Dr. Gil Welch of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice has an opinion column in the New York Times, “Testing What We Think We Know.” Excerpts:
“The truth is that for a large part of medical practice, we dont know what works. But we pay for it anyway. Our annual per capita health care expenditure is now over $8,000. Many countries pay half that and enjoy similar, often better, outcomes. Isnt it time to learn which practices, in fact, improve our health, and which ones dont?
To find out, we need more medical research. But not just any kind of medical research. Medical research is dominated by research on the new: new tests, new treatments, new disorders and new fads. But above all, its about new markets.
We dont need to find more things to spend money on; we need to figure out whats being done now that is not working. Thats why we have to start directing more money toward evaluating standard practices all the tests and treatments that doctors are already providing.
There are many places to start. Mammograms are increasingly finding a microscopic abnormality called D.C.I.S., or ductal carcinoma in situ. Currently we treat it as if it were invasive breast cancer, with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Some doctors think this is necessary, others dont. The question is relevant to more than 60,000 women each year. Dont you think we should know the answer?
Or how about this one: How should we screen for colon cancer? The standard approach, fecal occult blood testing, is simple and cheap. But more and more Americans are opting for colonoscopy over four million per year in Medicare alone. Its neither simple nor cheap. In terms of the technology and personnel involved, its more like going to the operating room. (I know, Ive had one.) Which is better? We dont know.”
I’ve written a number of posts on DCIS. Two examples:
And I’ve written about the fecal occult blood testing vs. colonoscopy issues. Two examples: