Making Better Use of Health Care Dollars

Via Wonkblog, Sarah Kliff reports on an initiative by nine medical specialty groups to identify procedures that they find to be either unnecessary or unlikely to improve patient outcomes. The initiative, called "Choosing Wisely" tasked these nine groups to come up with five procedures each, for a total of 45 (the list is here). 

As health care costs throughout the system have continued to rise, there has been greater emphasis placed on figuring out what is effective treatment and what is unnecessary, wasteful, or perhaps even harmful to the patient. Choosing Wisely is a start in that effort and is doing its best (along with other groups) to push these guidelines out into the public and to get doctors to pay attention.

The debate is an important one to be having, and one that could be helped by policy changes. For example, pushing forward on payment reforms that shift away from fee-for-service will have doctors thinking more carefully about the benefits relative to the costs of different procedures. On the other side, Medicare cost-sharing could be changed to better reflect the value of different services and to discourage wasteful medical spending.

There are many changes we can make to federal health care programs themselves in order to hold down their growth. At the same time, though, we should be pursuing reforms that will bring down costs in the whole system by squeezing out the inefficiencies that currently exist.