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Med-Tech Roundup: Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit


Patients who mismanage their medication cost the US $213 billion each year, according to a new study by the The IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. This mismanagement includes underuse and overuse of medication, along with taking it inconsistently or at the wrong time. WaPo:

The $213 billion equals nearly 8 percent of the more than $2.7 trillion the U.S. spent on health care last year. Those billions could pay for the health care of more than 24 million Americans currently uninsured, according to IMS.

[Murray Aitkin, the institute’s executive director, said] more-appropriate use of medication — taking it exactly as prescribed, not taking antibiotics for viral illnesses, preventing medication errors and the like — could prevent 6 million hospitalizations, 4 million trips to the emergency room and 78 million visits to doctors and other outpatient care providers each year.

Also this week, a USA Today investigation found that tens of thousands of patients undergo unnecessary surgeries every year, often to their own detriment:

In fact, unnecessary surgeries might account for 10% to 20% of all operations in some specialties, including a wide range of cardiac procedures — not only stents, but also angioplasty and pacemaker implants — as well as many spinal surgeries. Knee replacements, hysterectomies, and cesarean sections are among the other surgical procedures performed more often than needed, according to a review of in-depth studies and data generated by both government and academic sources.

These two studies show just how inefficient our health care system is, and how much tech could improve it. New medical innovations that can help patients take their medicine correctly are proliferating. And big data diagnostic technology can help doctors better judge when they shouldn’t perform surgeries or administer other treatments.

There are plenty of costs in the heath care system that can be reduced and eliminated simply by disruptive tech. Through smart use of innovations, from robodocs like Watson to 3D printing to app technology, we can make the system better, cheaper, and more efficient even without comprehensive re-haul of the system. The low-hanging health care fruit is ripe for the picking.

[Hospital technology image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Corlyss

    “other surgical procedures performed more often than needed”
    Who exactly determines need?

  • jeburke

    I agree with the import of Corlyss’s comment. That a caesarian section is “unnecessary” is not a call I want to see made by some medical bureaucrat.

    As for savings achieved by better management of medications than patients can muster themselves, it sounds plausible but I still doubt it. Consider that many (most?) medications have been deployed over the past 40 years or so (there were few before 1970) to reduce the need for more extensive and expensive treatments and hospitalizations (various cardio-vascular drugs reduce the need for cardiac surgeries, etc.), so we’re already ahead of the game financially by virtue of docs pushing a lot of pills. If some patients don’t manage their meds correctly, we’re still ahead since most do. Any added intervention, I would argue, to address the problems created by those who don’t is bound to wind up costing more for health care providers. One commonly suggested approach to helping elderly patients with multiple chronic illnesses who take multiple medications is to employ nurses who track these patients closely to coordinate care and avoid expensive crises. Unfortunately (for the financial argument), its been found in practice that this approach generates MORE, not less, reliance on the health care system and the crises occur anyway. Plus, the nurses cost money.

    It may make for better health but don’t hold your breath waiting for cost savings.

    • rheddles

      If I have to pay for somebody’s caesarian, I want some bureaucrat deciding what’s necessary. Same for their parents.

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