Big Business Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

I recently produced a film, called "Money-Driven Medicine," based on the book of the same name by Maggie Mahar, which looks at the way that our business model for medicine has badly damaged the patient doctor relationship.

"What's that?" you may say.  I thought that it was those damn government bureaucrats that were trying to get in between me and my doctor. 

Well, the director of this film, Andy Fredericks, followed doctors all over the country who are deeply frustrated that the current system, whose goals favor profits over good, efficient and humane health care.   In one scene, for example, a hospital refuses to share a possibly life-saving protocol with another hospital for fear it would lose its "competitive advantage." In many other sequences, doctors complain that, in the current system, they are forced to embrace wasteful and expensive (and extremely profitable) procedures while patients wonder why it is that they can quickly get expensive tests - like MRIs - but have to wait weeks to see primary care physicians (who are the most in demand) because so few doctors can afford to become general practitioners. 

"Money-Driven Medicine" explores how a profit-driven health care system squanders billions of health care dollars, while exposing millions of patients to unnecessary or redundant tests, unproven, sometimes unwanted procedures, and over-priced drugs and devices that, too often are no better than the less expensive products that they have replaced.  

More than two decades of research done by the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice  reveals that one out of three roughly one-third of our health care dollars - or nearly $600 900 billion of the $1.7 $2.6 trillion that we spend annually - is wasted on products and procedures that provide no benefit to the patient. 

"But this isn't just a waste of money.  This is hazardous waste - waste that is hazardous to  our health," says Mahar, a healthcare fellow at the Century Foundation where she writes the healthbeat blog

"When a patient is subjected to an ineffective treatment he is, by definition exposed to risk without benefit. We need to squeeze this waste out of the system. If we do, we have enough money to provide high quality, affordable and sustainable care for everyone." 

Here's a clip from the film, in which Dr. Don Berwick, warns about the dangers of an unregulated competitive "war," in which, too often, the patient is "collateral damage."  

In the days ahead, as insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms try to prevent any "government interference" in health care, it will be important to remember, that the goal of our health care system is not to reward providers; it is to deliver the best and most cost-effective health care to patients.  Assuming that profit-oriented corporations always have patients' best interests at heart could be a fatal mistake. 

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Alex Gibney is a documentary filmmaker who made Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. He has won an Emmy, a Peabody, the duPont Columbia Award, and a Grammy. More

Alex Gibney is the writer, director and producer of the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, the Oscar-nominated film Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, narrated by Johnny Depp. In post-production on My Trip to Al Qaeda, based on the play by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Lawrence Wright, Gibney is also filming a documentary on Lance Armstrong. Gibney served as executive producer for No End in Sight, which was also nominated for an Oscar; a producer for Herbie Hancock: Possibilities, a film about the jazz legend's collaboration with musical talents such as Santana, Sting, and Christina Aguilera; and consulting producer on Who Killed the Electric Car. Gibney's producing credits also include the classic concert film Lightning in a Bottle, directed by Antoine Fuqua; The Blues, an Emmy-nominated series of seven films in association with executive producer Martin Scorsese; and The Trials of Henry Kissinger. Gibney is the recipient of many awards including the Emmy, the Peabody, the duPont Columbia Award, and the Grammy.

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