Earlier this week, I referenced an article written by Maggie Mahar at Health Beat, explaining why our health care costs are out of control. Maggie places partial blame on our overuse of technology and the lack of regulation on usage and pricing of said technology – and I completely agree. Thanks to the Health Wonk Review, hosted this week by David Harlow at Health Blawg, I came across an article by Daniel Goldberg at Medical Humanities Blog, which expands on the idea that we may be overusing technology, and that prioritizing funds for ever-advancing technology might not be the best use of health care dollars. (The Colorado Health Insurance Insider article about rising health care costs was included in the discussion about technology and health care costs in the HWR).
Daniel’s article is a fascinating read, and sure to make you think. He discusses the McKeown Thesis and challenges the widely held view that more cutting-edge technology equals better health for a population. My own personal views on this issue are based solely on my own experience, and thus don’t meet any sort of definition of science. But I have come to very strongly believe that what we eat, how we treat our bodies, and how we deal with stress have a tremendous impact on our health. I realize that this doesn’t work for every health condition. Jay’s knees had to be surgically fixed – the best diet in the world won’t re-align a kneecap that isn’t properly positioned. And without dialysis (a modern technological marvel) my father would have died years ago. Just like Maggie and Daniel, I am in no way advocating that medical technology is a bad thing. I realize that in many cases, it’s the difference between life and death. But it does seem that we’re always reaching for the next magic cure-all in the form of a drug or medical device, when perhaps much simpler (and cheaper) alternatives would work just as well.
And when it comes to medical technology, not only are we always striving for newer and better, but as Maggie pointed out “we often use the technology on a broad swathe of patients when only a few, who fit a very specific profile, actually benefit from it.” And of course someone has to pay for all of that technology. We love to blame health insurance companies for the rising cost of health care, but we should also look at our own demand for the latest and greatest in medical technology.