KTH Flashback: From “Patient” to “Consumer”
Posted on Wednesday, May 15th, 2013
One of the most interesting changes in how Americans think about healthcare has been the transformation of “patients” into “consumers.”
As a result, more people are also becoming self-advocates. Thanks to the Internet, we have more access than ever to information on health problems and treatments, physicians, and current medical research. As a result, we can make more informed choices about the care we receive. (In fact, almost all of Dr. Verigin’s clients have done a good amount of research before they first visit our office.) There’s also greater understanding – even among conventional practitioners – that a person’s health is best served when doctors and patients work together as partners in health, even if it doesn’t always occur in conventional medical practice.
At the same time, though, healthcare has come to be seen more and more as just another consumer product – not so different from a kitchen appliance or car. The drug, medical device, hospital, clinic and treatment center ads that bombard us daily are just the most obvious sign. But you see it, too, in the way we increasingly shop for healthcare.
Consider the Wealthy Dentist Survey on patients’ most common questions about dental implants. The results show a real disconnect between the dentists and their clientele. While dentists want patients to be concerned about things like whether the treatment is right for them, what the risks are and so on, almost all of the top five patient questions had a consumerist bent:
- How much do dental implants cost?
- How long do dental implants last?
- Are implants painful?
- How long will it take to get my new teeth?
- Does dental insurance cover implant surgery?
These kinds of questions aren’t exclusive to implants, of course. We commonly hear them asked about other restorative procedures, such as crowns and bridges, as well. (Dr. Verigin neither places nor recommends implants. Here’s why. And more.)
They’re not bad questions, either. They’re good and important questions.
But it’s just as important to ask about a treatment’s appropriateness, benefits and risks – including its potential effects on overall health. The concern is both physical and financial. For instance, although mercury amalgam is the cheapest option for dental fillings in the short run, their potential to harm the rest of the body (mercury is a poison after all) is so great that the potential long-term costs are apt to be much more than the cost of even a whole mouthful of more expensive but nontoxic and biocompatible “white” fillings. Likewise with root canals: the risk to health and the potential future costs of dealing with illness generally make root canals an unwise investment both physically and economically.
In short, “cheaper now” usually means “more expensive later.” In the best case, you wind up replacing work sooner and more often. In the worst case, cutting corners causes more extensive and expensive problems down the road.
The smart consumer looks at the big picture.
Or as a small plaque hanging in our office has it, “Beware of bargains in parachutes, brain surgery and dental care.”