June 2011

Necessary Shielding
By Jim Knaub
Radiology Today
Vol. 12 No. 6 P. 3

If you’ve been following the thyroid shield for mammography flap involving Mehmet Oz, MD, (otherwise known as Dr. Oz) you may have noticed a subtle shift in the motivation behind Oz’s recommendation. That shift happened promptly after radiologists, led by Daniel B. Kopans, MD, calmly took apart the scientific merit of Oz’s position. Oz then redirected his focus from patients’ safety to their ability to control their own healthcare.

In my view, that fallback position is much more on target—albeit a different target. This edited e-mail comment posted on The Dr. Oz Show’s website reflects an important change in patients, who are increasingly acting and being treated like customers:

“Thank you Dr. Oz for a powerful show suggesting another step in which we the customer/patient can be empowered and proactive in safeguarding our health … The world saw how challenging it is to get some in the medical profession to submit to our request! … I will continue to ask for the thyroid guard. If the doctor or tech does not want to comply with my request I and my money will go elsewhere! The message was clear; you were not suggesting a cause and effect or suggesting we not have a mammogram … Let’s not confuse the issue as some would like. Please keep informing us of what we the public can do to empower ourselves and be proactive in having good health.”

The powerful combination of the Internet, shows like The Dr. Oz Show, and the steady shifting of healthcare expenses to the patient to contain health insurance costs typically paid by employers is making patients more aware of how much they’re paying. It’s also making them more aggressive about asking dollar-related questions. In imaging, that will mean more questions like, “Why does an MRI cost $3,000 here and $400 there?”

And the truth is that most healthcare providers are not good at dealing with such questions. Call your doctor or hospital, ask how much a procedure will cost, and you’ll probably get some bobbing, weaving, and dancing that would impress Muhammad Ali in his prime. Any type of healthcare reform will create more consumer activism, and the healthcare industry will have to respond to it. Because the more patients must directly pay for healthcare, the more they will demand to understand why they’re spending the money and where it’s going. Lots of folks in healthcare might like a little more shielding from that.

Enjoy the issue.