'Choose Wisely' to Shrink Healthcare Costs

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , March 27, 2013

This will be considerably harder to do than carving out new throughput efficiencies or entering a group purchasing organization. That's because providers will be battling decades of conditioned behaviors by healthcare consumers, who are taught to believe that their health problems can be solved with the right pill or the next new test or a "routine" operation.

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A primary care physician during a wellness exam may have 20 or 30 minutes once a year or so to talk with a patient about eating right, losing weight, quitting smoking and exercising more. The moment that patient leaves the physician's office he is bombarded by advertising and messaging that urges him to do exactly the opposite.

When these consumers begin to suffer the effects of that overindulgence, be it acid reflux or high blood pressure or lower back or knee pain, they're assured that relief is close at hand with the right mix of pharmaceuticals, cutting-edge cancer therapy, or the latest orthopedic procedure. They're urged to "consult with your doctor." That is subtle way of telling healthcare consumers to pressure their docs into prescribing a material solution that someone is selling instead of addressing the underlying behaviors that are causing the problem.

This dynamic has to change. And the best way to change it is to educate and involve patients in their own care. This can transform them from healthcare consumers demanding the next great cure into discerning advocates for their own health.

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