Monday, February 23, 2009

Knowledge is Power. Except when it's not...

[Welcome Industry Radar readers!]
Here at IB, an overarching theme is "empowerment." Generally, this means consumer driven health insurance plans (e.g. HSA's), but it also means taking a more pro-active role in learning about treatment options. Of course, the two are interrelated: when one has more "skin in the game," as in high deductible health plans, one has a greater financial stake in finding out as much as possible about what one's physician is recommending.
Which brings us to our first bit of news:
This makes sense, since it implies that those folks who take the time and put forth the effort to research their options are bound to know more about their possible choices than those who don't. These are folks who've scoured the 'net, read newspaper and magazine articles, and (presumably) talked to other folks with similar conditions.
And it gets better, since "those who pursued second opinions from doctors as part of their research were the most likely actually to be prescribed" one (or more) of the newer cancer med's, such as Erbitux, and Avastin. These are drugs which seem to slow the growth of tumors (although the article is quick to point out that they don't necessarily cure cancer).
On the other hand, those "first adopters" also face increased risk of developing negative side effects from these meds: "Avastin increases the risk of strokes, heart attacks and serious blood clots. Erbitux can cause a disfiguring rash."
Still, they show promise, especially for folks who face a death sentence.
On the other hand, just relying on the doc's, without doing one's own "due diligence," may backfire. The University of Michigan recently surveyed over 3,000 folks, all over 40, who had recently had office visits:
■ In "93% of talks about taking cholesterol or blood pressure drugs and in a majority of talks about cancer screening and elective surgery," the doc's initiated the conversation.
■ Doctors were much more likely to recommend taking action rather than adopt a "wait and see" posture.
That second may not seem like a big deal, but sometimes not taking action is the right course; at the very least, there's concern that, as researcher Brian Zikmund-Fisher oberves, "You need to have an opportunity to say yes or no."
Which is not to say that the doc's themselves are completely to blame here; after all, how many of us do make the time and effort to ask questions? Yet that's exactly what we should be doing, regardless of what kind of insurance we have. Or whether we're insured at all.
It really comes down to this: personal reponsibility and empowerment.
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