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Much Health Spending "Does Nothing to Improve Our Health"


Shannon Brownlee is the author of "Overtreated" which "diagnoses the big flaw in medical spending." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT commentary quoted and cited below.

(p. C5) Fortunately -- if that's the right word -- there is an obvious candidate for cost-cutting: all that care that brings no health benefit. It's not hard to find examples. Scientific studies have shown that many treatments, including spinal fusion, routine episiotomies and neonatal intensive care, are overdone. These procedures often help specific subsets of patients. But for a lot of people, and "Overtreated" is full of stories, the treatments are a modern-day version of bloodletting.

"We spend between one fifth and one third of our health care dollars," writes Ms. Brownlee, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and former writer for U.S. News & World Report, "on care that does nothing to improve our health."

Worst of all, overtreatment often causes harm, because even the safest procedures bring some risk. One study found that a group of Medicare patients admitted to high-spending hospitals were 2 to 6 percent more likely to die than a group admitted to more conservative hospitals.

For the rest of the commentary, see:

DAVID LEONHARDT. "ECONOMIC SCENE; No. 1 Book, And It Offers Solutions." The New York Times (Weds., December 19, 2007): C1 & C5.

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