“If we want to lower the costs of healthcare, we need to reduce the demand for healthcare services – not increase supply.” – Charles A. Francis
“Mindfulness is now more relevant than ever as an effective and dependable counterbalance to strengthen our health and well-being, and perhaps our very sanity.” ― Jon Kabat-Zinn
In the United States the costs of healthcare are out of control. We pay more per capita by far than any other country in the world and yet our healthcare outcomes are mediocre at best. Healthcare spending per person in the U.S. is over $10,000 per year, 17% of the Gross Domestic Product, over $3 Trillion. Increasingly, Americans are having problems paying for care — 26 percent report they or a family member had problems paying medical bills in the past year. Fifty-eight percent of Americans reported foregoing or delaying medical care in the past year. Many patients stop taking medications or never fill prescriptions due to unaffordability.
Costs are putting a strain on the finances of individuals and the entire country. Obviously there is a need to somehow control costs while improving the quality of healthcare services. One strategy is to attempt to reduce the costs of providing care. This, however, has proved to be extremely challenging. Another tactic is to work toward reducing the need for services. This can include methods to prevent illness and shorten or dampen illnesses when they do occur. Mindfulness practices have been shown to do just that, preventing illness, decreasing symptoms, and improving recovery as a stand-alone treatment or as an adjunct to conventional treatments (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/health/ and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/well-being/).
In today’s Research News article “The low risk and high return of integrative health services”
Russo and colleagues review the studies of the effects of alternative treatments including mindfulness practices on costs for healthcare services. They found that the use of mindfulness techniques reduced overall hospital costs. This occurred due to reduced length of stay in the hospital prior to and immediately following surgery, decreased use of prescription drugs which in turn further reduced length of stay, post-operative co-morbidities, and drug dependence, while increasing patient self-care. The use of mindfulness practices also decreased anxiety, pain, and narcotic use and improve patient satisfaction.
The exact amount of money saved depends upon many complex factors such as the interventions used, the practices used, the structure of the program, and facilities used. But, some examples can highlight the magnitude of the savings. The application of yoga training to cancer treatment resulted in cost savings of $156 per day, nearly $300,000 annually. Application of mindfulness techniques to diabetes care resulted in estimated savings of $31,000 per person per year. These savings were calculated after all of the costs associated with running the programs were subtracted. Obviously, considerable savings can be obtained by hospitals with the use of mindfulness techniques.
To my knowledge, there have not been any estimates of the savings produced by mindfulness practices with outpatient and non-hospital healthcare cost reductions and by disease prevention. So, the actual impact of the use of mindfulness techniques on healthcare costs is unknown but logic suggests that the savings are huge.
These are important findings and underscore the economic consequences of the application of mindfulness techniques to healthcare. Unfortunately, in the American healthcare system there is no incentives to reduce the number of treatments employed as the providers are paid according to the number of services provided rather than value and effectiveness of the services. The move toward outcomes-based payments may help in this regard. But, clearly there is a need to change the incentives in the system to promote wellness and reduced costs. Mindfulness practices have been proven to do just that.
Regardless, it is clear that we can reduce healthcare costs with mindfulness.
“People don’t actually want to think about their own health and don’t take action until they are sick. Yet employers are very motivated to get their employees healthy, since they bear most of the burden of their health care costs.” – Clayton Christensen
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies