Commentary: What’s wrong with our leaders?

October 27, 2004

Sixty percent of healthcare opinion leaders believe new medical technologies can reduce healthcare costs. That’s the finding of the PSB Corporate Research Group, which surveyed members of healthcare professional organizations and lobby groups, hospital CEOs, and CIOs and executive directors.

Sixty percent of healthcare opinion leaders believe new medical technologies can reduce healthcare costs. That's the finding of the PSB Corporate Research Group, which surveyed members of healthcare professional organizations and lobby groups, hospital CEOs, and CIOs and executive directors.

It brings to mind much the question that occurred to me when I learned that four out of five dentists recommend chewing sugarless gum. What's with the fifth one? In the case of medical technology, it's much worse.

The idea that medical technology might not be able to reduce the cost of medical care is ludicrous. We are far enough downstream to realize that the next generation of CT, MR, ultrasound - you name it - is going to be faster and better than the last. Despite this advancement in technology, the trend in Medicare reimbursements is going down, not up. In the next few years, we'll see CT coronary angiography in some cases being used in place of cardiac cath. Is there any question that coronary CTA will be less expensive? Is there any question that imaging technology is becoming a better bargain?

It is astounding to me that 40% of healthcare opinion leaders in the U.S. do not see this. On the bright side, they do a little better when it comes to IT: 97% of survey respondents said IT will be important in contributing overall to better healthcare, and 85% said new healthcare IT is more important than other factors in contributing to improved treatment and handling of patients.

That's good. Now the question is why isn't healthcare IT being adopted more rapidly than it is? When this question was posed to the opinion leaders, 68% cited cost as one of the major barriers, 47% cited lack of public pressure, and 40% said lack of standardization.

Industry groups are addressing the last point. Public pressure might be created via a public awareness campaign directed at raising people's appreciation for what medical imaging and IT can do now and could do in the future. But the first point - well, that's a doozy.

Here's where we need the federal government. We need it to supply funding for healthcare facilities to install IT networks, implement broadband networks to support the nationwide transfer of data, and, if nothing else, support the R&D that will lead to new and more efficient information technologies.

We've been hearing throughout the presidential campaign about healthcare. It would be nice if the politicians did more than talk.