(This story has been posted on The Wall Street Journal Online's Health Blog at http://blogs.wsj.com/health.)
By Shirley S. Wang
The Health Blog caught up at TEDMED with Gregory Sorensen, chief executive of Siemens Healthcare in North America, to talk about the changing health-care field and what it means for diagnostics, an area in which Siemens is a player.
"We're beginning to see resurgence in diagnostics as a way to save costs, " Sorensen, formerly a radiology professor at Harvard Medical School, told the Health Blog.
A missed diagnosis is a big cost driver in health care because it wastes time and money on ineffective therapy, he said, pointing to an example of studies in Alzheimer's showing that upon autopsy, some 15%-20% of patients examined had a different ailment than believed and would have been treated differently when they were alive.
Of course, there's been an outcry about the unnecessary use of medical tests and Sorensen acknowledges there has been overuse in the past. Reductions in Medicare reimbursement rates have curbed overuse, he says, though not everyone agrees on that, as the Health Blog reported last week. The important thing now, Sorensen says, is to make sure people are getting the right diagnostic tests, rather than reduce the absolute number of them.
He recalled being a doctor in training in the late 1980s, when his professors taught him that, because of the risks associated with appendicitis, doctors should be conservative whenever a patient reported pain in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen. A good surgeon, therefore, would do exploratory surgery on five patients for every one that actually had appendicitis. Sorensen himself had his appendix -- which turned out to be healthy -- removed during this era.
Now patients get scanned if they report such pain, resulting in many fewer unnecessary surgeries, said Sorensen.
Siemens recognizes how important it is to demonstrate effectiveness in today's health-care business, and that payers want to see results, says Sorensen. As for the shift to reimbursement for value, "that train has left the station."
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