Unnecessary C-Sections Are For Greedy Doctors' Financial Benefit
NEW YORK (MainStreet) When it comes to saving money, patients may be well advised to brush up on medical research, at least when it comes to C-sections.
About 33% of deliveries in the U.S. in 2009 (the latest numbers) were by C-section compared with nearly 21% in 1996, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The result has been a $3 billion hike in medical costs annually for childbirth without a corresponding improvement in health outcomes.
A recent joint study by researchers at MIT and the University of British Columbia showed that patients who were physicians themselves had fewer unscheduled C-sections than patients who were not medical doctors. C-sections are typically more lucrative than vaginal deliveries for obstetricians, except at HMO-owned hospitals.
Using data on C-sections of comparably educated patients, the researchers found that patients who were physicians were about 10% less likely to receive a C-section, even when complications arose. It appears that financial incentives are to blame.
According to the latest numbers from the Institutes of Medicine, the U.S. wastes about $210 billion annually on unnecessary medical services. The researchers conclude that if both groups of patients were to be treated equally, physician and hospital charges could be reduced by $2 billion annually.
"A central tenet of economics is that people respond to incentives," says Erin M. Johnson, assistant professor at MIT Sloan School of Management. "Our study asks whether patient information is capable of counteracting providers' financial incentives," she says.
Johnson and fellow researcher, M. Marit Rehavi at the University of British Columbia, also found that patients who were doctors had better health outcomes, which the researchers say suggests that unnecessary C-sections adversely impact patient health.
The researchers believe that the differences in the number of C-sections performed among these two groups of patients were not mostly due to physician choosing better doctors. But rather than education, Johnson and Rehavi say there may be a different reason patients who are themselves physicians may be getting the less expensive treatments: professional courtesy.
--Written for MainStreet by S.Z. Berg, author of College on the Cheap