Journal will partner at international conference to find ways to stop harming the healthy

Today, the BMJ launches a 'Too Much Medicine' campaign to help tackle the threat to health and the waste of money caused by unnecessary care.

Unnecessary care occurs when people are diagnosed and treated for conditions that will never cause them harm and there's growing evidence that many people are overdiagnosed and overtreated for a wide range of conditions such as prostate and thyroid cancers, asthma, and chronic kidney disease.

Through the campaign, the journal plans to work with others to increase awareness of the true benefits and harms of treatments and develop ways to wind back medical excess, safely and fairly.

The journal will also partner at a forthcoming international conference Preventing Overdiagnosis to be held in September 2013 in New Hampshire, USA.

The conference will be hosted by The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, along with Bond University Australia and leading US consumer organisation Consumer Reports. It will seek to bring together the research and the researchers, advance the science of the problem and its solutions, and develop ways to better communicate about this 'modern epidemic.'

The conference hopes to spark a broader conversation with a wider audience including industry, academia, policy makers, professional associations and citizen's groups. Registration is about to open here.

The BMJ's campaign is part of a wider suite of activities to combat the harms of too much medicine, including the Choosing Wisely campaign - in which medical organisations in the United States have created evidence based lists of interventions that may be unnecessary - the recent Avoiding Avoidable Care conference, and the second Selling Sickness conference, held last week in Washington DC.

Ray Moynihan, Senior Research Fellow at Bond University in Australia says: "Whether these different streams seamlessly coalesce is unclear, but the prospect of a radically new social contract between medicine and the wider society may not be far off, based on a clear commitment to stop harming so many of the healthy."

As part of the campaign, the BMJ will also produce a theme issue in early 2014 -  featuring the best papers from the conference - and will team up with Consumer Reports in the USA for a series on how widening disease definitions is fuelling overdiagnosis by labelling more and more healthy people as sick.

"Like the evidence based medicine and quality and safety movements of previous decades, combatting excess is a contemporary manifestation of a much older desire to avoid doing harm when we try to help or heal," says Fiona Godlee, BMJ Editor in Chief. "Making such efforts even more necessary are the growing concerns about escalating healthcare spending and the threats to health from climate change. Prescription drugs make a substantial contribution to healthcare's carbon footprint. Winding back unnecessary tests and treatments, unhelpful labels and diagnoses won't only benefit those who directly avoid harm, it can also help us create a more sustainable future."