When it comes to medicine, "more is not always better," writes neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta in the New York Times. Doctors make thousands of mistakes each year—in 1999, as many as 98,000 Americans were dying annually due to medical errors, and that number could have more than doubled by now—and, in Gupta's opinion, this is partly because doctors are increasingly practicing "defensive medicine." Far more tests and procedures are performed in the US than anywhere else in the world, and these numbers—as well as the number of drugs prescribed—are rising. The problem is that many of these tests, procedures, and prescriptions are entirely unnecessary.
Unnecessary tests can lead to false positives, which can lead to unnecessary procedures. Unnecessary procedures can go horribly wrong. Unnecessary medications can cause serious side effects. Defensive medicine is "meant less to protect the patient than to protect the doctor or hospital against potential lawsuits," Gupta writes, and indeed it can harm the patient. Many potential solutions—checklists, software, hospital policies—do exist, but the most critical thing is for physicians to remember "the limits of our power," Gupta writes. It's also important to talk about these mistakes: "The only thing we can do is learn each time one happens, and reduce future errors in the process." Click for Gupta's full column.