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Transform Care March 13, 2018

The Epidemic of Too Much Medical Care is an Opportunity to Lower Costs

Professor of Surgery and Health Policy, Johns Hopkins Medicine
Key Takeaway
50% of Americans are on at least four prescription medications - @MartyMakary

Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, and Jamie Dimon hinted their Amazon-Berkshire Hathaway-JP Morgan deal will use technology to mend a broken healthcare system. But this focus is not enough to adequately address healthcare’s cost crisis. The reason? There’s simply too much medical care.

This is according to a recent USA Today op ed by Marty Makary, MD, a Johns Hopkins surgeon and co-director of Practicing Wisely, an Oliver Wyman initiative to reduce unnecessary medical care, improve patient outcomes, and cut healthcare costs by ensuring clinicians practice according to standardized appropriate measures. Dr. Makary advises Bezos, Buffett, and Dimon pay close attention to those physicians advocating for more appropriate care measures tied to evidence-based patient outcomes. A value-based care approach, not just a technological approach, will potentially transform healthcare from the inside out, says Dr. Makary.

Thresholds for care standards are too low, and the sheer volume of prescribed medicine too high, says Dr. Makary. Although Americans reportedly filled twice as many prescriptions – a record 4.5 billion – in 2016 compared to 1997, he says this does not mean disease has doubled over the past decade. Instead, it means healthcare has a crisis of appropriateness. He notes that over half of Americans are on at least four prescription medications. The reason this number is so high is because too many patients are on unnecessary medications. And medications – such as opioids – can cause much greater health problems.

Too many patients undergo unneeded medical services, such as irrelevant health screenings, lab tests, or genetic testing. And often times, unneeded tests just end up leading to more unneeded tests – or unneeded surgeries. And the cost of this kind of unnecessary care? Over $250 billion within a single year. Therefore, the epidemic of “too much medical care” is healthcare’s greatest opportunity to cut costs and advance health outcomes.

Read Dr. Makary’s USA Today op ed here.

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