Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Healthcare Reform Misconception - Costs are rising because of the avarice and greed or just unregulated “bad guys,” including drug and technology com

Each of these deserves some approbation and bears some responsibility at the margin, but these are not the major reasons why costs are rising. But it seems that politicians, the media and so many others seem to believe what’s convenient rather than what is accurate.

The real culprits are: 1) the poor coordination of care of those with chronic illness resulting in excess visits to specialists, excess tests, unneeded procedures and even hospitalizations, 2) overuse [often as a result of #1] of expensive drugs, devices or procedures when they are not needed or truly necessary or when a generic drug, older device or no procedure at all would be more than adequate and appropriate, 3) a wide divergence in the use of medical care and technologies based on geographic region with no evidence that those who receive “more” have better health or longer lives 4) an aging population [older people get sick more often and consume more medical care]; and 5) physicians/patients/relatives who are unwilling to accept the inevitability of death and insist on “one last try.”

6) A big driver of high costs is preventable errors. We know that at least 100,000 people die annually of safety lapses like developing a hospital-acquired infection, drug errors, or procedural errors. Many more are harmed. This lack of quality greatly adds to costs.

7) One of the biggest drivers of increasing costs over time will be our own behaviors along with a lack of preventive medicine or wellness programs. We are a nation that is obese, has poor nutrition, lacks exercise, and is over-stressed. We have dangerous habits of smoking, drinking and driving, and not wearing seat belts. Too many of us do not get immunized to common yet often lethal infections such as influenza, nor do we practice good dental hygiene. We avoid basic screenings to detect high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or cancer. Unfortunately, many government policies actually aid and abet us in maintaining these behaviors.

Add these together and our costs are higher than most other developed countries.

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Praise for Dr Schimpff

The craft of science writing requires skills that are arguably the most underestimated and misunderstood in the media world. Dumbing down all too often gets mistaken for clarity. Showmanship frequently masks a poor presentation of scientific issues. Factoids are paraded in lieu of ideas. Answers are marketed at the expense of searching questions. By contrast, Steve Schimpff provides a fine combination of enlightenment and reading satisfaction. As a medical scientist he brings his readers encyclopedic knowledge of his subject. As a teacher and as a medical ambassador to other disciplines he's learned how to explain medical breakthroughs without unnecessary jargon. As an advisor to policymakers he's acquired the knack of cutting directly to the practical effects, showing how advances in medical science affect the big lifestyle and economic questions that concern us all. But Schimpff's greatest strength as a writer is that he's a physician through and through, caring above all for the person. His engaging conversational style, insights and fascinating treasury of cutting-edge information leave both lay readers and medical professionals turning his pages. In his hands the impact of new medical technologies and discoveries becomes an engrossing story about what lies ahead for us in the 21st century: as healthy people, as patients of all ages, as children, as parents, as taxpayers, as both consumers and providers of health services. There can be few greater stories than the adventure of what awaits our minds, bodies, budgets, lifespans and societies as new technologies change our world. Schimpff tells it with passion, vision, sweep, intelligence and an urgency that none of us can ignore.

-- N.J. Slabbert, science writer, co-author of Innovation, The Key to Prosperity: Technology & America's Role in the 21st Century Global Economy (with Aris Melissaratos, director of technology enterprise at the John Hopkins University).