THESIS: Preventing Overdiagnosis, the Quaternary Prevention

Maria Llargués Pou, a soon-to-be Family Physician in Barcelona, recently shared with me her Bachelor's Thesis. 

Her work - "Primum non nocere" Preventing Overdiagnosis, the Quaternary Prevention provides a concise introduction to the efforts around the world to prevent overuse of tests, treatments, and disease-labels, as well as the reasons we must address this growing issue.

 

Medicine’s much hailed ability to help the sick is fast being challenged by its propensity to harm the healthy 

Llargués Pou has beautifully laid out an evolution of ideas, from Ivan Illich's idea of Iatrogenesis, to Jamoulle's attempts to thwart iatrogenic harm with a public health model of Quaternary Prevention, and now, contemporary efforts to tackle overdiagnosis, like the Choosing Wisely Campaign and Preventing Overdiagnosis conference. Her paper serves as a great "backgrounder" for those who wish to learn more about the broad themes and history of this movement.


You can view the full text HERE.

Quaternary Prevention, P4

We still lack a unifying name, but initiatives like "Right Care," "Choosing Wisely," "Preventing Overdiagnosis," "Prudent Healthcare," and others all seek to describe, categorize, confront, or improve upon the status quo of what's being done: too much medical stuff and too little caring for people.

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    Jamoulle M. Quaternary prevention, an answer of family doctors to overmedicalization. International Journal of Health Policy and Management, 2015, 4(2), 61–64

Jamoulle M. Quaternary prevention, an answer of family doctors to overmedicalization. International Journal of Health Policy and Management, 2015, 4(2), 61–64

 

Quaternary Prevention

You may have read lately about Quaternary Prevention (Prévention quaternaire) or P4, a major initiative of this movement. This – in the words of Ray Moynihan – "awkwardly titled" idea came originally from Dr Marc Jamoulle (@jamoulle), a Belgian GP, almost 30 years ago.

He coined the term "Quaternary Prevention" to describe 'an action taken to identify a patient or a population at risk of overmedicalisation, to protect them from invasive medical interventions and provide for them care procedures which are ethically acceptable.' Essentially, it is a process that explicitly considers and thus enables avoidance of iatrogenic harm. 

"Quaternary prevention should take precedence over any alternative preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic, as dictated by the principle of primum non nocere." (Wikipedia)

P4

*NB*: Be careful not to confuse Jamoulle's term P4 with the more popular P4; predictive, preventive, personalized, and participatory (P4) medicine, with a focus on detecting and dealing with disease before it even exists, may (arguably) be the antithesis to Quaternary Prevention.

Jamoulle's idea came first, anyway. His original 1986 article Information and computerization in general practice (en français) started the discussion around quaternary prevention, with a particular focus on how information technology can dehumanize healthcare. He has refined the idea, with presentations at WONCA world conferences and many publications (listed here).

View Dr Jamoulle's page on Quaternary Prevention "P4" or read more

Although the cumbersome title will probably dissuade related initiatives from taking the name and falling under the umbrella of 'quaternary prevention,' we are all united in the spirit of our efforts. I remain in awe that Jamoulle and others had the wisdom to begin the discussion of harms of overdiagnosis in a time while mammography was just gaining momentum, ADD was rarely diagnosed and yet to be redefined as ADHD, and I was still in diapers.