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PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e52552. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052552. Epub 2012 Dec 26.

"The ultimate decision is yours": exploring patients' attitudes about the overuse of medical interventions.

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Center on Medicine as a Profession, Columbia College of Physicians & Surgeons, New York, New York, United States of America.


Previous research has found that American patients strongly believe that more testing and more treatment lead to better outcomes and, to a lesser extent, that newer treatments are more effective. We conducted five focus groups with privately insured, healthy, middle-aged Americans (nā€Š=ā€Š43) to explore these apparent preferences. Contrary to previous research, an unexpected distinction emerged. Participants placed enormous value on testing and screening, reacting with hostility to guidelines recommending less of either. However, they were suspicious of overmedication. The wariness of pharmaceuticals and enthusiasm for testing and screening both appear to reflect participants' efforts to take responsibility for their health. But recommendations to test and screen less conflicted with their active, engaged, information-seeking roles. Nonetheless, given patients' concerns about overuse of pharmaceuticals, we maintain that they can learn to understand the connections between over-testing and over-treatment, and can actively choose to do less. We close with suggestions about how treatment guidelines can better communicate these connections to patients. Our findings cannot necessarily be generalized beyond privately-insured, healthy, middle-aged Americans. But because we found that, among these individuals, attitudes towards pharmaceuticals differ from attitudes towards testing and screening, we maintain that future research should also distinguish among and compare attitudes towards different types of medical interventions.

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