Is the Healthcare Industry’s Business Model Heading in the Wrong Direction?
There was a point in time when “healthcare” simply referred to doctor visits and medical suggestions. Patients would visit their doctors for an annual checkup and receive some suggestions on how to stay healthy: eat a clean diet, exercise every day, quit smoking, etc. When a patient would fall ill despite leading a healthy lifestyle, a doctor would prescribe whatever treatment they deemed necessary and effective. Over time, however, the healthcare industry seems to have changed.
It appears that the healthcare industry has begun to favor medical technology and pharmaceutical advancements rather than actual preventative care. Primary care is oftentimes inaccessible and may even be unaffordable despite existing insurance programs which seek to cover the costs of doctor visits. As a result, people do not have any incentive to visit their doctor for health screenings until they start to experience symptoms of possible underlying conditions. Full preventative services, which include vaccines, health screenings, and other important services were only administered to 8% of US adults aged 35 in 2015. Failure to ensure that people are staying healthy is what causes health issues to foster.
Smoking is estimated to account for 18% of deaths each year, but it is not cigarettes that are harming people. Health conditions that are triggered by habitual smoking are what cause such diseases, but these can be prevented. Regular health checkups would enable doctors to ensure that patients are breathing properly and have healthy lungs. Unfortunately, this is not a common practice, and many individuals may not seek medical advice until they finally start to experience difficulty breathing, which is a symptom of lung cancer and many other medical conditions. Once a patient has cancer, they cannot go back in time to prevent it. Instead, they must pay for secondary care to receive intense medical treatments to cure their malady.
Yet, even when people regularly visit doctors for checkups, there still seems to be an overemphasis on procedures which utilize expensive technology, and prescription drugs. This may be a result of defensive medicine, which is the practice of focusing on urgent treatment. In 2017, a survey found that nearly half of physicians had been sued for medical malpractice. Out of fear of being sued, many physicians may be quick to take extreme measures to avoid possibly overlooking a patient’s illness. If a patient reports having back pain, rather than a doctor telling them to change their sleeping position and see how they feel in a week, they may immediately suggest a cortisone injection.
There is no simple way to reform the healthcare industry. Primary care is not viewed as being as profitable as secondary care and improvements made to primary care could be detrimental to many existing medical technology and pharmaceutical companies. Thus, secondary care practices tend to receive more funding, and even medical students receive more training in inpatient care and specialty practices. Healthcare is no longer just a way to ensure health and wellness, but it is also a way to generate profits .
Big pharmaceutical companies rely on todays’ healthcare industry, which places emphasis on secondary rather than primary or preventative care, to make money, while companies in the medical device sector are constantly competing against each other to come up with the most profitable solution to patients’ needs. Pharmaceutical companies even spend billions on doctors; one study found that doctors who received payments from pharmaceutical companies prescribed 58% more of the companies’ products to their patients. Doctors are also more likely to receive payments in return for prescribing certain drugs and technologies to their patients. These industries are not entirely to blame for our broken healthcare system, however. Technology has offered some solutions to our system. For example, the increased utilization of telehealth has made healthcare more accessible and convenient.
The very root of the problem is unclear, making it difficult to generate efficient, practical solutions. Though, it seems obvious that we must stop viewing healthcare as a business and a way to make money, but rather what it actually is: a system that provides care for all people.
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