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Medical technology: Wow or Ka-ching?

One reason the U.S. spends so much on health care, compared to other countries, is uncritical and often unwarranted use of the latest, greatest technology available to treat an ailment.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Portland urologist Craig Turner describes the problem quite well in a recent op-ed essay for Bloomberg.

“We [hospitals and physicians] seem to be promoting newer technology even in the absence of data,” he says. “Exciting cutting-edge treatments are marketed with the singular effect of peddling hope to patients when they are at their most vulnerable. Rival hospitals and physicians afraid of losing revenue respond by escalating the medical arms race, buying more and more expensive new technology.”

Dr. Turner isn’t complaining about what others do. He discusses his own use of the daVinci robot in prostate cancer surgey, noting that the device cost $2 million to buy and costs another $2,000 or more every time it’s used. Obviously, this creates an incentive to use the robot no matter what science says about its efficacy.

Worse yet, Turner admits he’s no longer as good at standard laparoscopy as he used to be. “Rather than being viewed as incompetent, though, I am seen as the priest who, imbued with the power of robot, will deliver the patient from the shadow of death,” he adds.

Bill Sez: Perhaps Dr. T doth protest too much. What evidence there is does not show better results for robot-assisted surgery than for conventional treatment…or for declining active treatment in favor of watchful waiting. But he’s right that the medical technology “arms race” drives up spending without assuring better results for patients. (H/t Health Beat Blog.)

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Categories: Health care
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