Medical waste


The influential Institute of Medicine offers a comprehensive review of the nation's health-care system, and here's the frightening diagnosis: Nearly $750 billion a year is wasted on unnecessary care, excessive administrative costs, fraud, duplication, and poor communication.

The institute's conclusions may not surprise anyone who had to reschedule an appointment because test results were unavailable, or to repeat a procedure to get accurate data. The group's study found that 20 percent of patients endured the former and 25 percent the latter.

But the staggering volume of waste -- nearly 30 cents of every dollar spent on medical care -- demands a comprehensive, detailed response from government officials, health professionals, and the public. We can't afford to keep throwing that much money away.

The institute, an independent arm of the National Academy of Sciences, provides objective advice to policy makers. Anyone who wants to reduce the out-of-control costs of health care should follow the institute's prescriptions.

Hospitals, health-care organizations, doctors, and other providers must move to electronic record-keeping to manage patient care and financial information. The medical industry must improve and speed up the process of translating the findings of the latest clinical studies into direct care for patients.

Input from patients and their families is vital, including discussions of the cost of care. Coordination is key.