Policymakers should address cost-effectiveness of new medical technology

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Because technology is the major driver of increases in healthcare and a critical driver of improvements in health, rigorous methods to assess the costs and effectiveness of healthcare technology are critical for effective resource allocation, according to a presentation at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Feb. 17-21 in Washington, D.C.

"The effects of science and technology on healthcare costs depend on the policy context in which those technologies are developed and applied," said David Meltzer, PhD, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

Meltzer pointed out that insurance reimbursement policies are especially important in determining which health technologies are developed and how they are used. Currently, national policymakers resist using cost-effectiveness methods, in regards to healthcare and reimbursement, to determine which technologies are developed, he said.

As a result, healthcare costs are rising as expensive technology and unnecessary tests drive up expenses, he said. Since 1960, healthcare spending has grown 2.5 percent more per year than the rest of the economy, he added.

"Much of the growth comes from the quantity of medical procedures," he said.

For example, some cholesterol tests for older men and exercise tests for middle-aged men have not been shown to be cost effective, he said.

By using cost-effectiveness methods in studying healthcare, researchers and policymakers can better understand the value of innovation, he said.

"Cost-effectiveness methods have the potential to address policy questions other than reimbursement policy that can help mobilize technology and science to control healthcare costs while maximizing health outcomes," he said.