Regardless of their family’s insurance status, many children get medical care they don’t need, a new study suggests.
One in 11 publicly insured and 1 in 9 privately insured children in the United States were given what the researchers called unnecessary, “low-value” care in 2014, the researchers report.
“While we found that publicly insured children were a little more likely to receive low-value services, the difference was not large. The more important finding is that children are highly likely to receive wasteful care, regardless of what type of insurance they have,” said researcher Dr. Kao-Ping Chua, a pediatrician at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
“This means that efforts to reduce waste should be global in nature and target the care of all children,” Chua noted in a hospital news release.
For the study, his team looked at data on 8.6 million U.S. kids to see how often 20 low-value diagnostic tests, imaging tests and prescription drugs were given. These included unnecessary vitamin D screening, imaging for sinus infections, and antibiotic prescriptions for colds.
The liberal use of antibiotics can add to the spread of antibiotic-resistant germs and unneeded X-rays and CT scans can expose kids to radiation that might raise cancer risk later in life, Chua said.
In 2014, about 4% of publicly insured kids and 3% of privately insured children received unnecessary or low-value services at least twice.
One of the reasons for these unneeded tests is the culture of American medicine where parents and doctors are expected to do something even if it’s not going to help, Chua said.
“Parents understandably want to relieve their children’s suffering and to rule out serious problems,” he added. “Both parents and doctors sometimes have a tendency to believe that prescribing a drug or ordering a test is better than doing nothing, even though the right answer is often to do less.”
Also, doctors tend to be overly cautious. “Doctors have a strong fear of missing something,” Chua said. “Some doctors would rather overtreat and risk the side effects of the intervention than undertreat and risk missing a catastrophic problem.”
But unnecessary tests and treatments waste money that could be used for other “valuable causes, and also force many families to pay out-of-pocket for unnecessary care,” Chua noted. “Reducing wasteful care will improve child health and decrease the financial burden of health care spending on society and families.”
The report was published online Jan. 7 in the journal Pediatrics.
For more on children’s health, head to the American Academy of Pediatrics.