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Are Doctors Ordering Unnecessary Radiation Treatment for Prostate Patients?

DoctorPatient care should always come before a doctor’s wallet. However, studies continue to find that financial conflicts of interest can compromise medical treatment. In the latest study, researchers found that older patients diagnosed with prostate cancer are more likely to be treated with radiation when their doctors own the radiation equipment.

As Reuters reports, the study analyzed patient data for over 31,000 men aged 65 and older who had been newly diagnosed with prostate cancer. The goal was to determine how often patients received radiation, paying particular attention to those who had little risk of dying from tumors over the next 10 years, and to those with high odds of dying from another cause.

For patients with a 75% chance of dying from something other than cancer within 10 years, physicians who owned radiation equipment treated 53% of these men. Meanwhile, doctors without the financial incentive of owning the equipment treated 44% of these cases.

When the researchers focused on intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), the treatment disparity was even more significant. When doctors owned IMRT machines, 42% of men with a high chance of dying from something other than cancer received the treatment. By comparison, just 26% of men were prescribed IMRT when physicians didn’t own the equipment.

The study findings are particularly concerning because radiation was recommended even when the patients would not receive any benefits from the treatment or when the patient would likely die from other causes before any cancer symptoms became noticeable. In addition, many of the patients could have avoided the side effects of treatment, which often include impotence and incontinence.

“Patients should be aware that financial incentives of their provider can influence how they are treated for their prostate cancer,” said lead study author Dr. Brent Hollenbeck of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He added: “Urologists in some single-specialty groups with an ownership interest in IMRT were more likely to treat, and even overtreat, patients with IMRT than urologists affiliated with a multispecialty practice or a group without an ownership stake.”

Self-Referrals Create Conflicts of Interest

Physician self-referral occurs when a physician orders a service for a patient that is performed either by that individual physician or by a facility from which they derive a financial benefit for the referral. While federal regulations prohibit certain transactions, doctors can often skirt restrictions on self-referral by joining with other doctors to open free-standing radiation or other types of facilities, such as a group of urologists opening a radiation treatment center.

While these facilities may be legal, they do raise conflict-of-interest concerns regarding whether referral decisions are motivated by profits rather than what is best for the patient. In some cases, the patient may not be given fair and accurate information about the choice of treatment available.

If you or someone you love has suffered serious harm due to overtreatment or another serious medical error, the Law Offices of Robert Vaage is here to help. Contact a San Diego medical malpractice lawyer at our office for a free consultation.