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Home > Feature Articles > Health and Well Being Strategies

Quantity of Health Care Doesn't Equate with Quality of Care

David Leonhardt's review of "Overtreated: Why too much medicine is making us sicker and poorer. By Shannon Brownlee

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"Overtreated: Why too much medicine is making us sicker and poorer."

As you’ve doubtless heard, this country spends far more money per person on medical care than other countries and still seems to get worse results. We devote 16 percent of our gross domestic product to health care, while Canada and France, where people live longer, spend about 10 percent. Some of this difference is unavoidable. The United States does more than its share of medical research and bears much of those costs. It also has a diverse, economically unequal population, which, in turn, leads to a diverse and complicated set of health problems. David Leonhardt's review of "Overtreated: Why too much medicine is making us sicker and poorer." By Shannon Brownlee

Dr. Wennberg examined medical care in the state of Vermont. He and a colleague traveled the state, visiting its 16 hospitals and collecting data on frequency of various procedures.

The results turned out to be quite odd.

Medical practice across the state varied enormously, for all kinds of care. In Middlebury, for instance, only 7 percent of children had their tonsils removed. In Morrisville, 70 percent did.

Dr. Wennberg and colleagues surveyed 4,000 people to see whether different patterns of illness could explain the variations in medical care. "They couldn’t. The children of Morrisville weren’t suffering from an epidemic of tonsillitis. Instead, they happened to live in a place where a small group of doctors — just five of them — had decided to be aggressive about removing tonsils," reports Brownlee.

They found that Vermonters who lived in towns with more aggressive care weren’t healthier. They were just getting more health care.

Dr. Wennberg eventually moved to Dartmouth and has conducted a national verions of his Vermont study. He has come up with consistent results. And the results point to health care reform that spends less on health care because abundant health care doesn't appear to make the population any healthier.

Dr. Wennberg’s story forms the backbone of “Overtreated,” by Shannon Brownlee, which is David Leonhardt's choice for the economics book of the year.

SOURCE: New York Times, Economics Scene, December 19, 2007

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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