It’s one thing to be sick and need medical treatment, but our dependency on specialist opinion and treatment has created a new medical problem: over-diagnosis.
Over-diagnosis often leads to unnecessary treatment and can potentially harm a person if they are diagnosed with a disease they do not actually have. It can also waste scarce medical resources and funds, both private and public.
A campaign launched by The British Medical Journal recently discussed the potential threat over-diagnosis poses to our health, and the coinciding issue of unnecessarily wasting healthcare resources.
Dr Ray Moynihan, a Bond University researcher, defined over-diagnosis as a patient being told they have a disease or a condition that would never actually cause them any harm. Labelling someone as sick could trigger anxiety as well as unnecessary treatment.
Dr Moynihan told The Newsroom: “What is happening is that definitions of common diseases are changing all the time, and they’re expanding in many cases, which in turn makes it harder for doctors to determine who is sick and who isn’t. The way we are defining diseases, the way we are expanding disease definitions needs to be reformed.”
The Department of Health statistics showed that an estimated 355,600 children and adolescents are currently being treated for ADHD in Australia. Of those children, an estimated 15.2 per cent were boys, which is almost double the percentage of girls with ADHD.
Dr Daryl Efron, from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, told The Newsroom: “ADHD is a neurobiological disorder which impacts profoundly on the kids who are diagnosed and their families. It can compromise learning, social development, quality of life and future life chances.”
He said the most effective treatment for the symptoms of ADHD is stimulant medication. However, medication may not always improve a child’s capacity to focus or influence the long-term outcome. A combination of educational support, medication and psychological therapies is currently being used to achieve the best outcomes for children with ADHD.
Jamie Stephenson, from the outer-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, has three children and knows just how difficult it can be having a child with ADHD. Her youngest child, Gus, has ADHD and can’t focus in class as a result. Mrs Stephenson believes that the stimulant medication provided by doctors didn’t help Gus and he became even more unsettled at school. Instead, Mrs Stephenson decided to seek alternative methods in order to improve Gus’s life.
Mrs Stephenson believes alternative treatments can sometimes provide the same, if not a better outcome when treating children diagnosed with ADHD. By changing Gus’s diet and getting him to lead an active lifestyle his ability to focus in school improved dramatically. Also by encouraging Gus to play sport he has been able to burn off extra energy and improve his ability to focus.
Ella Anderson, from St Kilda, Melbourne, was a concerned mother who believed her daughter Gemma wasn’t focusing properly in school and went to the doctor to find out why. The doctor diagnosed Gemma with ADHD and prescribed medication to improve her attention at school. However, Mrs Anderson noticed that the medication didn’t seem to be working and instead seemed to change her daughter’s personality. “I became concerned that they had misdiagnosed my child. She wasn’t her normal self when she was on those drugs. So I decided to take her off the medication, and she was more settled and calmer than she was before I had taken her to the doctor,” Mrs Anderson said.
Dr Efron of Murdoch Children’s Research Institute said: “Parents should seek expert advice on what treatments are available and be aware of what works best for their child.” – Megan Simmonds
Top photo by Sarah Allen.