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Can The Healthcare “Consumers” Drive The Waste Out Of The System

Patients are first. Patients are the reason for the existence of the healthcare system. Physicians are second. They are trained to understand the pathophysiology of illness and to treat patients for their disease. Everyone else is a secondary stakeholder (provider).

All the stakeholders create waste in the healthcare system. If an accurate analysis were performed, most of the waste and the resulting profits would be attributed to the secondary stakeholders. Patient and physicians drive this waste and profits into the hands of the secondary stakeholders. Neither patients nor physicians are aware of driving the waste and profit into these stakeholders’ coffers.

The patient-physician relationship should be a one on one transaction. Patients and physicians are frustrated and many have accepted the disappearance of this human-to-human interaction.

Healthcare insurance companies and hospital systems think they own the patients and the physicians. This will turnout to be a fatal misperception.

To many observers of the healthcare system, there are no simple solutions to fixing the dysfunction. One reader wrote:

“ There are so many contending interests, physicians, patients, hospitals, surgeons, labs, health insurance companies, public funding, et al., there will never be an ideal plan simply because of the tensions that exist between the above actors.”

“This is compounded by the population diversity which impacts ability to pay, willingness to practice preventative health or comply with medical recommendations.  Add into the mix the highly influential emotions that cause patients and their family to make inappropriate or unwise decisions.”

The dysfunction in the healthcare system is so complex that most people look to blame someone for the dysfunction. The easiest targets are physicians.

I believe there is a simple way to solve the problems. It is by creating a consumer driven system that provides enough financial incentive to consumers to inspire them to prevent the development of chronic disease, teach them to treat their chronic disease with effective systems of care and provide information on finding physicians who will provide care. The solution has to be driven by individuals responsible for their care.

A case in point is Kris Carr author of Crazy Sexy Cancer

“Before finding Dr. Demetri at Dana-Farber, she spoke to four other oncologists. One kept her waiting for three hours, gave her 10 years to live and then abruptly left to see another patient. Another off-handedly suggested a triple organ transplant. But something about the wrongness of it all galvanized a previously untapped drive in Carr.

“I realized,” she says, “that if I was going to make it through this, I needed to become the C.E.O. of my own healing start-up.” Carr called her imaginary company “Save My Ass Technologies Inc.” She began meeting with doctors as if they were applying for a choice job with her.

Consumers can drive all the waste out of the system. People do not want to believe this because the profit created by the waste is counter to their vested interest. Many health policy experts think consumers are too stupid to find good medical care. It is not that they are too stupid. Consumers feel powerless in the present system.

Right now the solutions are finger-pointing solutions based on hunches and little evidence.

A physician wrote an editorial in the Bangor Daily News.

I think my profession collectively has failed miserably to lead on most hot issues of health care reform. It has not, for example, led efforts to get all Americans health insurance, to reduce medical errors, or to reduce waste in health care in order to help make it affordable for us all.

The statement is meaningless to me. It is grandstanding. The problem is if you tell a lie enough times it becomes the truth. The big question is which testing and which procedures are appropriate to improve well-being.

Which road will physicians choose when it comes to reducing the number of wasteful procedures they perform and for which they get paid? We do countless colonoscopies, heart catheterizations, MRI scans, joint scopings, office visits and much more that waste billions of dollars and cannot be eliminated without physician leadership of a “whack out the waste campaign.”

A reader of my blog replied to the statement made in the article in the Bangor Daily News.

I’d like to know who are the docs that are doing all this overutilizing that we keep getting accused of by others, and even by members of our own bunch.  I haven’t practiced that way, and I don’t know docs who do.  Where are all those miscreants?  I’m wondering if that may be another example of a false statement being repeated so often that it eventually acquires a ring of truth.”

In another departure from conventional thinking by the traditional media the same reader continues:

And, while I’m thinking about it, what can we do with the percentage that healthcare expenditures form of the GDP when the GDP is going into the tank, and healthcare is not?  Doesn’t that make the percent for healthcare seem a whole lot larger than it otherwise would be?  Maybe we should be railing away at the people who have allowed our GDP to get to the miserable level it now forms.  Instead of it all being Bush’s fault, maybe it is the fault of the unions whose greed drove all those jobs overseas, not to mention the excessive government regulations and taxation of corporations that make disincentives to GDP growth in our country?  Maybe our view of things is narrower than it ought to be.  D”

We should not be satisfied with conventional thinking. Finger pointing doesn’t solve the problem of dysfunction in the healthcare system. What does is recognizing patterns and changing approaches to the healthcare system that serve to align incentives of all the stakeholders without totally disrupting the structure that exists.

The most important stakeholders in the healthcare system are patients. They should control the healthcare system. Consumers should make all the other stakeholders compete for their business. There is too much waste, too many middlemen, too many markups and too much abuse by all the stakeholders.

*This blog post was originally published at Repairing the Healthcare System*


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