Costly Cancer Treatment Under Scrutiny

There still lacks evidence to support the theory that proton-beam therapy is more effective than traditional therapy when it comes to treating prostate cancer; however, it would be hard to deduce that fact based on the rapidly growing popularity of proton therapy centers.

There still lacks evidence to support the theory that proton-beam therapy is more effective than traditional therapy when it comes to treating prostate cancer; however, it would be hard to deduce that fact based on the rapidly growing popularity of proton therapy centers.

Why would medical organizations want to take on such a costly technology? Because the machines also have the potential to bring in massive amounts of revenue. According to an article by Bloomberg Businessweek, these 500-ton machines — which are stored in “facilities that cost from $100 million to $200 million, and can require a football- field sized building to house” – can bring in as much as $50 million in revenue annually.

The only problem is that there lacks a body of evidence to support the use of proton-beam therapy as opposed to more traditional forms of therapy. According to Amitabh Chandra, a health economist at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, these proton therapy centers are “a metaphor for all the problems we have in American medicine” because of how they complicate the healthcare system. One commenter went as far as to say that this technology has “forced many doctors to become snake oil salesmen in an effort to pay for the equipment that there facility has bought into.”

The growing use of these types of costly technologies begs the question: Do the current pressures being placed on physicians under healthcare reform force them to look for other ways to supplement their practice revenue? More importantly, are these moves improving the quality of care delivered to their patients, or simply improving their bottom line? What are your thoughts?