The Diagnostic 'Epidemic'

Three doctors warn of an epidemic of medical diagnoses fostered by the "medicalization of everyday life", improvements in medical technology and an increasing emphasis on identifying those at 'risk' of a disease. "Perhaps most worrisome is the medicalization of childhood. If children cough after exercising, they have asthma; if they have trouble reading, they are dyslexic; if they are unhappy, they are depressed; and if they alternate between unhappiness and liveliness, they have bipolar disorder. While these diagnoses may benefit the few with severe symptoms, one has to wonder about the effect on the many whose symptoms are mild, intermittent or transient," Dr H. Gilbert Welch, Dr. Lisa Schwartz and Dr. Steve Woloshion wrote. Beneficiaries of over-diagnosis, they note, are the drug industry, doctors, hospitals, medical researchers and patient groups. "Perhaps someone should start monitoring a new health metric: the proportion of the population not requiring medical care," they half-jokingly suggest.