Low-value care, typically defined as health services that provide little or no benefit, has potential to cause harm, incur unnecessary costs, and waste limited resources. Although evidence-based guidelines identifying low-value care have increased, the guidelines differ in the type of evidence they cite to support recommendations against its routine use.
We examined the evidentiary rationale underlying recommendations against low-value interventions.
We identified 1167 “low-value care” recommendations across five US organizations: the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), the “Choosing Wisely” Initiative, American College of Physicians (ACP), American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA), and American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). For each recommendation, we classified the reported evidentiary rationale into five groups: (1) low economic value; (2) no net clinical benefit; (3) little or no absolute clinical benefit; (4) insufficient evidence; (5) no reason mentioned. We further investigated whether any cited or otherwise available cost-effectiveness evidence was consistent with conventional low economic value benchmarks (e.g., exceeding $100,000 per quality-adjusted life-year).
Of the identified low-value care recommendations, Choosing Wisely contributed the most (N=582, 50%), followed by ACC/AHA (N=250, 21%). The services deemed “low value” differed substantially across organizations. “No net clinical benefit” (N=428, 37%) and “little or no clinical benefit” (N=296, 25%) were the most commonly reported reasons for classifying an intervention as low value. Consideration of economic value was less frequently reported (N=171, 15%). When relevant cost-effectiveness studies were available, their results were mostly consistent with low-value care recommendations.
Our study found that evidentiary rationales for low-value care vary substantially, with most recommendations relying on clinical evidence. Broadening the evidence base to incorporate cost-effectiveness evidence can help refine the definition of “low-value” care to reflect whether an intervention’s costs are worth the benefits. Developing a consensus grading structure on the strength and evidentiary rationale may help improve de-implementation efforts for low-value care.