This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Digital technology has made many things easier: There's an app for that! In the medical world, the equivalent is: There's a test for that!
And, just as with mobile-device applications, too many people want all the latest medical screenings, whether or not they actually need them. And the demand is a primary reason for the soaring cost of medical care.
A group of nine medical groups across the country representing nearly 375,000 doctors in all specialties, in search of a more sensible treatment protocol, has come up with a list of 45 tests and procedures they say are overprescribed. Not only are they too often ordered when a particular case does not warrant them, some of these tests actually put patients at risk, sometimes by exposure to radiation.
The United States spends far more than any other nation on health care, and yet millions of Americans do not have access to proper medical care, and thousands die every year because they are uninsured and can't pay for treatments they need.
This group of physicians rightly believes that adopting a protocol for tests that rely on best practices instead of the current system of paying doctors for individual procedures could lower the overall cost of medical care by tens of billions, maybe hundreds of billions of dollars over time.
The Affordable Care Act encourages the use of best practices checklists to reduce unneeded testing, but it does not go far enough. And the U.S. Supreme Court could throw out even those changes if it declares the law unconstitutional.
When Obamacare was passed two years ago, Republicans criticized a provision of the law that would allow Medicare payments to doctors for time spent talking to patients about end-of-life care. The GOP mantra was "Obama's death panels," when the provision was totally voluntary, and fit precisely with what physicians are recommending.
The group's recommendation includes stopping treatment for terminally ill cancer patients in the end stages of the disease who have not responded to multiple treatments.
It's shocking that Americans and their insurance companies are spending billions on such treatments as chemotherapy in the final weeks of life when hospice care to alleviate pain and make the dying patient more comfortable would be more humane as well as save money.
Doctors should be paid for results and coordination, not for performing procedure after procedure, just as these doctors recommend. It's the best way to make health care more affordable for all.