Supply of Medical Services

Just Say No

The cover of Newsweek examines how overtreatment can harm people’s health.  The article’s catchy title is “No! The one word that can save your life.

Healthcare Economist readers have know this is the case for a while.  The Institute of Medicine has noted that the prevalence of iatrogenic injuries is a serious problem, killing 100,000 patients per year.  The N.Y. Times has written about the phenomenon and Sharon Brownlee even has a book out called Overtreated.

Putting an article on the cover of Newsweek which says the best way to protect your health is to, in many cases, refuse physician’s care and/or advice is important.  Once excerpt from the article is the following:

The dilemma, say a growing number of physicians and expert medical panels, is that some of this same health care that helps certain patients can, when offered to everyone else, be useless or even detrimental…. At least five large, randomized controlled studies have analyzed treatments for stable heart patients who have mothering worse than mild chest pain.  The studies compared invasive procedures including angioplasty…stenting…and bypass surgery.  Every study found that the surgical procedures didn’t improve survival rates or quality of life more than noninvasive treatments including drugs (beta blockers, cholesterol-lowering statins, and aspiring), exercise, and a healthy diet.  They were, however, far more expensive: stenting costs Medicare more than $1.6 billion a year.

Without a doubt, American spend too much on medical care.  Most (but not all) Americans can agree that restricting coverage for to procedure which reduce health is a good thing.  In most cases, however, procedures have some benefit and some cost.  The key to reducing medical spending is getting patients agree to forgo care which is not cost effective (the benefit is too small relative to the cost).  Until that happens, Medicare and the health care system in general will continue to be a growing burden on society as the baby boomers age into retirement.

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