While the healthcare debate continues and all sides have their say, it’s time that physicians bring some facts to the table. According to an independent study by PricewaterhouseCooper’s Health Research Institute, some 1.2 TRILLION dollars are unnecessarily spent each year on healthcare. That’s a lot of money. Let’s take a look at where it goes.

Overtesting accounts for 210 billion dollars. That, too, is a lot of zeroes. Why? It’s not because physicians want to order unnecessary tests. It’s because lawyers want to sue doctors out of greed, and blame it on a physician’s alleged neglect. We need to understand that medicine, like the rest of life, is not perfect. There are false positives, false negatives, and inconclusive test results all of the time, simply because our bodies are not all the same, and are in a constant state of change. That’s the simple truth of it, and that is not any doctor’s fault.

Another 210 billion goes into processing claims. Yep, the devil’s not in the details, he’s in the paperwork. Practices spend a lot of time (and money) trying to get paid by insurance companies. Some estimate that medical practices suffer up to 40% loss of revenue because staff is busy filling out paperwork that has nothing at all to do with caring for patients. Is that necessary? No, a standard, automated form would be easy to implement. Another strain on the system, slow-pay by government agencies, add unnecessary administrative cost and damage the practice’s cash flow. One practice in Northern Illinois went nine months without being paid by the state for services provided. The staff — including clerks — had to go without pay, but still showed up for work to care for their patients.

When it comes down to it, these are all about crossing the “T”s and dotting the “I”s (AKA CYA) that have nothing directly to do with providing quality health care. Yet we’re spending nearly half a TRILLION dollars a year on it, unnecessarily.

This is part one of a three part series on why medicine is so expensive and what we can do to reduce the costs without reducing the quality of care. Please check during the rest of the week for the rest!