Is too much medical testing and treatment making us sick?

30 May 2016

Researchers to tackle some of the biggest issues facing modern healthcare - overdiagnosis and overtreatment. 

Public health researchers at the University of Sydney will tackle one of the biggest issues facing modern healthcare - turning healthy people into sick patients due to overdiagnosis and overtreatment made possible by new, highly-sensitive screening and diagnostic tests.

A panel of seven experts will explore the hotly debated topic of overdiagnosis and overtreatment at a public forum from 6pm on Monday 30 May the university.

“We will consider a radical idea that sometimes wiser healthcare means less healthcare. Or at least, less healthcare for people who don’t need it, so we can give more healthcare to people who need it,” said Professor Alexandra Barratt, from the University’s School of Public Health.

The research team was recently awarded a $2.5 million NHRMC grant to establish a Centre for Research Excellence (CRE) to develop strategies to mitigate the over-diagnosis and overtreatment issue.

“Recently, we have witnessed an explosion of new diagnostic and screening technologies available including advanced imaging, biomarkers and genomic tests - some of these tests are even marketed directly to the public,” added Professor Barratt, CRE Chief Investigator.

“Ideally these tests improve health by identifying diseases or risks that need to be treated. However, sometimes these tests lead to over-diagnosis and overtreatment which not only harms patients but wastes health resources through unnecessary procedures.

“The CRE will focus on cancer and cardiovascular disease - new diagnostics are already appearing in clinical use in these areas, and these diseases account for a large burden of death, disease and health care spending in Australia.

Public health researcher and ethicist Associate Professor Stacy Carter, said “Most importantly, this research is about improving health outcomes for patients, in Australia and internationally."

“Our findings will assist patients, citizens, healthcare funders and health professionals to adopt helpful new technologies and avoid harmful new technologies to get the best possible outcomes from our healthcare system.”

Professor Kirsten McCaffery, health psychologist said “We are an internationally leading, multidisciplinary team and Australia is at the forefront of this new area of research. This funding puts us in a unique position to continue and expand the world class work we are doing."

The Centre for Research Excellence is the first part of a cross-institutional collaboration – Wiser Healthcare: a research collaboration to reduce overdiagnosis and overtreatment. The collaboration will link researchers in the University of Sydney, Bond University, Monash University and the George Institute with funding from National Health and Medical Research Council.

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