Overdiagnosis and overtreatment: A sociological perspective on tackling a contemporary healthcare issue
journal contributionposted on 2021-01-19, 10:05 authored by Natalie Armstrong
Overdiagnosis and overtreatment are increasingly discussed as a significant problem in contemporary healthcare but are yet to receive any significant sociological attention, over and above that which is arguably transferable from the medicalisation literature. Overdiagnosis and overtreatment are often constructed as problems best addressed by educating patients and clinicians, and improving the relationships between them. The emergence of tools seeking to supportdecision making and to facilitate patients’ asking questions about whether interventions are really necessary supports this conceptualisation.This paper questions whether significant traction on overdiagnosis and overtreatment is possible through these means alone, arguing that even when professionals and patients may wish to do less rather than more, the system within which care is delivered and received can make this challenging to achieve. Drawing on Scott’s (2018) ‘sociology of nothing’, the paper demonstrates that a sociological perspective on overdiagnosis and overtreatment recasts them as issues that must be understood as a consequence of the organisational, financial and cultural attributes of the system, not just individual interactions, and advances a research agenda for the area.