Thursday, February 18, 2010

1 of the top 10 ways to cut health care costs: informed patients

We have many clients who are working on raising the knowledge of patients and providing them with tools to make better medical decisions.

So when a list was published of “10 Ways to Cut Health Care Costs Right Now,” I had to share.  One way was to “Let well-informed patients decide.”

When Floyd "Jack" Fowler Jr. holds focus groups of heart patients, he's amazed at their misplaced faith in the benefits of medical procedures. "They all think they'll die if they don't have bypass surgery or angioplasty," says Fowler—even though studies show that both procedures extend lives or prevent heart attacks in only a tiny minority of especially sick patients. But hardly anyone knows this, he says.

Fowler's nonprofit Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making has sought for years to give patients both that knowledge—and a choice. The idea is to explain thoroughly to people the benefits and risks of medical procedures they may be facing. At the Spine Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, for example, patients with back problems are shown a video that walks them through various procedures and provides data showing that outcomes are similar whether or not they have surgery. Once the program started, spinal surgery rates dropped 30%.

So far, shared decision-making efforts reach only a small number of patients. But given that as much as 37% of health spending is wasted on unnecessary care, the idea is catching on. Washington State passed the nation's first law two years ago encouraging informed decision-making, and other states are expected to follow, says Dr. Lance Lang, senior medical director at Health Dialog.

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