Atul Gawande's recent New Yorker article about the super-high costs of healthcare in McAllen, Texas has gotten lots of people talking. (If you haven't read it, you need to.) In the White House, President Obama made the article White House required reading, as reported by the New York Times:
President Obama recently summoned aides to the Oval Office to discuss a magazine article investigating why the border town of McAllen, Tex., was the country’s most expensive place for health care. The article became required reading in the White House, with Mr. Obama even citing it at a meeting last week with two dozen Democratic senators.
Data show that increased healthcare spending does not necessarily result in better health outcomes, and that the spending varies widely within the US. The Gawande article begins to answer the question of why this is the case, but there is a counterpoint (also from the NYTimes):
In his blog last month, Mr. [Peter] Orszag wrote, “The higher-cost areas and hospitals don’t generate better outcomes than the lower-cost ones.” But other researchers and politicians are not so sure. They say it would be a mistake to cut or cap Medicare payments without knowing why spending in some places far exceeds the national average.
What's as interesting about Gawande's article as the story is the fact that the national discussion has been altered by a quick case study of a single town in Texas. (Aside: this is why extreme case sampling is so valuable.) What else can we learn by studying individual systems, sitting down with real providers, and talking to actual patients?
They brought the x-ray machine to me this time. I told the people from Social Services, "There's no way I can pay for all this". The doctor came and told me it was a pulled muscle, and to go home, elevate it, and rest. I did just as the doctor said and four days later - four days - I got a call saying "We made a mistake". Then he said "They made a mistake". I went to Highland - no Summit - and they showed me two x-rays side-by-side. In the last one my bone was out of its socket and my kneecap was broken in two places. I was in rehab for 12 months!