Doctors need to learn to care about health costs

Megg Mueller | May 5, 2010

Do your doctors care about saving you money? Well, maybe they would if they actually knew how to, but chances are good your doctor doesn't have a clue. Most people would agree it's important for doctors to have all the information they need available so they can make an informed decision about your condition and treatment, but this rarely includes information on how much the tests, treatments and diagnostics might be costing you.

Doctors learn little about the cost of treatment

The New York Times recently wrote about how little training most physicians receive regarding cost of the care they prescribe. In the past, teaching doctors about matters like billing, procedure costs, or insurance issues was pretty much ignored; the thinking was doctors needed to focus just on treating the sick patient, no matter the cost. But that was before the skyrocketing cost of health care in this country.

Today doctors are supposed to receive training; according to the New York Times article, since 2007 the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), which accredits medical schools, requires its member school to include training on health care costs, but so far there is no standard amount time required for that study. This makes the requirement a very loose one, and most accrediting programs aren't even making sure the requirement is being followed. One of the main reasons it's not happening is the teachers themselves know little about the subject and aren't comfortable teaching it. But what does this all mean for you?

Reasons for increasing health care costs

According to the AAPR, the US spends billions on unnecessary health care, and the reason is often poor behavior as health care consumers. The number of times a sprained ankle is X-rayed, rather than just iced, and for each sore throat that takes us to the ER, when all we need is rest, we increase the costs of health in our country. Insurance companies are paying more and more claims, which only creates more administrative cost and raises the price of treatment.

But we're not the only ones seeking these unneeded treatments. As doctors pay higher and higher malpractice premiums, they've become much more cautious in their diagnosis and treatments, using expensive tests to weed out possible problems that if undiagnosed, could result in a lawsuit. This vicious cycle of too many tests is an expensive habit we need to break. All of this leads to an increase in the health care costs we all pay, whether directly through higher insurance premiums or if uninsured, the cost of simply being ill. If doctors were well-trained not only in the treatment of illnesses and disease, but also in how to heal their patients in the most cost-effective manner, we would all save. Our out-of-pocket costs would decrease, our insurance companies would pay less for our care, which would likely lower the cost of our premiums and the burden on employer-sponsored health insurance. No one wants a doctor to scrimp on treatment, but in these tough economic times, not paying attention to the price of health care is one cost none of us can afford.

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