Medical colleges warn against unnecessary tests and treatments this winter

28 Jun 2018 | Health Quality & Safety Commission

With winter upon us, the Council of Medical Colleges and Southern Cross Health Society are encouraging people to think carefully before having some tests, treatments or procedures.

Council of Medical Colleges Chair Dr Derek Sherwood says the colder weather usually brings a rise in coughs, colds and respiratory infections like bronchitis, but these can often be treated by rest or over-the-counter medications.

‘In winter, it can feel like you’re living at the doctor’s – particularly if you have young children. Having sick children is worrying, and it can be tempting to ask for a whole range of treatments or tests so you can be certain all bases are covered.’

But he says, just because tests and treatments are available, doesn’t mean we should always use them.

‘One example is if your child has a viral infection of their ear, nose, throat or chest. Antibiotics won’t make them feel better or get better faster. But using antibiotics when they’re not needed can lead to antibiotic resistance – when antibiotics are no longer effective against the bacteria they once killed.

‘This means in the future your child might have an infection for longer and be more likely to pass it on to others. In this case, the best treatment for your child might be rest and over-the-counter medicines like paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve their pain or fever.’

He says another example, which is also relevant to adults, is the use of X-rays and CT scans.

‘These expose people to potentially cancer-causing radiation, but many studies have shown that scans frequently identify things that require further investigation but often turn out to be nothing. This means patients can undergo stressful and potentially risky follow-up tests and treatments for no reason.’

Southern Cross Health Society is a sponsor of the Choosing Wisely campaign. Its chief medical officer Stephen Child says the Choosing Wisely initiative is much-needed.

‘Our organisation is all about empowering Kiwis to live their healthiest lives.

‘Part of that involves providing good information and helping people think critically about the options before them. We join the Council of Medical Colleges in encouraging Kiwis to ask these important questions when deciding how to tackle their winter ailments.’

He says research among New Zealand general practitioners by Southern Cross Health Society last year, found many are uneasy about the growing trend for their patients to arrive in their office with a preconceived idea about the tests and treatments they need. Survey respondents expressed a wish for better health and wellness education.

The Council of Medical Colleges coordinates the Choosing Wisely campaign, which encourages patients to ask their health professional:

  • Do I really need this test or procedure?
  • What are the risks?
  • Are there simpler, safer options?
  • What happens if I don’t do anything?

A survey by Consumer NZ in December 2017, found that one-in-five New Zealanders surveyed believed their doctor had recommended a test or treatment that wasn’t necessary for their health. A survey of New Zealand doctors by the Council of Medical Colleges found half thought the provision of unnecessary tests, procedures or treatments was a serious or somewhat serious issue.

Choosing Wisely sponsors are the Council of Medical Colleges, Southern Cross Health Society, Pacific Radiology and PHARMAC. Consumer NZ and the Health Quality & Safety Commission are Choosing Wisely partners, and there is wide health sector support for the campaign.

See the Choosing Wisely website for more information or contact Sue Ineson on 021 608 039.

For Southern Cross Health Society: Jo Lawrence-King, senior communications advisor, 09 925 6420, 021 413 502, jo.lawrence-king@southerncross.co.nz.

Last updated 28/06/2018