Dr. Atul Gawande: Unnecessary care major contributor to high healthcare costs

Atul Gawande, MD, a surgeon at Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital and writer for The New Yorker, says tackling complex issues such as rising healthcare costs and gun violence is a lengthy process, but can be achieved within our lifetimes, according to India New England News.

In a speech at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at the Harvard Institute of Politics in Cambridge, Mass., Dr. Gawande pointed to the decadeslong debate over smoking and the eventual passage of policies that have decreased tobacco use and increased overall life expectancy for millions of Americans.

"But the story is, every time it takes longer than people think," he said. "You're working and chipping away and learning how to define the problem accurately, how to mobilize people to pull in the same direction."

The idea of implementing evidence-based solutions and long-term strategies are methods Dr. Gawande claims healthcare professionals are much more hesitant to introduce. For example, he says one way to stem the opioid crisis is to use electronic prescriptions, which would help ensure patients only receive the dosage they need. Replacing short-term opioids with longer-term medications, like methadone, could "cut the opioid death rate by 90 percent," according to Dr. Gawande. However, the medical industry has "been reluctant and unwilling to make that a standard part of what we do," according to the report.

During his talk, Dr. Gawande also noted unnecessary care, particularly for end-of-life patients, is one of the leading causes of the nation's increasing healthcare costs. To mitigate those expenses, he recommended physicians talk with their patients early to discuss end-of-life treatment options, the report states. He noted higher healthcare costs also prohibit some individuals from obtaining affordable care, an issue that may be solved through universal healthcare coverage. 

"There are a million ways to do universal health coverage –– just do it. I'm actually pretty ecumenical about whatever version we go for. We just need to be committed to implementing,” he said, adding the debate surrounding universal healthcare "is fundamentally about values, and we're still having a serious, many-decades-long debate about whether people deserve a right to healthcare."

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