Family Physicians Can Help Patients Make Wise Choices About Their Care

In the United States and around the world, the overuse of medical tests, treatments and procedures can harm patients. It can also waste money, contributing to soaring health care costs. The Institute of Medicine estimates that 30 percent of health care spending is wasted on services with little or no benefit to patients.

The Choosing Wisely movement is an effort to address this problem by encouraging clinicians and patients to talk about what’s important in their care. In 2012, nine national specialty societies (representing 375,000 clinicians) launched a campaign to help their members identify low-value tests and treatments and share them with their patients. They identified 45 examples of tests and treatments that their members felt had limited value, and they shared patient resources to encourage discussions about them. The program has since expanded to include more than 80 medical specialty societies and 25 countries.

While the Choosing Wisely recommendations are useful conversation starters, it is important to remember that medical decision-making is based on the best evidence available and is informed by the physician’s clinical judgment. While a physician may occasionally deviate from a Choosing Wisely recommendation, this is expected to be rare, as the recommendations are designed to help engage physicians and their patients in meaningful conversations about what matters most in health care.

Family physicians have an opportunity to play a key role in this movement. They are well-positioned to help their patients make wise choices about the care they receive, and they can serve as a resource for the entire community of clinicians who care for them. They can do so by promoting the initiative in their practices, educating their patients about it and supporting their colleagues as they work to implement it.

During the interview, a family physician described how his Choosing Wisely initiatives had been successful in his practice and the impact they had had on the patients’ experiences. He also discussed how the Choosing Wisely recommendations had influenced his own medical decisions and his approach to care.

As you and your team move forward with implementing Choosing Wisely, be sure to track your progress and report it. This will allow you to see the impact that your efforts are having on the quality of care delivered in your community and beyond.

You can raise awareness of Choosing Wisely through your local Quality Improvement Organization, state medical society and AAFP chapter. You can also promote the campaign at continuing medical education presentations. And you can encourage your community colleagues to participate in Choosing Wisely by referring them to the website and providing them with relevant patient resources. You can also make a difference by seeking representation on hospital and insurance company quality committees, where you can promote the use of Choosing Wisely recommendations to reduce unnecessary testing and treatment.