Tonsillectomies not necessary much of the time; among $158 billion spent each year on unnecessary health care

Photo by Matthew Staver, Bloomberg

Tonsillectomies are the most common procedure for children requiring anesthesia. “The only problem is there’s no evidence they work for most” kids, reports Sarah Cliff of The Washington Post.

“The procedure does show some benefits for those with really serious symptoms — very sore throats, fevers and other symptoms at least seven times in the past year — but no improvement for those whose indications are milder,” Cliff reports.

Yet, more and more of the procedures are being performed. Between 1996 and 2006, the number of tonsillectomies increased by 74 percent.

“It’s a silent epidemic of unnecessary care,” said David Goodman of the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care. “In most instances, it’s done for patients with much less recurrent symptoms than should be indicated. I think a lot of this is unbeknownst to providers.”

Unnecessary health care costs about $158 billion every year, Cliff reports, and the sum is partly to blame on demanding patients, to whom doctors acquiesce. Because doctors are paid based on volume, there is also an incentive to provide more care, even if it’s not necessary.

Goodman said the medical education system is one main culprit. “Medical schools and graduate schools are failing us deeply,” he said. “We need to move some of these ideas about the evidence being uncertain into the beginning of education. There’s been such little work on that.” (Read more)

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