Get What You Pay For, Medically? Not Always

How many times have you researched doctors and hospitals when you have an illness?  I hate to admit it, but I've made the same mistake a lot of people have.  If the doctor, or surgeon, or procedure, costs more, the thinking is, she must be better.

Wrong.  According to The Washington Post's Jordan Rau, data collected recently for New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Washington "shows that an expensive charge for a joint replacement is no guarantee that the hospital is safer than one that lists a cheaper charge."

When you're diagnosed with cancer or heart disease or another life-threatening ailment, price may not always be at the top of your list of things to worry about.  But if you decide to consult a top-rated specialist, chances are, it's going to cost more.  But is the care truly better?

In fact, Rau reports, the Boston and Washington rates "show that the most-expensive high-quality hospital will replace a knee for less than the most-expensive hospitals with low- and average-quality scores."  Taking it all together, he cites experts who said re: the study, "There was no statistical relationship between the charges for the knee replacements and the quality of the hospitals."

As you probably know, costs vary widely for the same procedures at different hospitals, with costs being much greater on both coasts than the South and Midwest.

“There’s no correlation between what you pay and what you get,” Jennifer Schneider, Castlight’s senior director of clinical design, told Rau. Castlight conducted the study. “You could actually get an above-average delivery from a below-average place in terms of cost.”

So what do you do?  First, research.  Look at all the procedures done by this doctor similar to what you require, and what the outcomes are.  Of course, these can be "doctored," too, as my experience with fertility clinics revealed (turns out for most studies, doctors only include younger patients, who get pregnant at higher rates and deliver more live births).

The same is true of many cancer hospitals, with some bragging they help those with "complex, terminal" cancers.  The truth is, these hospitals, too, only accept patients under certain criteria, where their success may be more attainable.   Those with other types of cancers, or at certain stages, are often turned away.

Do your homework.  As with any medical condition, research, research, research.  Doctors, hospitals, outcomes.  They're all very important.  Price is not.

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