New thinking has cut costs already

PBS News Hour recently featured some familiar medical facilities in Seattle. The head of Virginia Mason Hospital, among others, spoke of their efforts to cut costs to patients by cutting waste in their procedures. An example he gave had to do with treating patients with back pain, as many as 10,000 yearly. He said, in the past, those with severe back pain were usually given an MRI scan before treatment. Now, after tracking results over time, that protocol has changed. A patient must pass a carefully thought out checklist before being scanned. The doctor said this one change meant a decrease of 70-90 percent in the number of back MRIs being done. Since they are one of the most expensive medical procedures, $2,000-$3,000 each, that represents considerable cost cutting indeed. In addition, it frees up the MRI machines for more essential uses. He noted that patients under the new protocol tend to return to normal life in better health than formerly.

Another example given, which should cheer us all, is the use of computers to better plan scheduled patient appointments so as to eliminate lengthy waiting times. This effort has been so successful that Virginia Mason is slowly closing the elaborate waiting rooms where we have all sat awaiting our turn for treatment.

The doctor said that these and other measures being planned, if adopted throughout our national health system, could save as much as $750 million. That is almost precisely what Obamacare, when entirely adopted, will subtract from payments to hospitals, clinics and such. Romney insisted the cuts will be paid for by seniors but, it seems obvious to me that Obamacare is encouraging new thinking about health care, which will remove us from having the most expensive health care system in the developed world to a leaner, more efficient one, which will benefit us all. And Washington is leading the way.

Benita Helseth

Lake Stevens

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