How to Stop Breast Cancer Surgeons from Overtreating Their Patients

A study shows that a medication causes more harms than benefits, and physicians like me keep prescribing the pill anyway, either because we don’t learn about the study, don’t believe the study or are simply stuck in our ways. Even professionals have a hard time breaking bad habits.

So what do you think happened when a study showed that breast cancer surgeons were being unnecessarily aggressive in removing lymph nodes from their patients?

A bit more than a year ago, David Asch and I wrote an article in Health Affairs laying out reasons why it is often difficult for physicians to stop doing things they shouldn’t be doing. When physicians get in the habit of offering, say, cancer screening tests to their patients, and then learn that the screening tests cause more harm than benefit, they often continue to provide such screening. Ordering the screening test has become a habit. They’ve found reasons to believe in the value of the screening test, despite evidence to the contrary. What’s more, their patients come in expecting such screening tests, and physicians have a hard time saying no to patients–recognizing that hasty dismissal of patient requests creates unsatisfied customers, while explaining that the test is unnecessary often takes a long time, diverting physicians from more important problems that their patients may be facing.

Does that mean it’s hard to teach old physicians new tricks? Not necessarily.

(To read the rest of this article, please visit Forbes.)

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