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Less care sometimes means better health: forum

New diagnostic and screening technologies may be doing more harm than good in some cases.

This was a key point raised during a public forum on the issue of overdiagnosis and over-treatment.

Public health researchers from the University of Sydney considered the idea that sometimes being tested for too many things and knowing too much can lead to poor health.

Ethicist associate professor Stacy Carter, from the university, said: “This is a counterintuitive idea, but  sometimes we have things that can be correctly classified as diseases – we can find them on the test and that test is correct – but intervening in that disease is not going to help us, either because the disease was never going to cause us any harm in future, so we didn't need to know that it was there, or because the treatment is disproportionate to the problem.”

The research team was recently awarded a $2.5 million National Health and Medical Research Council grant to establish a Centre for Research Excellence (CRE). The centre aims to develop strategies to mitigate the overdiagnosis and over-treatment issue.

CRE chief investigator professor Alexandra Barratt, from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health, said: “Recently, we have witnessed an explosion of new diagnostic and screening technologies available, including advanced imaging, biomarkers and genomic tests – some of these tests are even marketed directly to the public.

“Ideally, these tests improve health by identifying diseases or risks that need to be treated. However, sometimes these tests lead to overdiagnosis and over-treatment, which not only harms patients but also wastes health resources through unnecessary procedures.”

Barratt said the CRE will focus on cancer and cardiovascular disease. “New diagnostics are already appearing in clinical use in these areas, and these diseases account for a large burden of death, disease and healthcare spending in Australia,” she said.

The CRE is the first part of Wiser Healthcare: a research collaboration to reduce overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

Listen to hear more about the program from Stacy Carter.

More information can be found here.

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