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Low-Value Services Accounted for $282 Million of Healthcare Spending in Washington State

Kaitlynn Ely
The Washington Health Alliance has found that low-value or wasteful healthcare services accounted for $282 million in unnecessary healthcare spending from July 2015 to June 2016, according to a report titled, First, Do No Harm: Calculating Health Care Waste in Washington State.
The Washington Health Alliance has found that low-value or wasteful healthcare services accounted for $282 million in unnecessary healthcare spending from July 2015 to June 2016, according to a report titled, First, Do No Harm: Calculating Health Care Waste in Washington State.

The report analyzed 1.3 million patients across the state and found that nearly half of patients received commonly overused, low-value care evaluated by the new MedInsight Health Waste Calculator from the actuarial consulting firm Milliman.

Low-value services are wasteful or overused medical tests and procedures that have no significant benefit on the patient. Potential physical, emotional, or financial harm can also be a result of low-value health services. Patient safety can only be improved when harm is addressed in association with the delivery of healthcare.

Included in the evaluation were 47 common tests, procedures, and treatments that are considered overused by the US Preventive Services Task Force and the Choosing Wisely initiative. While overused services are individually low cost, the high volumes of wasteful procedures and tests adds up among the population.

Researchers found that 36% of healthcare spending went to low-value treatments and procedures, while 93% of overuse was attributed to 11 out of the 47 common treatments. These procedures or tests include preoperative tests and lab studies prior to low-risk surgery, too frequent cancer screenings, eye imaging tests for people without significant eye disease, annual electrocardiogram tests or cardiac screening for people with low risk of heart disease, and imaging for uncomplicated conditions, such as low back pain.

Choosing Wisely reminds patients that they have the right to ask themselves if a medical test or procedure is necessary. In addition, physicians and patients should have conversations about appropriate, evidence-based medical care.

"This is a pioneering report for Washington state's healthcare community," Nancy A. Giunto, executive director of the Washington Health Alliance, said in a statement. "Being able to measure specific areas of waste in the healthcare system is an important step forward. The results are stunning and provide a clear opportunity to educate patients and engage healthcare stakeholders on areas of improvement."

 
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