U.S. Healthcare Costs: A Never-Ending Dilemma

April 12, 2012 at 10:29 AM Leave a comment


It’s no secret that healthcare and its rising costs are a central focus for the United States these days. And it seems that every time it’s mentioned, there is a new idea or suggestion on how to solve the issue of continually growing costs. On April 4th 2012, an article was published in the New York Times about nine groups of medical specialty boards and their recommendation that doctors perform 45 relatively common tests and procedures less often. The article also states that patients should question these particular services when they are offered.

The reasoning behind using these “routine” procedures less often is that they unnecessarily increase healthcare costs with little benefit to patients. However, making such a claim brings forth so many questions and concerns it is almost mind boggling.  Examples include debates over the motivation of doctors for ordering such frequent tests when they may be unnecessary, and whether patients feel that they are being robbed of thorough care without certain procedures and tests. There is an educational initiative also mentioned called “Choosing Wisely” promoted by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation which could help in altering the behavior of both doctors and patients. Should these recommendations be taken into effect, the current utilization of certain medical devices and drugs could change. Whether action would have positive or negative implications for pharmaceutical and medical device companies is hard to say, but it is certainly something to which those companies should pay close attention.

According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation1 some of the main drivers of health care spending are technology and prescription drugs. To add to that, they mention that 31% of health expenditures in 2010 resulted from hospital care and an additional 20% came from physician and clinical services. This proves that the types recommendations made may hold some merit, at least in the fact that they are a significant factor in additional spending. There is a careful balance that physicians face when making decisions on how to treat their patients that I cannot even imagine. Clearly, to run tests and procedures and rack up a hefty bill with little to show for is not the goal, but to decide against the same tests and procedures and potentially lower the quality of care is not desirable either. It seems like common sense to me that patients’ situations must be taken on a case-by-case basis, and all-or-nothing rules should not apply to healthcare. Although that is not to say that there could be some doctors that should put a little bit more thought into what their patients really need, and what they could do without.

Author: Jamie Notaro

Editor: Ken Chiang

1 http://www.kaiseredu.org/Issue-Modules/US-Health-Care-Costs/Background-Brief.aspx

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Entry filed under: Comparative Effectiveness Data, Evidence Plans, Healthcare Economics, Hospital Care, Preventive Care.

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