Dr. Ken Patric
Advances in medical technology and skyrocketing consumer demand for it drive ever-increasing health care costs, health care experts and insurers agree.
“The patient demands it. The physicians demand it,” said Darrell Moore, president and chief executive officer of Parkridge Medical Center.
Craig Becker, president of the Tennessee Hospital Association, said hospitals feel pressure to keep up with the latest technology to improve quality of care, to remain competitive and to stave off legal charges of inadequate care.
“We have to have the newest of the new because if we don’t, we’re gonna get sued,” Mr. Becker said.
In a January report, the Congressional Budget Office stated that “about half of all long-term growth in health care spending has been associated with the expanded capabilities of medicine brought about by technological advances.”
Many advances, such as joint replacements and digital mammography, have improved quality of care, but sometimes new products are of questionable value or only represent an improvement in limited populations, health care officials said.
“Often nobody has stopped to evaluate which (advances) are useful and which are icing on the cake,” said Dr. B.W. Ruffner, former dean at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s College of Medicine.
Direct-to-consumer marketing fuels blind demand among consumers for advances in devices and drugs, doctors said.
“It should be outlawed,” Dr. Joseph Cofer said of heavy consumer advertising. He is general surgery residency program director for the UT College of Medicine in Chattanooga.
Expensive high-tech imaging, such as computerized tomography, has contributed to cost increases, according to BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, the state’s largest health insurer.
Total imaging costs for BlueCross members grew from $4.18 per member per month to $12.71 per member per month between 1999 and 2005, according to the company.
In the years before BlueCross required preauthorization requirements for imaging procedures in 2006, the cost for high-tech imaging was growing at a rate of 25 percent per year, said Dr. Ken Patric, chief medical officer for BlueCross.
“General inflation was at 3 and 4 percent, medical inflation was at maybe twice that ... and the inflation on high-tech imaging was at 25 percent per year, several years running,” he said.
Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...