Medical Arms Race

Medical arms race

Have you ever lived in a neighborhood where it’s obvious that two people are competing over the nicest lawn or newest car? It’s fun to watch, right? You know these guys are doling out oodles of cash just to one-up each other. What’s not fun to watch is when this sort of thing happens in health care.

You’ve seen the billboards and TV commercials touting the latest robotics equipment and concierge-like health care. It’s all part of the recent medical “arms race” and it’s playing out in communities across America, where doctors, hospitals, and health systems are racing to purchase the latest and greatest medical technology.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for competition and innovation, but when it comes to health care, it must be in the consumer’s best interest. The problem is that more and more research is showing that the medical arms race is not only hurting quality, it’s also driving up costs.

Countless studies have shown that when it comes to medicine, more is not always better. For instance, more X-rays and CT scans can expose patients to high levels of cancer-causing radiation; more antibiotics can lead to drug resistance; and more surgical procedures can increase the risk of infection.

Still, the U.S. delivers more medicine than any other industrialized nation, including three times as many mammograms and two times as many MRIs. Many of us would be OK ordering another round of tests if we knew it would produce positive results, but a growing number of studies are showing just the opposite.

Last year, the U.S. spent 18 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) on health care. That amounts to about $8,000 per person, nearly double any other industrialized nation. Yet the U.S. ranks dead last in the areas of quality, efficiency, and access to care.

Hospitals often argue that investments in facilities and technology are in response to consumer demand, and they’re partially right. Americans are obsessed with technology, and they’re demanding the latest and greatest from the doctors. But at some point, physicians must do what’s right for their patients, the community, and the quality and cost of health care.

To stem the tide, health plans – like CDPHP® – have begun rewarding physicians for quality over quantity. We’re providing financial incentives to doctors and hospitals that keep patients healthy and out of the hospital. That is, insurers are moving physicians off a fee-for-service model, which essentially encourages physicians to schedule more appointments, order more tests, and perform more procedures.

It’s human nature to want to one-up your neighbor. But when it comes to health care, there are few winners when we don’t work together. It’s time for physicians and hospitals to stop focusing on shiny objects and big buildings, and get back to providing high-quality care that our community can afford.


Photo by geraltCC0 Public Domain

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