Doctor giving patient an injection

One in five Kiwis unsure about doctors' recommendations

One in five New Zealanders think their doctor has recommended a test or treatment that wasn’t necessary for their health, a survey by Consumer NZ and the Council of Medical Colleges has found.

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The survey was carried out as part of the organisations’ Choosing Wisely campaign. The campaign encourages people to ask their health professional four questions when a test or treatment is suggested:

  1. Do I really need this test, treatment or procedure?
  2. What are the risks?
  3. Are there simpler, safer options?
  4. What happens if I don’t do anything?

Of those who felt their doctor had recommended an unnecessary test or treatment, nearly 20% said they went ahead and had it anyway, rather than talk with their doctor about why it was necessary. Twenty-two percent ignored the doctor’s recommendation.

Overall, 35% of consumers felt some tests or treatments did not benefit the patient.

Council of Medical College chair Dr Derek Sherwood says just because tests and treatments are available doesn’t mean we should always use them.

“There is mounting evidence that more tests and procedures don’t always equal better care. While modern medicine has given us more ways than ever to diagnose and treat illness, sometimes, the best option may be to do nothing.”

He points to the use of antibiotics as something that needs to be carefully considered.

“Antibiotics do not help viral illnesses such as the common cold, sinusitis, pharyngitis and bronchitis, and should not be prescribed for these illnesses.

“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 you might have an infection for longer and be more likely to pass it on to others.

“In many cases, the best treatment might be rest and over-the-counter medicines like paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve pain or fever.”

Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin says consumers should feel able to ask their doctor questions so they can make informed decisions.

“Health care choices can have major implications. Always talk to your doctor if there are things you don’t understand or ask them to give you information you can read. Take a support person if you don’t feel confident asking questions,” Ms Chetwin says.

“You can make a follow-up appointment to ask further questions or talk about your decisions after you’ve had time to consider the options.”

Dr Sherwood also encourages patients to ask their doctor or other health professional about proposed tests or treatments.

“Just by having these discussions you and your doctor will be clearer on what is the best thing to do for your health and wellbeing.”

As well as encouraging patients to ask the doctor about tests and treatments, the Choosing Wisely campaign has comprehensive information for health professionals about which tests, treatments and procedures to question.

For more information, see our Choosing Wisely page.

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Choosing Wisely

Choosing Wisely is a campaign encouraging a change in thinking by health professionals and consumers to avoid unnecessary medical intervention.

Learn more