Arnold Kling  

Preventive Health Care is not a Free Lunch

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'rdan' quotes a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Although some preventive measures do save money, the vast majority reviewed in the health economics literature do not. Careful analysis of the costs and benefits of specific interventions, rather than broad generalizations, is critical. Such analysis could identify not only cost-saving preventive measures but also preventive measures that deliver substantial health benefits relative to their net costs; this analysis could also identify treatments that are cost-saving or highly efficient (i.e., cost-effective).
In addition to determining which preventive measures and treatments are most efficient, it will be necessary to identify those that are not yet fully deployed and those that could serve a large population and bring about substantial aggregate improvements in health at an acceptable cost. Findings that some cost-saving or highly efficient measures are underused would indicate that current practice is inconsistent with the efficient delivery of health care. Other services might be identified as overused, and such findings would underscore the importance of fashioning policies that provide incentives to shift practice toward more cost-effective delivery of health care.

Some people want to believe that preventive medicine is the solution to rising health care costs. Instead, these authors recommend careful cost-benefit analysis of all forms of health care. I agree.

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COMMENTS (2 to date)
8 writes:

This speaks for itself.

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Dr. T writes:

Many physicians have known about the limited value of preventive care for years. The problem is that medical professional societies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the various groups within the National Institutes of Health, and private foundations such as the American Cancer Society all recommend many preventive health measures. Physicians follow too many recommendations that have low cost/benefit ratios. This is due to three factors: ignorance (failure to read the actual studies), greed (one can make much money on the initial preventive care tests and the follow-up visits when results aren't perfectly normal), and fear (of missing a bad disease and getting sued).

The only group whose recommendations I consistently trust is the U. S. Preventive Services Task Force. This group only recommends preventive care that has objective evidence of significant benefit at reasonable cost. A good example is screening for prostate cancer.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) concludes that the evidence is insufficient to recommend for or against routine screening for prostate cancer using prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing or digital rectal examination (DRE).

In contrast, the American Urological Association recommends screening with PSA testing and digital rectal examination, and recommends prostate biopsy if PSA is even slightly elevated. Pathologists get lots of non-cancerous prostate biopsies due to this guideline.

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