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Consistency and cost: Why reducing variability in health care matters

Many doctors still chafe at practicing "cookbook medicine." (Tim Sackton/Flickr)
The argument that 'I do not practice cookbook medicine' still resonates with many practitioners. (Tim Sackton/Flickr)
Mark Neuman, MD, MPH, practices emergency medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and is director of Fellow Research and Research Education. Vincent Chiang, MD, chief of Children’s Inpatient Services (CHIPS), contributed to this post, adapted from their recent commentary in Pediatrics.

It’s no secret that the U.S. health care system is in the midst of a financial crisis. As a nation, we spend nearly 18 percent of our Gross Domestic Product on health care, and health care costs remain the largest contributor to the national debt. In 2011 alone, the cost of maintaining the nation’s 5,700 hospitals exceeded $770 billion.

If ever there was a time for a societal mandate to reduce health care costs, that time is now.

It’s widely accepted that one of the first steps to reigning in runaway health care costs is reducing variability in the manner in which care is delivered. Well-defined and well-disseminated best practice guidelines can improve the reproducibility and standardization of care. In time, these guidelines may reduce costly and unnecessary tests and hospitalizations, while providing a platform on which to measure and enhance quality. More consistency may also allow providers to be more efficient with their time, space and personnel.

If it’s so costly, why is health care variability so abundant?

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