Top 5 Unnecessary Health-care Costs

By Jonathan D. Rockoff

Mindful of concerns about health-care’s spiraling costs, the Health Blog was struck by some new research on what the investigators identified as wasteful practices by family doctors and general practitioners.

Not being doctors, we can’t vouch for the clinical appropriateness of the findings, but there’s no harm in triggering a discussion, right?

What did the researchers say was the No. 1 most over-used activity by primary care physicians? Prescribing a brand-name cholesterol-lowering drug without trying a less expensive generic first, according to the research posted online by the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Doctors’ prescribing a brand-name statin, without first  checking to see if a lower-priced generic drug would cut a patient’s cholesterol sufficiently, results in $5.8 billion in excess health-care spending, according to the research letter published Oct. 1.

The authors found $6.76 billion in what they said was non-recommended health-care spending after analyzing surveys of patient visits to certain primary care doctors’ offices and hospital outpatient departments in 2009.

Other practices deemed inappropriate by the authors: bone density scans for women ages 40 to 64 years, costing $527.4 million; ordering CT Scans or MRI’s for lower back pain, amounting to $175.4 million; and prescribing antibiotics to children with sore throats caused by a virus, worth $116.3 million.

Although these sums aren’t chump change, the authors write that achieving affordable but high-quality health-care will really depend on finding ”‘high value’ targets” in specialty areas.