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Dollars Or Sense Driving Surgical Spending?

Wed, 06/24/2009 - 10:07am
Jeff Reinke, Editorial Director – Surgical Products
Just as a pre-cursor, this column will not be another generic rambling related to the status of our economy and its impact on your professions. First, because the mainstream media continues to bombard us with more than enough fiscal information on a daily basis. Second, you know better than anyone how tighter budgets have restricted some purchasing levels and that patients regrettably have to make tougher medical decisions based on personal finances.

Just as a pre-cursor, this column will not be another generic rambling related to the status of our economy and its impact on your professions. First, because the mainstream media continues to bombard us with more than enough fiscal information on a daily basis. Second, you know better than anyone how tighter budgets have restricted some purchasing levels and that patients regrettably have to make tougher medical decisions based on personal finances.

Rather, recent postings about the impact of our economy on the medical profession, and more specifically fewer surgical procedures, got me thinking about why some of these decisions have any connection with financial matters at all. Surgical areas that appear to be suffering most heavily right now are cosmetic and elective procedures, but my question is, why would they be more heavily scrutinized now, as opposed to before?

Regardless of the reason for the procedure, surgical considerations shouldn’t be based purely on the price tag. I’m not naïve to spending priorities or an alarmist, but it just makes me wonder how much time is spent by the average patient in researching and really understanding how even in the best of situations there are still a number of things that can go wrong any time an operation is performed? Yet these factors are not what make people think twice about undergoing a procedure. Rather than weighing the risks and benefits of an operation, it’s financial concerns that are driving quality of life decisions. To me, that doesn’t make sense, and underscores the need for enhancing patient education.

It seems we’ve become a society that’s very aware of the problem, but hesitant to fully understand the solution before gravitating towards what appears to be the easiest plan of attack. Maybe that’s the real antithesis driving these procedural declines – it’s less about understanding the benefits of the solution, and more about trying to address short-term concerns based as much on news broadcasts as individual need.

Okay, that’s from the patient side, but what about the medical professional? I guess it’s a word of warning or a potentially unnecessary form of preventative medicine relating to the risks that could be associated with any overzealous desires to generate greater purchasing resources. It would be a shame if procedures were, for lack of a better word, sold to patients in an effort to increase OR traffic without an individual being completely clear on the risks associated with any surgical procedure. The temptation will always be there, but could be especially prevalent during tighter economic times.

I guess my point is that something as important and potentially life-altering as a surgical procedure shouldn’t be based solely on financial factors. Certainly things like health insurance for the unemployed; the timing for those who have had work hours cut back; or time missed during a critical occupational juncture are all more than trivial concerns. My hope is that at the end of the day these decisions would be scrutinized on a level commensurate with an individual’s appreciation for self preservation, not as the result of happenings in Detroit or on Wall Street.

What's your take? Email Jeff.Reinke@advantagemedia.com

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