Thousands of Albertans get unnecessary — even harmful — medical tests and procedures, report says

A family doctor in Calgary says in order to reduce the number of unnecessary treatments in Alberta, physicians and patients need to shift their way of thinking. 

Dr. James Dickinson, who practices family medicine and teaches at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine, was reacting to a national report released Thursday that says Canadians have more than a million tests or treatments a year that don't help patients and may even be harmful.

"Unnecessary Care in Canada," which was prepared by Choosing Wisely Canada — a campaign to reduce unnecessary use of health care — and by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), found that in Alberta, 30 per cent of patients with lower-back pain without red flags had at least one unnecessary X-ray, CT scan or MRI.

Annual checkups 

Dickinson says the report is just the tip of the iceberg.

For example, he said physicals, mammograms, prostate tests and pap smears are no longer needed annually in many cases.

Most doctors don't follow that recommendation, Dickinson said.

"They've learned a set of ideas that recommended the annual screening, so they have to learn the new evidence," he said. 

'Potentially harmful results'

Dickinson says medical students are now taught that a physical should be done every three to five years.

Dr. Bill Hnydyk, who helped create the report, says it comes down to achieving sustainability.

"We're going to have increased wait times and we're going to have potentially harmful results as a result of some these interventions," he said.

Dickinson said he hopes the report will shed more light on the problem of unnecessary treatments.

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