A campaign to reduce unnecessary health tests, treatments and procedures has been launched.

The campaign, "Choosing Wisely", focuses on areas where evidence shows that tests, treatments or procedures done by health practitioners provide little or no benefit to a patient and could even cause harm.

A survey of New Zealand doctors found that half thought the provision of unnecessary tests, procedures or treatments was a serious or somewhat serious issue.

The Council of Medical Colleges worked with Consumer NZ to survey consumers about unnecessary tests, treatment and procedures.

The survey found that when they visited a doctor, 56 per cent of respondents generally expected the doctor to provide a prescription or send them for a test and 41 per cent of these agreed some tests or treatments which are carried out do not benefit the patient in any meaningful way.

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Nearly 20 per cent believed their doctor had recommended a test or treatment to them which wasn't necessary.

The campaign is being run by the Council of Medical Colleges, in partnership with the Health Quality & Safety Commission and Consumer NZ. It is supported by many health sector groups. Similar campaigns are run in Australia, Canada, England and several other countries.

"Choosing Wisely is about shifting thinking by health professionals and patients - that more is not necessarily better when it comes to health care treatment," says Dr Derek Sherwood, ophthalmologist and chairman of the Council of Medical Colleges.

"Health professionals will be encouraged to discuss the risks and benefits of these tests with patients, so patients can make an informed choice."

Many medical colleges and specialist societies working in New Zealand are engaged in Choosing Wisely and have developed a list of recommendations in relation to unnecessary tests, treatments and procedures for their area of practice. Several more are developing recommendations.

"There are a large number of medical tests, treatments and procedures available, but that doesn't always mean we should use them," Dr Sherwood says.

"For example, not only do X-rays and CT scans expose patients to potentially cancer-causing radiation, but many studies have shown these scans frequently identify things requiring further investigation but that often turn out to be nothing. This means patients can undergo stressful and potentially risky follow-up tests and treatments for no reason.

"Another example is avoiding prescribing antibiotics for upper respiratory tract infection."

Choosing Wisely encourages patients to ask their health practitioners:bull:
• Do I really need to have this test treatment or procedure?
• What are the risks?
• Are there simpler, safer options?
• What happens if I do nothing?

To find out more about unnecessary tests, procedures and treatments, go to www.choosingwisely.org.nz