Long ago the RAND Corporation ran an experiment that found that additional medical spending provided no additional health benefit (except in a few cases). People who didn’t like the implication that ordinary medical care was at least partly worthless could say that it was only at the margin that the benefits stopped. This was unlikely but possible. Now a non-experimental study has found essentially the same thing:
To that end, Orszag has become intrigued by the work of Mitchell Seltzer, a hospital consultant in central New Jersey. Seltzer has collected large amounts of data from his clients on how various doctors treat patients, and his numbers present a very similar picture to the regional data. Seltzer told me that big-spending doctors typically explain their treatment by insisting they have sicker patients than their colleagues. In response he has made charts breaking down the costs of care into thin diagnostic categories, like “respiratory-system diagnosis with ventilator support, severity: 4,” in order to compare doctors who were treating the same ailment. The charts make the point clearly. Doctors who spent more â€” on extra tests or high-tech treatments, for instance â€” didn’t get better results than their more conservative colleagues. In many cases, patients of the aggressive doctors stay sicker longer and die sooner because of the risks that come with invasive care.
Perhaps the doctors who ordered the high-tech treatments, when questioned about their efficacy, would have responded as my surgeon did to a similar question about the surgery she recommended (and would make thousands of dollars from): The studies are easy to find, just use Google. (There were no studies.)
It’s like the RAND study: Defenders of doctors will say that some of them didn’t know what they were doing but the rest did. But that’s the most doctor-friendly interpretation. A more realistic interpretation is that a large fraction of the profession doesn’t care much about evidence. In everyday life, evidence is called feedback. If you are driving and you don’t pay attention to and fix small deviations from the middle of the road, eventually you crash. You don’t need a double-blind clinical trial not to crash your car — a lesson the average doctor, the average medical school professor, and the average Evidence-Based-Medicine advocate haven’t learned.