Germany: Too many medical procedures are ′unnecessary′ | News | DW | 05.11.2019
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Germany: Too many medical procedures are 'unnecessary'

A widespread tendency in the health sector to act rather than wait for a more concrete diagnosis means far more operations are carried out than are actually necessary, a new study has found.

Far too often, patients in Germany undergo avoidable medical treatments and surgeries, according to a study by the Bertelsmann Foundation released Tuesday.

The researchers said unnecessary drug prescriptions, tests and operations caused harm and extra stress to patients, and wasted valuable resources that could be urgently needed elsewhere.

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Too many unneeded ops

There are around 70,000 thyroid surgeries carried out in Germany each year. The study found that in 90% of those operations, there were no signs of malignant tumors.

"With better diagnostics, many of these operations could be avoided," the researchers said. 

In ovarian operations, the existence of malignant disease was only confirmed in 10% of women who had surgery.

According to the study, these mostly needless operations go ahead because many women are advised to undergo screenings even if they aren't at risk — contradicting medical guidelines.

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Prescription overkill

A number of medicines are also overprescribed, in particular H2 blockers for stomach acid, the scientists noted. Around 70% of these prescriptions were made without patients being properly informed about the drug, the study said.

The data was compiled for the Bertelsmann Foundation by the Berlin Institute of Health and Social Research and the Cologne-based Rheingold Market Research Institute, which conducted in-depth interviews with 15 doctors and 24 patients.

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Attitude problem

The high number of unnecessary procedures mainly came down to the expectations and attitudes of doctors and their patients, the researchers said. For example, more than 55% of those interviewed said that every form of treatment was better than waiting for more certainty.

Bertelsmann Foundation board member Brigitte Mohn said the study showed there was a need to combat oversupply in Germany's medical sector. One way to do that, she said, would be through a campaign such as Choosing Wisely, which began in the US and Canada and is now active in more than 20 countries. It aims to promote better conversations between doctors and their patients about certain procedures as a way to eliminate unnecessary health care.

"It should be more strongly supported in Germany too in the interests of patients' wellbeing," Mohn said.

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nm/rt (KNA, epd, dpa)

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