try and avoid them. In all likelihood there is a resistance to change and we need to spend a lot of time explaining what this project is about.

How does the Essencial Project work?

It works at different levels and we try to be systematic and transparent. This involves a line of work which includes: identifying low-value practices, finding knowledge (the evidence), informing about and implementing the project.

If a routine does not offer any benefit to the patient, why is it followed?

This is precisely what we ask professionals in primary care, among many other things. The comments “because we have always done it like this” or “because it is a request of the patient” are frequent. There is a certain tendency to want to feel we are being useful, a human one I would say. Both the professional and the patient feel better but on occasion, there is evidence which indicates that this “feeling better” is not accompanied by any benefit for the patient. This is what needs to be explained very carefully.

What role does the Essencial Project have in the day to day activity of a health professional and that of a potential patient?

There are many projects aligned with the initiative to improve the quality of healthcare. In this context, the Essencial Project is a tool of the health system to help health professionals make decisions. The Essencial Project thus aims to be useful to the health system and professionals. In addition, for a potential patient, knowing about this project can also help contribute to their understanding of why a health professional does not recommend a certain diagnostic test or treatment.

I am unsure as to whether the project is aimed at professionals or at citizens.

The Essencial Project is aimed at the entire population. On the one hand, it is aimed at professionals to provide them with this tool, but also at citizens. Why not? Whether citizens want this information is another thing altogether.

Do citizens show an interest in having all this information available to them?

We don’t know, we should ask them. We know of experiences where it is not clear that the information which is given is the information that citizens want but at the AQuAS we believe that sharing knowledge and methodology is an exercise in responsibility.

Who chooses the recommendations?

Cari: They are chosen in collaboration with the different scientific societies. Right now, there is a participative process on the go to prioritise low-value clinical practices in the framework of the Third Conference of Care in Sexual and Reproductive Health. In the Essencial Conference 2017 subjects for recommendation were prioritised based on the participation of the professionals that attended the conference. The idea is that it is the professionals themselves who identify when and where practices of this sort occur.

Who creates the contents of the Essencial Project?

The contents that accompany each recommendation are the result of the participation of many expert professionals in different disciplines. These contents are then validated. In terms of the videos, professionals at the AQuAS along with health professionals produce these which explain the key idea of each recommendation in the first person in an informative manner.

What would you highlight of the Essencial Project?

That we offer every recommendation, the chance to collaborate with health professionals, a bibliography and files for patients in a systematic way.  This last idea of files for patients is a subject which we will delve into more deeply shortly from the agency. Perhaps, what I would say is most important here is that all this forms a part of a commitment to bring the culture of assessment and the culture of Choosing Wisely at all levels closer to everyone: the citizenry, professionals and the health system.

Preventing Overdiagnosis: appointment in Barcelona

24 Mar

Next 15th April is the new deadline for submitting article abstracts for the Preventing Overdiagnosis Conference which will be held in Barcelona at the end of September 2016.

Who is this congress aimed at?

This congress is open to the whole society; for this reason, the congress is not only aiming at health care professionals, but also welcomes the participation of patients and all other citizens.

What do we understand by overdiagnosis?

Overdiagnosis is defined as the diagnosis of an illness which would not produce symptoms during a person’s life, but the treatment and follow-up, to which this person could be submitted, would not produce any benefit, and can even be harmful and generate costs.

Does overdiagnosing have consequences?

Yes, on an individual level, the consequences of overdiagnosing go from the negative effects of unnecessary labelling, damage as consequence of medical tests (radiation effects, false positive or false negative tests), unnecessary therapy (surgery, medication) and, on a more demographic level, one of the consequences of overdiagnosing refers to the opportunity cost, generated by a misuse of resources which could have been assigned to prevention and treatment of real illnesses.

What can we read on overdiagnosis?

We recommend the section “Too much medicine” of BMJ, the section “Less is more” of JAMA, the recommendations made by the Project Essencial and the book “Overdiagnosed. Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health”.

Anything else?

Yes, indeed. We’ll be expecting you for the 4th edition of the International Preventing Overdiagnosis Conference, which will take place on 20th, 21st and 22nd September in Barcelona. Taking into account the congress program, it will be an ideal setting to share initiatives and work for the future.

If you want to read more on this subject, you can read this other blog post.

Post written by Cari Almazán (@AlmazanCari) and Marta Millaret (@MartaMillaret).

Shall we talk about overdiagnosis? Yes, in Barcelona next September…

17 Mar
Cari Almazan

Overdiagnosis is defined as the diagnosis of an illness which would not produce symptoms during a person’s life; it’s the result of the correct diagnosis of an illness whose treatment and follow-up do not produce any benefit, but on the other hand, could be harmful and generate costs. Overdiagnosis is neither the consequence of an erroneous diagnosis, nor of a false positive test.

The broadest definition of overdiagnosis refers to its consequences: negative effects of unnecessary labelling, damage as consequence of medical tests (radiation effects, false positive or false negative test results), unnecessary therapy (surgery, medication) and the opportunity cost, generated by a misuse of resources which could have been assigned to prevention and treatment of real illnesses.

Well-known examples of overdiagnosis are the screening programs for the detection in an early stage of cancers, which would never cause neither symptoms in nor the death of a patient, or ever increasingly sensitive diagnostic methods, detecting the smallest of abnormalities which would remain benign anyway (incidentalomes). Also the progressive reduction of diagnostic thresholds can eventually lead to invented disorders and to the fact that healthy and asymptomatic persons could be classified as sick while they are not, receiving treatments with higher risks than possible benefits.

Let’s go back in time. The concept of overdiagnosis has been described for the first time approximately 50 years ago, in relation to cancer screening, but the term doesn’t become popular until the year 2011 through the book “Overdiagnosed. Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health”. At present, overdiagnosis is discussed in some sections of prestigious scientific publications such as the BMJ (Too much medicine) or the JAMA (Less is more), and is the subject of some specific congresses as now the Preventing Overdiagnosis Conferences. In our specific context, there are also initiatives, such as Choosing Wisely and the Essencial, who work out recommendations to avoid clinical practices of little value and include subjects related to overdiagnosis.

Preventing Overdiagnosis

Even with the knowledge presently available, overdiagnosis is still facing important challenges. A consensus on a formal definition is still missing, and under the umbrella of overdiagnosis, we still see a wide range of clinical situations gathered, requiring different approaches both from the scientific point of view, as well as from the perspective of necessary strategies to minimise the impact of overdiagnosis.

In order to meet these challenges, we need to deepen our knowledge of the methods used, in order to get an estimation of the frequency of overdiagnosis, as well as develop efficient communication strategies to avoid the confusion that situations of overdiagnosis can cause, both among patients as in society in general, the impact on the doctor-patient relationship (trust), or the potential jeopardy to patients who have already been diagnosed.

These challenges, together with the economic, social and ethical impact of overdiagnosis, its causes, facilitating elements and consequences, the new genomics tools and their possible impact on overdiagnosis, as well as matters related with overdiagnosis and aging, are some of the subjects which will be addressed during the 4th edition of the International Preventing Overdiagnosis Conference which will take place on the 20th, 21st and 22nd of September in Barcelona. You can read a previous post about it here.

The Agency for Health Quality and Assessment of Catalonia (AQuAS) is participating actively in the organisation of this international initiative, which gathers institutions like the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine from the Oxford University (UK), the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice (USA), the Centre for Research in Evidence Practice of the Bond University (Australia), the Consumer Reports and the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and Public Library of Science (PLOS) groups.

submit abstracts

Important information: Until the 31st March [deadline extended to April 15th], abstracts can be submitted without any thematic restriction, as long as they’re related to overdiagnosis prevention. You can register now.

We’ll be expecting you there!!!

Post written by Cari Almazán (@AlmazanCari).