Why Too Much Medicine is Making Us Sicker and Poorer
Sept. 18, 2007

Is a CT scan always necessary after your child suffers a bump on the head? Should you think twice before undergoing surgery for lower back pain? Are your elderly parents going to be allowed to die at home, or will they spend their last few weeks in a hospital, hooked up to machines and tubes, subjected to painful, unnecessary procedures?

These are the kinds of questions you may find yourself asking once you’ve read Overtreated. Each year, our medical system delivers an enormous amount of care that does nothing to improve our health or lengthen our lives. Between 20 and 30 cents on every health care dollar we spend goes towards useless treatments and hospitalizations, towards CT scans we don’t need, towards ineffective surgeries—towards care that not only does nothing to improve our health, but that we wouldn’t want if we understood how dangerous it can be. This is the surprising and deeply counterintuitive message of Overtreated.

Of course, almost everything in our personal experience says just the opposite, that far from delivering too much care, our medical system isn’t giving us enough. Forty-seven million of us don’t have coverage, and even those of us who do have health insurance feel as if our insurers and doctors are continually trying to deny us treatments and tests and drugs that could help us.

Yet as award–winning journalist Shannon Brownlee shows in this remarkable book, much of what we think we know about health care is simply wrong. With probing insight and facinating examples, Brownlee unveils its topsy-turvy economics, where the supply of medical resources—beds, specialists, intensive care units—determines what care we receive, rather than how sick we are and what we actually need.

Overtreated offers a fresh way to think about health care reform. Americans worry about rationing—that any effort to rein in costs will lead to restrictions on treatments that could improve our health. But as Brownlee argues in this compassionate and compelling book, we can improve the quality of American medicine, control costs, and cover the uninsured—all without the limitations and expense that Americans fear. Her humane, intelligent, and penetrating analysis empowers readers to avoid the perils of overtreatment in their own care, while simultaneously pointing the way to a better system.

To learn more about this book, please go to overtreated.com.


Overtreated, by Shannon Brownlee... is my choice for the economics book of the year...t’s the best description I have yet read of a huge economic problem that we know how to solve -- but is so often misunderstood.

BY: David Leonhardt, The New York Times

Overtreated is a necessary, if bitter, tonic. As the election season starts to take shape, we desperately need an unbiased examination of the mess we're in and some substantive ideas for fixing it. Overtreated delivers on both counts.

BY: John Vaughn, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

This book could save your life...Brownlee clearly shows in this important book that overtreatment, like undertreatment, is very bad medicine.

BY: Marcia Angell, M.D., former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine and author of The Truth About the Drug Companies

In the blizzard of books on our healthcare system, Shannon Brownlee's is unique in its provocative argument that individuals and nation suffer from misguided and costly treatments. Patients, physicians, and policy makers would do well to consider her evidence as an important prescription for reform.

BY: Jerome Groopman, M.D., Harvard Medical School and author of How Doctors Think

Science journalist Brownlee (Atlantic Monthly, New Republic) has mined medical journals, reports from authoritative health care organizations, and troubling personal narratives by doctors and patients to present a stunning but reasoned picture of the out-of-control, inefficient, and often tragically ineffective U.S. health care system.

BY: Kathy Arsenault, Univ. of South Florida at St. Petersburg Library, LJXpress

With her razor-sharp analyses, Brownlee disentangles the paradoxes of today's health care mess and turns every assumption on its head. She will forever change the way you view health care while re storing your hope for its future. This book is an important read for anyone interested in health care reform, which, in this day and age of overtreatment, should be all of us.

BY: Pauline Chen, M.D., author of Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality

In this vivid and arresting tour of medicine in America, Shannon Brownlee shows why the care that is supposed to make us healthier frequently makes us sicker instead. At a time when health care reform is atop the political agenda again, this book should be required reading -- not only for every lawmaker and medical professional, but for every voter and patient, too.

BY: Jonathan Cohn, author of Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Crisis

Finally, someone willing to expose the dirty little secret of U.S. health care. If you have insurance you will certainly get too much health care, and when it comes to medicine more is definitely not better! Overtreated will open your eyes to the problems and point the way to the answers.

BY: Susan Love, M.D., author of Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book and President and Medical Director, Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation