Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 33, Issue 6, pp 892–897 | Cite as

Older Adults’ Perceptions of the Causes and Consequences of Healthcare Overuse: A Qualitative Study

  • Ariel R. Green
  • Monica Tung
  • Jodi B. Segal
Original Research



Overuse of healthcare is pervasive in the United States, often exposing patients to harm with little likelihood of benefit. Older Americans are particularly vulnerable to overuse and impacted by it, yet it is unknown whether older patients perceive overuse as a consequential problem.


To explore the experiences and perspectives of older adults with respect to healthcare overuse in order to develop a framework for understanding and reducing overuse in older adults.


Qualitative study using focus group methodology.


Five focus groups were held with people ≥65 years of age (N = 38) in four senior centers in Baltimore, Maryland, in 2016.


Transcripts were analyzed using qualitative content analysis to identify major themes.

Key Results

Of the 38 participants, 28 were women and 29 were African-American; 31 had at least a 12th grade education. While virtually all reported experience with what they perceived to have been healthcare overuse, some expressed concern that they had been denied appropriate care. They perceived overuse to have occurred when interventions were applied in the absence of symptoms (excluding cancer screening), did not improve symptoms, were discordant with their preferences, or were duplicative. Some defined overuse as interventions that were offered before less intensive options or too early in the course of disease. Suggested contributors to overuse were poor quality communication between patients and healthcare providers, and between different healthcare providers. Participants reported suffering from treatment effects, high costs, worry, and inconvenience from what they perceived to be overuse. They suggested that overuse may be reduced when the patient is involved in decision making and has a trusted primary care doctor.


The experience of older adults highlights potential sites of intervention to reduce healthcare overuse. Engaging patients in shared decision making and enhancing communication and knowledge transfer should be tested as interventions to reduce perceived overuse.


healthcare overuse older adults qualitative research 


Prior Presentations

This study was presented at the 5th Lown Institute Conference in Boston, MA, and at the 2017 Society of General Internal Medicine Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.


Supported by K24 AG049036-01A1 from the National Institute on Aging (Segal).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they do not have a conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11606_2017_4264_MOESM1_ESM.docx (21 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 20 kb)


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, Department of Medicine Johns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Johns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of MedicineJohns Hopkins University School of MedicineBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.Center for Health Services and Outcomes ResearchJohns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public HealthBaltimoreUSA

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