Chicago Tribune

August 29, 2012

By Lisa Pevtzow

According to a 2005 Harvard study, medical bills are the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy in the U.S – despite the fact more and more people are resorting to crowdfunding to pay their essential medical bills. Yet, of the $2.6 trillion spent each year on health costs, about 30 percent of that is not actually helping patients, and in some cases hurts them, said Steven Weinberger, CEO and executive vice president of the American College of Physicians. Doctors are responsible for a lot of that cost, which can be reduced without jeopardizing care, he said.

“We feel that it is our responsibility as physicians to be addressing this, because we have control over this. Not just the direct costs but also the finding of minor abnormalities that lead to a snowball effect, he said.

…Most doctors have little or no idea of how their decisions impact what people actually pay, and because of the complexity of system they have a hard time finding out, said Neel Shah, executive director of the not-for-profit Costs of Care and chief medical resident at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Shah’s organization, which commissioned Arora to create the medical school curriculum with a grant from the American Board of Internal Medicine, seeks to make the medical system more transparent. A major effort of the organization is to help doctors, who are often uncomfortable talking about money and the business side of medicine in general, understand their effect on the patient’s wallet. He says the way the system works right now, to use a different metaphor, is like a restaurant menu with no prices, and people who order off of a menu with no prices always order steak.

“Not only are doctors not taught what things cost, but they traditionally have been taught not to think of it, as if thinking about costs somehow detracts from thinking about doing everything possible for the patient,” Shah said…

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