Putting A Lid On Waste

May 24, 2017
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It’s common knowledge in medicine: Doctors routinely order tests on hospital patients that are unnecessary and wasteful. Sutter Health, a giant hospital chain in Northern California, thought it had found a simple solution.

The Sacramento-based health system deleted the button physicians used to order daily blood tests. “We took it out and couldn’t wait to see the data,” said Ann Marie Giusto, a Sutter Health executive.

Alas, the number of orders hardly changed. That’s because the hospital’s medical-records software “has this cool ability to let you save your favorites,” Giusto said at a recent presentation to other hospital executives and physicians. “It had become a habit.”

There are plenty of opportunities to trim waste in America’s $3.4 trillion health care system — but, as the Sutter example illustrates, it’s often not as simple as it seems.

Some experts estimate that at least $200 billion is wasted annually on excessive testing and treatment. This overly aggressive care also can harm patients, generating mistakes and injuries believed to cause 30,000 deaths each year.

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