Monday, February 28, 2011

Linking Economy & Health: Unnecessary Care

In examining how issues of security and economy are linked with health, Dutta brings to light how global policies can come to impact local actions, particularly in light of determining the availability and distribution of resources. By continually framing health intervention as an opportunity for scientific and technological advancement, coupled with the interests of commercial organizations, health is deeply connected with economic questions at the global level, bringing forth the role of structures in influencing health.

Wasteful bureaucratic overhead, high prices, high levels of uninsured, malpractice...it goes without stating that the American healthcare system is in crisis. As a communication scholar, I was intrigued by Dutta’s posing of the question, “How are particular communication strategies used by key political actors to background, discursively, the problems of healthcare?” I began to consider this in light of a side-interest of my own related to the communicative practices underlying biomedical overtreatment and unnecessary testing through perpetuating feelings of fear and anxiety in the public. Contrary to the common American belief that more spending, more drugs, and more technology equals better population health outcomes, Americans spend between one fifth and one third of their health care dollars on care that does little, if nothing, to improve health. Each year Americans undergo millions of tests, including MRIs, CT scans, and blood tests, that do little to actually help doctors diagnose disease. Often times, these tests lead patients to worry more than necessary about conditions that they would’ve never bothered with if never been found. Shockingly, according to Brown Lee (2008), over 30,000 Americans are estimated to die each year due to unnecessary care. Patients contract lethal infections while in the hospital for elective procedures, and medical errors are more likely when the volume of care required of physicians, nurses, and general medical staff is higher.

The communicative environment set forth by policy makers, government-funded health institutions, and commercial organizations with the economic benefit of overtreatment in mind, from those who craft the pieces of CT scan machines to those who control the distribution of rubber gloves to phlebotomists, is one that fuels anxieties about outbreaks of disease through straying from the facts to incorporate inflated fears about what is unknown, undesirable, and misunderstood (Alcabes, 2009). As such, treatment has become even more politicized as a commodity bought and sold in today’s neoliberal, “technical-medical-capitalist complex,” and anxiety about the health environmental of today is a central contributor to increasing the demand for care. Solving the healthcare crisis in America requires a solution to our mounting national medical bill, and in this, uncovering the ways in which stakeholders discursively frame overtreatment as “necessary” care seems paramount.

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