Last week’s New York Times article that attempted to make colonoscopies the poster child for the high cost of healthcare in the United States received a failing grade from the healthcare industry.
Last week on Forbes (“Americans Scammed into Good Health“), I criticized the New York Times for failing to mention that the United States has among the lowest incidences and mortality rates of colorectal cancer among developed nations and by implying (if not outright saying) that doctors prescribe colonoscopies to make money with no mention at all of those health benefits was reckless.
Needless to say the American College of Gastroenterology was none too pleased with the article, and the New York Times ran a letter from the organization’s president, Ronald Vender. “The roots of the problem of high medical costs are many, varied and complicated,” writes Dr.Vender. “The fact that the article focuses attention on the one and only preventive cancer test that has been demonstrated to significantly reduce the incidence of colon cancer and death from the disease is disappointing. The evidence suggests that colonoscopy is a public health success story.”
The New York Times article “creates an underlying distrust between patients and physicians that will do little to fix the admittedly broken American health care system and potentially adversely affect the quality of patient care,” writes Scott Ingber, chief medical officer at Mount Sinai North Shore Medical Group, in a letter that appears on the same page as Dr. Vender’s. “Portraying doctors as overly concerned with financial advancement plants seeds of skepticism in patients when a successful physician-patient relationship rests upon unwavering trust. The American College of Gastroenterology recommends colonoscopies not because of their profitability but because of their efficacy in colon cancer prevention.”
The American College of Radiology issued an advisory to patients over 50 to not forgo colorectal screening because of the New York Times article. “There is absolutely no doubt that thousands of people are alive today, who otherwise would not be, as a direct result of regular colorectal cancer screening,”said Judy Yee, chair of the American College of Radiology Colon Cancer Committee. “The ACR agrees with the Times article’s assessment that Americans need greater access to more colorectal cancer screening choices — including CT colonography — otherwise known as virtual colonoscopy.”
Physician James Vecchio recently blogged that incidences of colon cancer in the U.S. have been declining since 1998. “The omission of these benefits of colon cancer screening with colonoscopy from the New York Times article is unfortunate,” he wrote. “As with anything, it is not appropriate to only look at ‘costs’ on one side of the equation without looking at significant benefits on the other side of the equation.”