Friday, April 11, 2008

Knowing How To Reform Healthcare Is Easy. Doing Is Hard.

Like most things in life there is a big difference between knowing and doing. Most of us know what to do to stay healthy. Don't smoke or quit smoking. Exercise regularly. Eat a diet balanced with all of the different food groups in reasonable portion sizes. Maintain a healthy weight. Get screened for various medical problems early. One study suggested that doing these simple interventions extended life by 14 years!

Yet despite these seemingly boring yet simple lifestyle changes, there obviously there is gap between knowing and doing. About two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese. This trend is now affecting children. We all know what to do, but often it is we don't go about doing it.

The same applies to healthcare reform. A recent editorial in the NY Times noted that the cost of providing high quality medical care varied substantially among hospitals. The least costly were the famed Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic. The most expensive? UCLA, John Hopkins, and Mass General. The reason was that doctors at the most costly hospitals were paid fee for service. Do more and get paid more. On the other hand, doctors at the Mayo Clinic were on a salary. Health outcomes were the same. If all hospitals performed at the level of Mayo Clinic, then Medicare would save billions.

At the same time an article on the Wall Street Journal blog noted that a congressional advisory committee recommended that Medicare should pay primary care doctors more and less to specialists because of a shortage of primary care doctors, which if unresolved will result in increasing healthcare costs and worsening outcomes. In other words, pay primary care doctors more but have specialists be reimbursed less for each procedure. What will happen? Specialists will do more procedures to maintain their standard of living.

If Mayo Clinic can attract doctors and patients to their system. If doctors are salaried and patients do as well at less cost, then doesn't it make sense to have doctors paid to think instead of simply doing procedures?

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