Americans spend more on healthcare than anyone else in the world. Although the high cost of prescription drugs are often thought of as a primary driver – and make no mistake, Americans spend double the cost for the same drugs paid by patients of 10 other industrialized countries according to a recent Harvard School of Public Health comparison – other medical supply chain drivers, including the unnecessary use of new medical devices are also culpable.
While no end of articles have been written finding surprising ways to cut healthcare costs, the Harvard study shoots down many myths:
Belief: The U.S. uses more healthcare services than peer countries, thus leading to higher costs.
Evidence: The U.S. has lower rates of physician visits and days spent in the hospital than other nations.
Belief: The U.S. has too many specialists and not enough primary care physicians.
Evidence: The primary care versus specialist mix in the U.S. is roughly the same as that of the average of other countries.
Belief: The U.S. provides too much inpatient hospital care.
Evidence: Only 19% of total healthcare spending in the U.S. is spent on inpatient services—among the lowest proportion of similar countries.
Belief: The U.S. spends too little on social services and this may contribute to higher healthcare costs among certain populations.
Evidence: The U.S. does spend a bit less on social services than other countries but is not an outlier.
Belief: The quality of healthcare is much lower in the U.S. than in other countries.
Evidence: Overall, quality of care in the U.S. isn’t markedly different from that of other countries, and in fact excels in many areas. For example, the U.S. appears to have the best outcomes for those who have heart attacks or strokes, but is below average for avoidable hospitalizations for patients with diabetes and asthma.
But one driver of healthcare costs that has gone virtually undiscussed is the unnecessary disposal of some medical devices labelled for single use by the original equipment manufacturer. New devices labelled for single use can cost double that of the same reprocessed device (defined as “substantially equivalent” by the FDA, which regulates the process to assure product safety). Make no mistake the stakes – and the potential savings – are high.
According to CMS 2018 Health Expenditure Data, hospital care is the single largest component of health care spending, accounting for 33% of all expenditures. Retail prescription drugs, on the other hand, represent 9% of all expenditures.
Another recent study shows that hospitals spent about $161B on medical supplies in 2015. The Association of Medical Device Reprocessors members saved hospitals at least $141M in 2018 by helping them to reprocess medical devices. As more devices are reviewed under FDA’s 510k process – and as more countries regulate the practice to assure patient safety and a fair playing field for device manufacturers and reprocessors, the number is sure to grow. But if we want to lower healthcare costs quickly, reprocessing is already available, proven, in use in all 50 states, and ready to expand.