High Tech-It Increases Healthcare Costs and Often Results in Unnecessary Treatments

It has been shown that the development and marketing of newer and more expensive technologies drives healthcare costs. Every day newer and more expensive devices are manufactured, marketed and purchased by doctors and hospitals across the USA. Many of these lives, but there are a significant number of them that add little to medical advances. Many of these wind up diagnosing abnormalities that, if left undetected, would pose no  harm to patients. However, these new machines must be used on patients to recover their costs-in many instances, this results in a vicious cycle of more and more dangerous and unnecessary medical care. Here’s a good example, robotic surgery. The robots, such as the da Vinci,  are very expensive, up to $1.3 million, plus a service contract that can run hundreds of thousands of dollars, annually. Additionally, it requires years of training to become proficient in its use. These machines are directly advertised to the public so folks are now seeking hospitals that have robotic surgery. This means that more and more hospitals are buying the robots to stay competitive. However, would you ask for the robot for your next surgery if you knew that many of the top surgeons in the USA won’t use them because they didn’t think it provided better outcomes? Wouldn’t you want to know more? Well it’s true. Many top surgeons don’t want to have anything to do with robotic surgery. Newer isn’t always better, but in healthcare, it is always more expensive (and sometimes more dangerous).

I’m sure all of you are familiar with the controversy surrounding mammograms. Earlier this year a prestigious board of physicians recommended, based on the  best available evidence, that women should not be screened for breast cancer until age 50 (the previous recommendation was 40). The scientific evidence showed that screening at 40 resulted in too many false positives (a diagnose of breast cancer which, after further testing, was found to be false). However, this recommendation was met with an outcry from the public that screening should continue because it was worth the discomfort of more testing if lives could be saved.

Well, more evidence was released this week that showed that there weren’t many lives saved with screening. Basically, it showed that the treatments used to treat breast cancer are so good that whether you discover the cancer earlier or later does not make a difference to survival-the survival rate is nearly identical (10% for detecting cancer earlier vs 8% for detecting cancer later).

Of course, this is a highly emotional issue and many of us would rather be safe than sorry. But, getting treated for breast cancer is not easy on the system. Many die just from the treatment. Would you want to go  through this if it was unnecessary? My recommendation is to read all the information you can about the disease and its treatment, get second opinions and talk seriously with your oncologist about your options. As breast cancer surgeon Dr. Mette Kalager says, “I know what being treated is like. The decision to be screened, she says, is a matter of personal preference. Is it worth it to become a patient without it being necessary? I think we have to respect what women want to do.”


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