Importance: Medical overuse is an important cause of patient harm and medical waste.
Observation: This structured literature review of English-language articles supplemented by examination of tables of contents of high-impact journals published in 2018 identified articles related to medical overuse. Articles were appraised for their methodologic quality, clinical relevance, and influence on patients. Of 1499 candidate articles, 839 addressed medical overuse. Of these, 117 were deemed to be most significant, with the 10 highest-ranking articles selected by author consensus. The most important articles on medical overuse identified issues with testing, including that procalcitonin does not affect antibiotic duration in patients with lower respiratory tract infection (4.2 vs 4.3 days); incidentalomas are present in 22% to 38% of common magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography studies; 9% of women dying of stage IV cancer are still screened with mammography; and computed tomography lung cancer screening offers stable benefit and higher rates of harm for patients at lower risk. Articles related to overtreatment reported that urgent care clinics commonly overprescribe antibiotics (in 39% of all visits, patients received antibiotics) and that treatment of subclinical hypothyroidism had no effect on clinical outcomes. Three studies highlighted services that should be questioned, including using opioids for chronic noncancer pain (meta-analysis found no clinically significant benefit), stress ulcer prophylaxis for intensive care unit patients (mortality, 31.1% with pantoprazole vs 30.4% with placebo), and supplemental oxygen for patients with normal oxygen levels (mortality relative risk, 1.21; 95% CI, 1.03-1.43). A policy article found that state medical liability reform was associated with reduced invasive testing for coronary artery disease, including 24% fewer angiograms.
Conclusions and relevance: The findings suggest that many tests are overused, overtreatment is common, and unnecessary care can lead to patient harm. This review of these 2018 findings aims to inform practitioners who wish to reduce overuse and improve patient care.