Commentary: Office Visit: Moving from Careless to Wellness

Article excerpt

"Nothing in life is free." We've heard this phrase for years, from parents or teachers who encourage us to work hard and act ethically. As the rising costs of health care create a burden on the American society, many believe these costs are out of their control. Americans have neglected to take an active role in controlling our health care spending, resulting in a culture of carelessness. Many simply shrug and say, "It's covered." Yet the old adage remains true; nothing in life is free. Health care affordability and sustainability depend on us minimizing costs and establishing a culture of wellness. By addressing several key elements such as abuse and misuse of health care, personal behavior and health care fraud - as well as broken elements of our industry - we can revolutionize our culture while creating efficiencies.

The overuse, abuse and misuse of health care is a major contributor to rising health care costs. The unnecessary use of health care is a result of needless (and costly) visits to the emergency room, when an urgent care clinic or doctor's office visit could sufficiently meet the patient's needs. Another significant cost driver is a result of doctors practicing defensive medicine. The act of over-testing patients is a precaution that many doctors take to protect themselves from lawsuits that could result from misdiagnosis. A tremendous number of medically unnecessary CT scans, MRIs and other testing (both low and high cost) are completed simply because patients demand it or because of an underlying fear of litigation. Not surprisingly, studies indicate that nearly three- quarters of doctors practice defensive medicine, and it has become deeply embedded into America's health care industry. As a former emergency medicine physician, I personally witnessed this form of abuse on a regular basis. Tort reform could help to eliminate defensive medicine and save America an estimated $650 billion annually.

Three-quarters of America's total health spending could be prevented, and the easiest way to prevent these costs is through a society free of cigarette and smokeless tobacco. Every time a pack of cigarettes is sold in Oklahoma, it costs our economy $7.62 in medical costs and lost productivity as a result of premature death and disease. Additionally, the average cigarette smoker misses 50 percent more workdays than nonsmokers - a reality that affects more than just health care costs.

Painfully, Oklahoma City was recently named the least fit city in the nation, re-emphasizing the need to address obesity and the substantial impact it has on health care. …