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Individualizing Care Could Save Money, Experts Say

TUESDAY, July 12 (HealthDay News) -- Cost-effectiveness is becoming an increasingly important aspect of medical treatment, and two researchers have found that individualizing therapies to smaller groups of patients may be one way to help control costs.

In the new report, the team from Stanford University School of Medicine suggested that when comparing the price of a treatment with its intended outcome (also known as the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio), health economists should assess smaller subgroups of people for a more precise analysis that is better tailored to individuals.

"Physicians need to think about what a particular intervention will offer for each patient, and how much it will cost," co-author Dr. John Ioannidis, chief of the Stanford Prevention Research Center and Stanford's C.F. Rehnborg Professor in Disease Prevention, said in a university news release. "What is at stake, and how might this patient's needs and expectations vary from the norm?"

An example of one way to individualize the cost-benefit analysis of medical treatments would be to consider smaller categories of people who would respond differently to certain treatments, such as people who are less willing to take on the risk of negative side effects associated with certain medications, the study authors pointed out.

"Most physicians practice medicine intuitively without giving much thought to the evidence and the economic implications of their decisions," said Ioannidis. "The information flow and decision-making process is often chaotic and not entirely rational. This is scary."

The researchers admitted individualized cost-effectiveness analysis isn't possible for population-wide treatments or when the intervention could also affect the health of many other people, such as vaccination programs.

Ioannidis and co-author Dr. Alan Garber, health economist and director of the Center for Health Policy at Stanford, published their report online July 12 in PLoS Medicine.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on health care costs and financial assistance.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Stanford University School of Medicine, news release, July 12, 2011

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