Wednesday, December 26, 2007

More Expensive Medical Care Doesn't Mean Better Health

When Dr. Jack Wennberg was chosen to examine medical care in the state of Vermont, he made a surprising discovery.

Medical practice across the state varied enormously -- in Middlebury, for instance, only 7 percent of children had their tonsils removed, whereas in Morrisville, 70 percent did. But the Vermonters who lived in towns with more aggressive care weren’t any healthier. They were just getting more health care.

Over the past 30 years, Dr. Wennberg has done versions of his Vermont study across the entire country, and always with the same result. His story forms the backbone of the book “Overtreated,” by Shannon Brownlee.

The U.S. spends far more money on medical care than other countries, but often gets worse results. One reason is the overuse of unnecessary medical procedures. Studies have shown that many treatments, including spinal fusion, routine episiotomies and neonatal intensive care, are overdone. Between one fifth and one third of U.S. health care dollars is spent on care that does nothing to improve anyone’s health.

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