Navigating Health Care: Myths About Health Care Quality
Debra: Do you believe that more tests and treatments are better than fewer? Or that more expensive care is superior? Is the latest treatment or drug really the best one on the market? In this segment, AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn Clancy separates myths from reality in health care quality. Welcome, Dr. Clancy.
Dr. Clancy: Thank you.
Debra: Let’s first start out by addressing how health care myths start.
Dr. Clancy: Sure. Well, myths about health care quality often contain some part of the truth. For example, the myth could be based on advice that might be true for some people in certain circumstances. But that’s a far cry from scientific evidence. At AHRQ, we believe that the evidence, not popular belief, should be the foundation of health care.
Debra: So what are some health care quality myths you would like to dispel?
Dr. Clancy: First, people should know in general that more services and treatments are not necessarily better. Every year, millions of Americans receive health care services that are unnecessary, increase costs, and worst of all, may even hurt their health. For example, a study of hysterectomies, a surgical procedure where the woman’s uterus is removed, found that one in six operations was inappropriate for the patient.
Debra: But what if I do need a treatment or surgery? Isn’t the latest one always the greatest one, because it builds on all the known research and technology?
Dr. Clancy: It is true that medicine is based on progress in understanding how diseases work and how the human body responds to new ways of fighting those diseases. However, not every new treatment or drug is the better choice for you, because quality health care takes a personalized approach. So an example of this would be stents. These are the mesh devices that open a clogged artery and lower the risk of a heart attack. When physicians started using drug-coated stents, many people thought they were better than plain stents because they delivered medicine exactly where it was needed. But after more drug-coated stents were used, some patients developed dangerous blood clots. As a result of reviews by the Food and Drug Administration, doctors are now judging whether drug-coated stents are right for patients on a case-by-case basis.
Debra: So the fanciest technology isn’t always best. What about the most expensive care? Can you tell if you’re getting quality health care based on the cost?
Dr. Clancy: Actually, that’s another myth. Many consumers think that more expensive care is superior to less costly care. However, like other myths about quality, this is often just not true. You can end up paying more for care without knowing a cheaper option is just as good or maybe even better for you.
Debra: So what do you do if you think your clinician wants to perform a treatment or surgery, but you’re not sure if there’s real evidence to back the benefits?
Debra: The most important thing you can do is act as your own myth buster by asking your doctor questions, lots of them. Your doctor should be able to explain why he or she believes a certain treatment or medicine is the right one for you or your family. After all, you deserve health care that is based on evidence, not myth.
Debra: Dr. Clancy, thanks for joining us.
Dr. Clancy: My pleasure.