Sunday, November 1, 2020

Dealing With Defensive Medicine During COVID

I had a patient recently who injured his knee while playing badminton. The surgeon sent him for an MRI and wanted to operate after the scan showed that he had tore his lateral meniscus.

He decided to have the operation but the procedure was postponed after he got sick. The good news was that he got so much better after the wait that he decided that surgery was not needed anymore.

This reminded me of an British Medical Journal opinion article I read this morning. The article cited examples as a direct result of the lockdown/ circuit breaker period where patients got better as fear of catching Covid-19 in hospitals prevented them from seeking help.

Of course there were also tragic cases when patients cannot receive essential care and eventually dying as a result. Depression and mental health cases come to mind too.

There was an outcry in Singapore recently when it was announced that Medishield Life plans premiums were going up. Healthcare costs are definitely rising all over the world. Patients are often referred for unnecessary tests and treatment when costs are covered by insurance. Overuse and over-diagnosis consume resources and insurance premiums subsequently increase.

This is in part due to doctors practicing defensive medicine. Previously, I had written that some doctors actually charged more for steroid injections after a court case against an orthopaedic surgeon after his patient complained to the Singapore Medical Council after she developed side effects. 

The article suggested that this may be due to multifaceted reasons with vested interests playing a crucial role. Quoting the article, "medicine is permeated by a bias towards doing something rather than doing nothing, even when it may do more harm than good to our patients. Doctors failing to diagnose are resented and sometimes punished, while doctors who cause suffering through over diagnosis and over-treatment are not".

Practicing defensive medicine may also be due to expectations from patients and a fear of being sued.

While not all my esteemed physiotherapists may not agree with me, I would suggest that physiotherapy probably has the same problem. We are often quick to diagnose a 'syndrome', 'an inflammation' or a 'knot'. Perhaps it should be "I don't know for sure" now, but I can do my best to come up with a plan to treat this. If it still doesn't settle, we will definitely investigate further.

Covid-19 has definitely made us more aware of our priorities and actions. Let us use this opportunity to understand and contribute to shift away from defensive medicine and physiotherapy.

You can read the article by Minna Johansson and Iona Heath here.

Picture above taken from Joee Denis.

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