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Connecting the dots in health care reform news

As we flip the calendar over from a very busy May into a sunny June, I want to reflect on the common themes in the blog entries of the past four days:

1. My PLoS Medicine article, “How Do US Journalists Cover Treatments, Tests, Products and Procedures? An Evaluation of 500 Stories.â€?

2. The Commonwealth Fund analysis on variations in child health care across the US.

3. Another “more care isn’t always better care” study – this time in JAMA.

4. Consumer Reports releasing an online tool using Dartmouth Atlas data to allow you to look at aggressive vs. conservative care – comparing hospitals on this scale.

Connect the dots. Jack Wennberg’s work rings through these themes.

Inexplicably widespread variations exist in the way health care is practiced in this country and more data comes in every day. More evidence also comes in every day that “more and newer isn’t always better” in health care. And journalists are spending too much time on the “more” and the “newer” rather than on questions of evidence, costs, quality and access to care.

As a result, many consumers aren’t getting much smarter at a time when some policymakers, employers and insurance company marketing folks push “consumer-driven health care” plans. Americans don’t know what they’re buying with the health care dollar and giving them more “skin in the game” doesn’t make them smarter – only makes them hurt more – if they’re not educated in the dots.

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