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Can "Consumers" Make Effective Healthcare Decisions?

In this era of increased healthcare costs, many organizations are beginning to shift to so-called high-deductible plans or consumer-driven healthcare plans. Various constituents banter about the advantages and disadvantages of such plans, some driven by a particular agenda. I am by no means a healthcare expert, however, one thing is for certain when it comes to these high-deductible plans. Employees are required to be knowledgeable about health and healthcare.

Unfortunately, employees may not have sufficient knowledge to be able to make truly informed choices about how they spend their healthcare dollars. A recent issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest highlights the problem: the vast majority of people are not qualified to interpret statistical results regarding different drugs, testing procedures, and other key health decisions. What’s worse is that doctors tend not to be much better. For example, the article reports on a study of gynecologists. Only 21% of them could accurately explain the probability that a positive mammogram result actually indicated that a woman had breast cancer. I don’t know about others, but that certainly does not give me much confidence.

Of course, a lot of the problems surface because everything gets reported in relative percentages. This drug cuts your risk of stroke by 50%...lose 25% more weight with this diet drug…cut the length of a cold by 10%. What do these percentages mean? Absolutely nothing, because these percentages are all relative! If the odds of suffering a stroke go from 2% to 1%, you have cut your risk of a stroke by 50%. But, is it really worth taking an expensive drug with 15 possible side effects so that your odds of suffering a stroke can go down by 1%? Most people would at least think twice before taking such a drug. Yet, because the benefits are inflated with relative percentages, most people have no idea. If doctors themselves have trouble sorting through all the spin, what are the odds that the average person with no medical training will be able to accurately interpret the results? I wouldn’t want to bet on those odds! Until people become more educated consumers (and that includes an ability to see through the spin and understand the statistics), then healthcare costs will continue to rise, resulting at least in part from people’s dependence on costly and yet unnecessary drugs and medical procedures. Call me cynical, but that is not a consumer-directed healthcare plan!

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Matt Grawitch published on November 21, 2008 9:53 AM.

Will Time Off Be the Next Thing To Go? A ‘Flexible’ Alternative was the previous entry in this blog.

When Economy Gets Tough, Exercise. is the next entry in this blog.

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