Doctors overestimate their omnipotence
Now a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine authored by two Australians points out that when it comes to unsound medicine, there is another element at play. It turns out that when prescribing a drug or ordering a procedure doctors are actually quite bad at estimating the benefit and harm associated with it.
In a systematic review of 48 studies performed in 17 countries and involving more than 13,000 clinicians, they found that doctors rarely had accurate expectations of benefits or harms. The inaccuracies were in both directions but more often, harm was underestimated and benefit overestimated.
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No group of doctors fared well. As a result, children with acute ear infections may be overprescribed antibiotics and women with troublesome postmenopausal symptoms may be deprived of hormone replacement therapy. Obstetricians and neurologists underestimated the risk of birth defects from antiepileptic drugs and GPs overestimated the benefit of prostate cancer screening and underestimated the benefit of warfarin for atrial fibrillation, a common heart condition. Transplant surgeons were biased towards an inaccurately low estimate of graft failure and all types of doctors were unaware of the risk of radiation exposure from imaging.