Offshoring U.S. Patients No Cure for Ailing Healthcare System

Don’t misinterpret the heading of this entry. It’s not that patients don’t want healthcare reform. It’s that patients don’t want to be the responsibility of reforming the healthcare system.

And who could blame them.

Although it appears that the federal government is working to reform the healthcare system, one will periodically hear experts talk about consumer driven healthcare. That is, give patients more financial responsibility for their health through higher deductibles and copays and health savings accounts. Seeing this increased financial burden, they will consequently make better choices about their health, shop around for the best care, and make more rational decisions about when to seek medical care much the same way they do for other services and goods.

Please.

I would note that giving the public more responsibility for reforming a benefit program occurred decades ago with retirement planning. Employers stressed by the increasing obligations from pension plans opted many years ago to move from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans. Pension plan now becomes a 401k plan. The burden of having enough assets to comfortably retire moved from employer to employee. Theory was individuals now would take charge and do better.

Right.

We now know that this was a disaster for nearly everyone, except for the financial services industry it created. Individuals didn’t save money or invest in the right financial products. Many were in cash, which generally doesn’t keep up with inflation. As a result, employers are becoming more involved requiring people to opt out of a 401k rather than opting in, choosing a target date mutual fund account as a default rather than cash, and spending resources on educating their workers more about financial planning.

So the problem with healthcare? Patients don’t have the expertise and don’t wish to grasp the nuances of medical diagnosis and treatment. They falsely believe that the answers to their problems and ailments come from the high-tech MRIs and CT scans, blood work, and other tools at our disposal as doctors. It could be due to television shows like ER or House or doctors doing extensive work-ups with little thought on costs or relevance. Nevertheless, with increasing co-pays, patients feel that to solve their problem, forgo the doctor visit and simply order a test.

Unfortunately, these tests are merely tools and can help provide doctors clues into what is happening, but don’t provide the universal truth. In other cases, we don’t need the test because it is quite clear what the problem is. However, Dr. Scott Haig notes in a recent Time article that it is practically impossible to convince patients otherwise.