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Medical Money Pits
Medical Purgatories Plaguing Our Health Care System

Waiting can be expensive. PBS reports on observation rooms in which patients wait while providers determine if they should go home or stay for further treatment. Because there’s rarely clear protocols to govern how these rooms are run, they often turn into “purgatories” for patients, complete with poor conditions and wasteful inefficiencies:

It’s estimated that two-thirds of hospitals in the U.S. use inefficient practices, which translates to longer stays for patients and an additional $331 per patient in costs for the hospitals themselves. It also translates to poorer care conditions for some, who may find themselves in “observation purgatories” awaiting better treatment.

This is an example of the kind of expensive defects in our health care system that aren’t even really on most people’s policy radars. And yet the study estimated that changes to how hospitals do observation could, depending on how they are implemented, save anywhere from 1 to 8.5 billion dollars a year. We have noted other examples on this blog before of important yet overlooked inefficiencies burdening our health care system. If you put a few of these different inefficiencies that are each separately costing us in the billions—even hundreds of billions— together, pretty soon we’d be talking about some serious money.

Putting practices into place that can save us that money—like the ones recommended in the PBS piece— would go a long way to making our system better, more affordable, and more amenable to future reforms. What could we do with those saved billions? Train more doctors? Invest in technologies that reduce the cost of care? Expand access to health insurance? The list is long, but few of that will be really achievable until we can a handle on the waste and inefficiencies currently making the system expensive and dysfunctional.

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  • rheddles2

    The list is long, but few of that will be really achievable until we
    can a handle on the waste and inefficiencies currently making the system
    expensive and dysfunctional.

    The hubris! (not to mention the grammar and proofreading.)

    We’re talking about one sixth of the US economy. That’s the activity of about 18 million people. Does anyone really think the activities of that many people can be coordinated to get a handle on waste and inefficiency without military style command, control and incentive, not to mention military efficiency? The only other way is to let mutually voluntary transactions in the market do it. Anything in between will lead to the worst of both worlds.

    • Maynerd

      Agreed. This article appears to be written by a grad student who has never worked or spent any time in an ED setting.

      There’s plenty of waste in medicine. Two types in particular lead the pack: defensive medicine and the even more costly elaborate treatments for failing/demented individuals and/or futile end of life care particularly oncology patients. However, politicians are too gutless to address these thornier issues.

    • Jacksonian_Libertarian

      True, the only way to fix these inefficiencies is to let the consumers decide if they want to pay for more treatment, or even go somewhere else cheaper. The “Feedback of Competition” gets rid of all this bureaucratic inefficiency.

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