Reduce healthcare costs through strong partnerships
Posted on Jan 27, 2013 in Opinion
Relative to many other developed countries (e.g. Great Britain, Australia, Norway, and Japan), the USA has the most expensive healthcare costs. In 2010, we spent over 2.5 trillion on healthcare. Yet, these greater costs fail to impart a higher healthcare quality as the USA trails the nations listed above in average life expectancy. This ineffective healthcare system and its accompanying, skyrocketing costs must be tamed to avoid bankrupting Americans and the government.
In order to decrease healthcare costs and increase longevity, we, both globally and as a nation, must view health differently. “Health” is not merely the absence of a diseased state; instead, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” With this definition, particularly regarding the portion about physical well-being, WHO entreats scientists and physicians to look beyond the blatant diseased state.
Currently, many physicians and others in our healthcare system treat the illnesses or symptoms that arise well after infection. As a result, medical intervention takes place well into the disease-burdened body, which has the ramification of a higher cost of management.
To reduce healthcare expenditures requires a shift of the paradigm from late, expensive interventions to early, cost-effective preventative care measures. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “more than 75% of healthcare costs are due to chronic conditions.” Key chronic conditions are diseases that are the top three leading causes of deaths in our nation: heart disease, cancer and stroke, respectively.
The poem of the blindmen and an elephant by John Saxe, which tells the story of six blind men who went to “see” an elephant, teaches a methodology that needs to be employed to fix our current health system. In the poem, each man approached the elephant from different sides, felt different body parts, and gave different interpretations of the elephant. The first man felt the side and stated the elephant is “like a wall;” the second touched the tusk and declared an elephant to be “like a spear;” the third held the “squirming trunk” and claimed an elephant is much “like a snake;” and so it continued until the sixth man, whom grabbed the tail, concluded that an elephant is “like a rope.” Each of the blindmen essentially outlined one characteristic of the elephant; put together, these seemingly contrasting descriptions painted a picture of an elephant.
Akin to the blind men, various members of the healthcare team and scientists in different fields must collaborate to look at the big picture. Rather than simply treating chronic diseases, there needs to be more focus on identifying early markers of developing conditions. Recognizing and taking measures to control these costly conditions would drastically reduce the amount spent on healthcare costs. To do so, we must continue to encourage and invest in collaborations aimed at improving medical care at numerous points–the assessment of patient health risks, detecting early deviations from a healthy state towards a diseased state, and improving the effectiveness of disease management.
With strong health partnerships, we are bound to find proper applications of emerging research studies. Developing tools or techniques to predict looming chronic diseases have the implication of reducing healthcare costs. As such, instead of working in disparate environments, there needs to be a greater push for scientists to enter hospital and clinical settings to question and address significant, translatable issues.