November 28, 2007

Biting the Hand that Feeds Me

Slap this one under the health care crisis.

I spent three days walking the floor at the Radiology Society of North America meeting / conference / technical show in Chicago. And if one were looking for reasons as to why health care costs are spiraling out of control, one would not have to look much further than this week in Chicago.

Item #1: The big imaging vendors set up huge (20,000+ square foot, multiple levels) trade show booths that are really small cities, complete with theater style lighting, huge video displays, carpeting - 10's of millions of dollars, I imagine, to convince the radiologists to purchase capital equipment that itself runs into the millions. One large vendor is reported to have brought 1200 people to the show - with an average cost of $2000 per person (airfare, taxi fares, meals, hotels) - that's $2.5 million bucks right there in travel costs! What percentage of your last diagnostic procedure bought a big client dinner this week?

Item #2: The diagnostic imaging arms race. All of the big vendors were promoting new systems - CT Scanners were big this year, with devices that image 256 or even 320 slices, able to image an entire body organ (typically a heart) in one gantry rotation. But every imaging modality (ultrasound, mammography, MRI, cardio-vascular, radiography) had similar advances - digital imaging, picture archiving, data storage and compression. And I am all for technology and advances, but one wonders if we would get more bang for our health care buck by (for example) providing nutritious and low-fat meals for kids, and health education, and exercise, rather than arming ourselves to diagnose and treat the obesity and cardio-vascular diseases that result from NOT spending the money for those other things. I'm pretty sure none of use is going to live forever, but we're spending an awful lot of money treating the symptoms, and not a lot addressing the root causes of some of these health epidemics....

Like I said, I am all for technology and prolonging life; this is truly the age of miracles in terms of what we can detect, diagnose, visualize, and treat. But it gives one pause to consider how many (less privileged and less wealthy) lives could be improved on the front end, for the cost of wringing a few ore breaths out of an aging and infirm population (who happen to have the insurance and/or cash to pay for all this technology)

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