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Is Medical Technology Making Health Care More Expensive?

By Integracp (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Integracp (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Technology is without a doubt one of the reasons why health care is now better , more reliable, and more efficient. Medical technology plays a very important role in people’s lives. It has improved effectiveness, precision, and the level of efficiency in health care. However, it can also be considered as one of the reasons why the prices of health care have gone up.

How Technology Increases Health Care Costs

Technology affects the price of health care through a number of ways. It could be directly or indirectly. The following are some of the ways through which technology contributes to the rising of health care costs:

Research and Development Work

In 2012, the medical industry spent approximately $41 billion for research and development activities. A good portion of this amount went to the creation of pharmaceuticals. One Forbes article reported that the cost of developing a new drug already reaches around $5 billion. This cost is the accumulation of all costs involved in the development of drugs including amounts spent for those that eventually turn out to be a failure. Many companies work on multiple drug development projects with only a few making it to a level of becoming useful. Research and development costs also come into play in coming up with new medical systems, procedures, methods, and mechanical or electronic devices that aid health care specialists in performing their work.

The Use of Modern Equipment and Procedures

Of course, using advanced and modern equipment to evaluate health conditions and facilitate treatments is always preferable. Unfortunately, this also entails costs. You can’t just do an MRI scan and CT scan for free. Dialysis machines and supplies cost considerable amounts. Likewise, the use of advanced procedures like organ transplants is bound to cost a fortune. To be able to access newer medical technologies, patients will have to spend more.

Medical Devices

A number of medical devices have been invented to support treatment. It is unlikely for hospitals or health care facilities to provide them without the additional charge. While it can be argued that not using them does not necessarily mean a cost advantage, the fact remains that to be able to use them, a patient has to spend more. With the higher chances of getting treated with the help of modern medical devices comes the corresponding higher price to pay.

Health Care IT

Many hospitals have already turned to information technology to facilitate records management. This does not directly affect patient care services but it adds to the costs a hospital or health care facility has to deal with in running their operations and providing services. Of course, this means an overhead cost that will most likely translate to increases in service rates.

By Mco44 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Mco44 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Are the Increases Justified?

Arguably, every increase in health care costs can be considered as something justifiable. Medical technology is obviously not just a whimsical addition to the way health care is delivered. It provide  palpable advantages. Newer technologies meant better efficiency and a higher level of effectiveness in the treatments provided. Without the initially costly medical technologies introduced in the health care field, many of the conditions that used to be untreatable cannot be treated. Likewise, without newer technologies and methods, recuperation  would remain long and risky.

Expensive medical care technologies like transcontinental robot-assisted remote telesurgery also improve access to advanced procedures that would have otherwise been inaccessible to patients. On the other hand, surgeries that have become less invasive because of modern equipment have made recuperation faster than before. With advanced methods and technologies in medicine, surgeries that used to require days of confinement in the hospital can already be undertaken as outpatient procedures.

From Increasing Costs to Lowering Them

It is worth noting that the cost increases newer medical technologies bring don’t really last for a long time. Eventually, these costs drop as newer technologies are developed and used. Additionally, advanced in medical technology lead to efficiency and the faster delivery of services. As such, procedures and recovery periods are significantly shortened, leading to benefits in overall treatment costs especially if opportunity costs (for patients) are taken into account.

By Tonmaurer (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Tonmaurer (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Technology may have health care expensive but it also offers numerous advantages that consequently lead to better value for the money spent on health care services. To think that technology is plainly increasing the cost burden of health care is an undiscerning way of viewing technology’s influence on the delivery of health or medical services.