Background: Health care reform efforts and initiatives seek to improve quality and reduce costs by eliminating unnecessary care. However, little is known about overuse and its drivers, especially in hospitals.
Objective: To assess the extent of and factors associated with overuse of testing in U.S. hospitals.
Design: National survey of practice patterns for 2 common clinical vignettes: preoperative evaluation and syncope. Respondents were randomly selected and randomly provided 1 of 4 versions of each vignette. Each version contained identical clinical information but varied in factors that could change physician behavior. Respondents were asked to identify what they believed most hospitalists at their institution would recommend in each vignette.
Setting: Mailed survey conducted from June through October 2011.
Participants: Physicians practicing adult hospital medicine in the United States.
Measurements: Responses indicating overuse (more testing than recommended by American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guidelines).
Results: 68% (1020 of 1500) of hospitalists responded. They reported overuse in 52% to 65% of the preoperative evaluation vignettes and 82% to 85% of the syncope vignettes. Overuse more frequently resulted from a physician's desire to reassure patients or themselves than an incorrect belief that it was clinically indicated (preoperative evaluation, 63% vs. 37%; syncope, 69% vs. 31%; P < 0.001 for each).
Limitation: Survey responses may not represent actual clinical choices.
Conclusion: Physicians reported substantial overuse in 2 common clinical situations in the hospital. Improving provider knowledge of guidelines may help reduce overuse, but despite awareness of the guidelines, physicians often deviate from them to reassure patients or themselves.
Primary funding source: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation, Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Clinical Management Research, University of Michigan Specialist-Hospitalist Allied Research Program, and Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs/University of Michigan Patient Safety Enhancement Program.