The High Cost of Chronic Conditions: Look Both Ways Before Leaping Into Treatment

Dr. Cindy Haines Health Guide
  • In the 2008 Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, the authors pointed out that the rate at which doctors admit patients with chronic diseases to the hospital is tied to the number of hospital beds per person in that area. Furthermore, the number of visits made to specialists is tied to the number of specialists in the area.

    The authors also point out that people with chronic illnesses don't have better survival or quality of life if they live in an area where more medical care is available. In fact, their outcomes may be worse. Why? One reason could be that every time you enter the medical establishment, there's an opportunity for something to go wrong.

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    Hospitalization puts you at risk for picking up infections from germs that lurk there. Testing and screening creates more opportunities to find issues that wouldn't have bothered you if you'd never found them - a condition termed "pseudodisease." Surgeries and other procedures with enough power to help you are also powerful enough to harm you.

    Know that using fewer and more carefully focused health services for your medical concerns doesn't necessarily mean you're not getting what you need.

    It may actually mean you're not getting what you don't really want.

    If you're having an emergency and require immediate treatment, the following advice may not apply. But if you have the time to weigh your options, consider these suggestions:


    • Ask the doctor if you really need to have the treatment.
    • Ask why this is the recommended course of action.
    • Ask what other options are available.
    • Ask whether you can improve your health on your own.
    • Ask whether watchful waiting may be the way to go.
    • Get a second opinion
    • Be a well-informed decision-maker.


    Come to the table armed with knowledge about all of your options, the results you would like to see, and an understanding of the risk you're willing to accept. In addition to gathering information from your doctors, this requires you to do research on your own so you can fully share in this decision-making process.

    After all, you're the one who will be going through what needs to be done, paying for this treatment, and dealing with its consequences - not your doctors or other health care professionals. Since this is such critical issue, in the next post you'll learn how to ask more questions and come up with the facts that will help you make better-informed decisions.

    For even more tips on how to get better health and need the health care system less, check out: The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System by Dr. Cynthia D. Haines, M.D. (Dr. Cindy Haines) and Eric Metcalf, M.P.H. This is a book about getting what you really want: better health on your own terms. 

Published On: October 16, 2012