We live in a society whose health care system places too much emphasis on pills and prescriptions to treat an illness, rather than preventive measures that could stop the disease from happening in the first place. A group of doctors, writing in the British Medical Journal, are urging other doctors to stop the “over-treating” epidemic — which often leads to patients being prescribed too many meds that won’t help them.

In their editorial, the authors write: “The idea that some medical procedures are unnecessary and can do more harm than good is as old as medicine itself.” Indeed, over-diagnosis, and often a desire to make money, has led many doctors to over-prescribe medication. Unnecessary tests and treatments, while they may appear helpful, are often nothing but money-makers for the hospital and increase a patient’s anxiety (after which anxiety is treated with more pills — a vicious cycle).

“A recent report by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges argued that doctors have an ethical responsibility to reduce this wasted use of clinical resource because, in a health care system with finite resources, one doctor’s waste is another patient’s delay,” the authors write.

Pressure To 'Do Something'

Your meeting with your doctor is often short and limited. Often, doctors over-prescribe because they feel pressured to “do something” during their brief visit with a patient, even if that something isn’t really helpful. Prescribing medications could instead be replaced with lifestyle changes, for example; if doctors simply discussed lifestyle with their patients, they could find ways to help them lower their blood pressure, reduce their depression and anxiety, and avoid unnecessary tests — all while fostering preventive approaches for their health. Exercise, meditation, and healthy diets have all been shown to improve a person’s cardiovascular, mental, and overall health.

As a result, a group of self-aware doctors have launched the Choosing Wisely campaign, which aims to educate both health practitioners and their patients about avoiding unnecessary tests and prescriptions. According to a 2014 report, up to three in four physicians believe that unnecessary tests are a serious problem in health care in the U.S., and 93 percent of doctors believe they have a responsibility to help their patients skip over unnecessary tests.

And it’s not only up to your physician; educate yourself on what is necessary and what may not really benefit you after all. Ask yourself: Do I really need this test? Are there easier, simpler options? Can this problem be fixed with a new mindset on my lifestyle?

“It is not and will never be about refusing treatment or in any way jeopardizing safety,” Professor Dame Sue Bailey, a psychiatrist and chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, told the BBC. “It is just about taking a grown-up approach to health care and being good stewards of the resources we have.”

Source: Malhotra A, Maughan D, Ansell J, Lehman R, Henderson A, Gray M. Choosing Wisely in the UK: the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges’ initiative to reduce the harms of too much medicine. BMJ. 2015.