How Powerful Patients Save the System Money

November 11, 2015
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Andrew and a patient at a town meeting

Andrew and a patient at a town meeting

Andrew and a patient at a town meeting

Andrew and a patient at a town meeting

I’ve been reading how U.S. healthcare costs are rising much slower and more moderately than expected. Economists are debating why. I am betting Obamacare has helped. But I admit, I am a fan.

But, no matter what’s going on, the lingering worries about skyrocketing medical costs in the future got me thinking about one obvious part of a solution—Smarter Patients. I am not just talking about all of us having healthier lifestyles so we prevent illness—like type 2 diabetes or colon cancer. I am talking about ways we can lower costs after we have a diagnosis or when one is suspected.

This can start with advocating for the right tests and saying no to unnecessary tests and procedures. From there, it can have us being vigilant on patient safety so (1) we don’t get an infection from providers or equipment (“did you wash your hands doctor?” “Did you wipe off your stethoscope?”); (2) avoiding drug mistakes or allergic reactions – “Did you see I am on a blood thinner?” “Did you see I am allergic to sulfa drugs…etc.?”, and (3) For cancer patients, being more involved can ensure our primary care docs understand our survivorship plan and how we may need to be treated differently for the flu, vaccinations or chest infections. And there’s a big #4: We as patients can push to ensure we get the right treatment at the right time for our personal situation. In cancer, too often patients are given drugs that the literature shows in our situation will not work. Or if our cancer mutates, the drugs will no longer work. These are expensive mistakes that can be prevented if we, the patients, try to stay on top of things.

I recognize that keeping healthcare costs down takes a lot more than just patients being stronger, more knowledgeable self-advocates. But it should not be overlooked. Yes, clinic and hospital costs should be “capitated,” so these organizations and their doctors are only paid so much to deal with a given patient diagnosis or event. And they should be rewarded for more efficient care. But we are not innocent by-standers any longer. So getting smart about our condition, asking questions, and just generally keeping our head in the game will certainly save money, anguish and needless suffering.

I know most of us are focused on the issues of our personal health, but given that it is important for our society to save money on healthcare and use funds for other things that are important to us (including clinical research!), we should work to be good healthcare “citizens” as well. We are expecting that of our doctors and hospitals, so our role is pivotal, too.

As we march into an election season, we’ll hear more about healthcare costs. So I welcome your comments about my point of view. What’s yours?

Best regards,

Andrew