May 17, 2011 / 2:30 AM / 7 years ago

Putting a price on blood tests can save money - study

NEW YORK, May 17 (Reuters Life!) - Letting doctors know how much money they spend ordering blood tests may help rein in unnecessary healthcare spending and save thousands of dollars, according to a U.S. study.

Blood tests are an integral part of modern medicine, but experts say they are used more than is medically necessary, stretching a healthcare budget that’s already hard pressed, with such unneeded testing making up a big part of the costs.

But researchers led by Elizabeth Stuebing at the University of Miami found that weekly announcements of the previous week’s costs to surgery staff at a Rhode Island hospital produced savings of about $55,000 over fewer than three months.

“Simply knowing the costs helps these providers be more judicious about their test ordering behavior,” Stuebing said of the study, which appears in the Archives of Surgery.

“As of now, many providers, especially house staff or residents, are completely unaware of the costs of any of the care they are providing.”

During the study, conducted at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, Stuebing and her colleagues saw daily patient charges for blood tests drop from nearly $150 to as low as $108 after 10 weeks.

That’s more than 25 percent, and could mean millions of dollars in savings if the system was introduced across the United States, she said.

“The problem is that ordering these tests is often part of a daily routine, and they seem relatively inconsequential and inexpensive when compared to things like MRIs, but we forget that all those little tests add up to a significant amount over time,” she added.

It’s not the first time that hospitals have tried to cut expenses from excessive blood tests, Some, for instance, have used computer systems and provider education to limit unnecessary tests.

Experts say this sort of simple measure may prove key.

“Wasted medical spending has been estimated to account for as much as one-third of the $1.5 billion the United States expends annually for medical care, and inappropriate, redundant, or unnecessary tests and procedures have been suggested to encompass the biggest area of such waste,” wrote A. Benedict Cosimi, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, wrote in an editorial that accompanied the study.

“I believe that such simple, low-cost and readily repeatable interventions provide one of the most easily applied strategies for influencing clinicians’ test and medication-requesting behavior,” he added. (Reporting by Frederik Joelving at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies)

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