Unnecessary low-value healthcare procedures cost consumers $25B annually
- Healthcare consumers spend $25 billion each year on low-value health procedures that aren’t always necessary, according to the Task Force on Low-Value Care, a multi-stakeholder group established by VBID Health.
- The five most commonly overused low-value medical procedures, according to the task force, are: 1) diagnostic imaging and testing for low-risk patients before they undergo low-risk surgery; 2) vitamin D screening; 3) screening of men 75 and older for prostate-specific antigen; 4) imaging for acute lower-back pain the first six weeks after symptoms appeared without clinical warning signs; and 5) using expensive brand-name drugs when generics with the same active ingredients are available.
- Each of these five procedures have "broad scientific consensus against their use," according to the task force.
Most consumers aren’t medical specialists and therefore depend on the advice of healthcare professionals to determine what services and procedures they should have. Benefits education probably won't be enough to solve the problem of high-frequency, low-value procedures, but employers can help employees become advocates for their own health through value-comparison tools and services.
Healthcare costs continue to rise across the board, but all stakeholders — employers, employees, insurers and service providers — must consider ways to slow steep cost increases. It's no secret by now that prescription drugs, particularly specialty pharmaceuticals, are the largest cost driver (but not the only one). But employers also have to weigh the impact of chronic conditions, from sleep disorders to Type 2 diabetes. To protect employees at risk of acquiring chronic illnesses, employers will also need to consider the implementation of wellness initiatives.
Again, though, the problems plaguing in the U.S. healthcare systems are often beyond the power of one employer to solve. For example, the daily retirement of 10,000 baby boomers and that generation's struggle with healthcare costs reflect serious societal problems with retirement security and protections. It'll take strong advocacy — and true, lasting reform — to achieve a breakthrough.