Welch: “for a large part of medical practice, we don’t know what works”

Posted By


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 don’t 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. Isn’t it time to learn which practices, in fact, improve our health, and which ones don’t?

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, it’s about new markets.

We don’t need to find more things to spend money on; we need to figure out what’s being done now that is not working. That’s 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 don’t. The question is relevant to more than 60,000 women each year. Don’t 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. It’s neither simple nor cheap. In terms of the technology and personnel involved, it’s more like going to the operating room. (I know, I’ve had one.) Which is better? We don’t 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:

You might also like

Comments (4)

Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.

Albert Maruggi

August 23, 2012 at 6:13 am

i agree 100% – as I turn 54 I am amazed at how little we truly know about early detection of disease. Well either it’s not knowing or perhaps as your piece indicates not testing in the right ways. I say this because of learning of many younger people who are being detected with advanced stages of a disease, primarily cancer. I know more about the regular daily health of my car then I do myself.

Albert Maruggi

August 23, 2012 at 6:14 am

sorry typo then, should be than (Mrs. Grady my elementary English teacher might be reading : )