I’m on a first name basis with my doctor’s phone nurse. Carla helps me decide whether or not our issue is serious enough to merit a visit, she gives me tips on bringing down a stubborn fever and staying hydrated through the flu. She knows the names of everyone in my family, including my parents and grandmother. That’s because we all see the same doctor, the one who delivered me 25 years ago. If I’m a little overzealous in my quest to keep my family healthy, I doubt that Carla would ever tell me. That being said, she would never recommend that we come see the doctor unless it was a serious problem that needed a prescription. Because I’m quick to check in with our nurse first, if someone from my family makes it in to see our doctor, it’s treated like a serious issue. I’m pretty sure that Dr. G assumes that if I stayed home from work, someone’s dying.

At least, this is the relationship that I’ve always thought I had with my doctor’s office. Reading through this new study, I might be incorrect. A recent survey from The Archives of Internal Medicine shows that 42% of doctors believe that patients in their own practice are receiving too much care. This isn’t like saying, “Oh those doctors over there are being overzealous,” or “Oh, those terrible patients of Dr. So-and-So come in at the drop of a hat.” These general physicians think that their patients come in too frequently and get too many tests.

My first thought was, “WebMD strikes again!” I think it’s generally understood that people who are constantly searching their symptoms and worrying about possible rare cancers or genetic diseases see their doctor a little more regularly. With great information comes great temptation. Carla has laughed at me more than once when I admit, “I called because WebMD says that I should seek emergency medical attention for this…” At that point, she normally laughs at me and tells me to get some rest. By the way, she’s never been wrong yet.

But this survey shows that doctors believe they’re prescribing more unnecessary tests, consultations or medications because they’re afraid of malpractice suits. Physicians are afraid of missing something and having it come back to haunt them. 76% of doctors site malpractice suits as the cause of over-care, which makes this a pretty widely-believed theory. And I think it makes it something that we definitely need to be addressing. Unnecessary tests and consultations don’t just waste lots of money, they lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

We all want to keep our families safe, but I think we want to be reasonable about it as well. It might help to communicate your feelings with your doctor’s office. Call in to the phone nurse, but let her know that you’re not uncomfortable sticking at home and waiting out a quick cold or stomach bug. Think carefully about what’s being prescribed to and don’t be afraid to ask questions. And most importantly, don’t play up an illness or injury because you’re afraid that a doctor won’t take it seriously.

We want to keep our families safe, but we don’t want to subject them to more medicines or tests than they need. So it looks like parents are going to have to be their own advocates and their own censors. Maybe we should call Carla and check though…