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Potentially Avoidable Care

In health care, some services are provided more often than necessary and that can do more harm than good. More care is not always better.

For example:

  • Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them wastes your money and may expose you to greater risk over the long term. The overuse of antibiotics is resulting in bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, making it harder to treat bacterial infections.
  • In most cases, low-back pain will go away or lessen within four to six weeks without medical attention. But patients often receive "imaging" (X-rays, MRIs or CT scans) or even surgery that they do not need in an effort to find or fix the problem.
  • Many people go to the emergency room for problems that don’t require special care, like back pain or respiratory infections. In addition to the extra cost, that choice puts them at risk for additional tests that they may not need.
  • Every day, patients get infections in hospitals while they are receiving care for something else. Time in the hospital puts you at risk for a hospital-associated infection.

Compare scores for potentially avoidable care


Imaging test.

What can patients do?

  • Antibiotics only help with infections caused by bacteria. They do not help treat infections caused by viruses.
    • Before taking an antibiotic for a sore throat, ask your doctor or health care provider to do a "strep" test to be sure an antibiotic will help.
    • Don’t take antibiotics for viral upper respiratory infections like the common cold.
    • If you aren't sure whether your infection is caused by bacteria, ask your doctor.
  • Know that low back pain is common and is experienced by a majority of adults sometime during their lives. In about 90 percent of cases, back pain will improve within four to six weeks without any type of major treatment. Follow your health care provider’s recommendations to manage back pain. This may include ice or heat and a non-narcotic pain medication (such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen).
  • If you have a health problem that is not an emergency, seek care from your primary care provider or an urgent care center.
  • If you are discharged from the hospital, make sure that you see your regular provider soon after discharge, to reduce your chances of having to return to the hospital soon.

Visit Own Your Health to help you make informed health care decisions.

What should your doctor do?

  • Explain to you when it’s appropriate for you to get an antibiotic and when it’s not.
  • Talk with you about the usual course of low back pain and the importance of staying active. After six weeks, if more aggressive therapy is being considered, discuss treatment options to help you understand the risks and benefits and to make a decision that is right for you.
  • Offer same-day appointments and extension of weekend and evening hours to help with urgent problems.
  • Offer electronic access through telephone or email consultations.
  • Work together with your hospital to improve transitions and care coordination.