Iatrogenic disorders. Never events. Incidentalomas

“Jon, I recall learning about iatrogenic medicine in grad school; an under-the radar sub-specialty.” (email from Leon Silverberg, a health care MBA student in my  class 45 years ago)

Have you ever coerced your physician to prescribe an antibiotic (think sinus “infection”) or gone to a physician who prescribes antibiotics too automatically? (A) I used to demand and hoard antibiotics. I have stopped and now ask my physicians to explain why they are prescribing an antibiotic.

Overprescribing of antibiotics and other medical care decisions can have adverse consequences often referred to as “iatrogenic.”

“An iatrogenic disorder occurs when the deleterious effects of the therapeutic or diagnostic regimen causes pathology independent of the condition for which the regimen is advised….. Diagnostic procedures (mechanical and radiological), therapeutic regimen (drugs, surgery, other invasive procedures), hospitalization and treating doctor himself can bring about iatrogenic disorders. (B)

Another important term is “Never Events”……”in reference to particularly shocking medical errors (such as wrong-site surgery) that should never occur. Over time, the list has been expanded to signify adverse events that are unambiguous (clearly identifiable and measurable), serious (resulting in death or significant disability), and usually preventable.” (C)

So…. here are some examples of medical care to monitor.


Wrong Site Surgery.

“Of great concern is wrong-site surgery (WSS), which encompasses surgery performed on the wrong side or site of the body, wrong surgical procedure performed, and surgery performed on the wrong patient. This definition also includes “any invasive procedure that exposes patients to more than minimal risk, including procedures performed in settings other than the OR [operating room], such as a special procedures unit, an endoscopy unit, and an interventional radiology suite.”

Solutions: “to improve the accuracy of patient identification by using two patient identifiers and a “time-out” procedure before invasive procedures.” … “to eliminate wrong-site, wrong-patient, and wrong-procedure surgery using a preoperative verification process to confirm documents, and to implement a process to mark the surgical site and involve the patient/family.” (D)


Over Use of Antibiotics.

“’Nightmare bacteria,’ strains of superbugs resistant to even the most powerful antibiotics, have quadrupled in number in the last decade—and have been found lurking in hospitals in 42 states.” “(E)

“Antibiotics are considered the keystone of modern medicine, but their excessive use continues to generate unwanted side effects.

While specialists are making strides to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics and to slow potential infections through better policy, the overuse of antibiotics continues to have severe health consequences for the U.S. and around the world. (F)


Medication Errors

“… any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm, while the medication is in the control of the health care professional, patient, or consumer. Such events may be related to professional practice, health care products, procedures, and systems including: prescribing; order communication; product labeling, packaging and nomenclature; compounding; dispensing; distribution; administration; education; monitoring; and use”.  (G)



….are “incidentally discovered masses or lesions, detected by computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or other imaging examinations performed for an unrelated reason. (H)

Incidentalomas are increasingly common findings on radiologic studies, causing worry for physicians and patients. Physicians should consider the risk of discovering incidentalomas when contemplating imaging. Patients may assume that incidentalomas are cancer, and may not be aware of the radiation risks associated with repeat imaging. (I)

“Many radiologists and nonradiologic physicians believe we should not report incidentalomas if they appear benign. As pointed out by 2 medical researchers, “Tests that provide information about unrelated conditions leave the physician and patient to contend with information they had not sought but which they find impossible to ignore; patients would be better served if physicians limited their access to unsolicited diagnostic information.”” (H)


 Having said that, your best resource in avoiding an iatrogenic  emergency is a great primary care physician.


(A)          http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/827888

(B)          http://medind.nic.in/maa/t05/i1/maat05i1p2.pdf

(C)          https://psnet.ahrq.gov/primers/primer/3/never-events

(D)          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK2678/

(E)           http://www.npr.org/2013/03/08/173821490/nightmare-bacteria-defy-even-last-ditch-drugs

(F)           http://www.healthline.com/health-news/five-unintended-consequences-antibiotic-overuse-031114#1

(G)          http://www.amcp.org/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=9300

(H)          http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/779377

(I)            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25611713

 Note: This blog shares general information about understanding and navigating the health care system. For specific medical advice about your own problems, issues and options talk to your personal physician.


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