August 20, 2012

HEALTH CARE REFORM IS JUST ABOUT CUTTING SPENDING:

Testing What We Think We Know (H. GILBERT WELCH, August 19, 2012, NY Times)

The truth is that for a large part of medical practice, we don't know what works. But we pay for it anyway. Our annual per capita health care expenditure is now over $8,000. Many countries pay half that -- and enjoy similar, often better, outcomes. Isn't it time to learn which practices, in fact, improve our health, and which ones don't?

To find out, we need more medical research. But not just any kind of medical research. Medical research is dominated by research on the new: new tests, new treatments, new disorders and new fads. But above all, it's about new markets.

We don't need to find more things to spend money on; we need to figure out what's being done now that is not working. That's why we have to start directing more money toward evaluating standard practices -- all the tests and treatments that doctors are already providing.

There are many places to start. Mammograms are increasingly finding a microscopic abnormality called D.C.I.S., or ductal carcinoma in situ. Currently we treat it as if it were invasive breast cancer, with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Some doctors think this is necessary, others don't. The question is relevant to more than 60,000 women each year. Don't you think we should know the answer?

Or how about this one: How should we screen for colon cancer? The standard approach, fecal occult blood testing, is simple and cheap. But more and more Americans are opting for colonoscopy -- over four million per year in Medicare alone. It's neither simple nor cheap. In terms of the technology and personnel involved, it's more like going to the operating room. (I know, I've had one.) Which is better? We don't know.
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Posted by at August 20, 2012 5:35 AM
  

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