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Technology, Cancer Care, and Cost

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, August 17, 2010

Cancer isn't just a leading cause of death in the U.S., it is also the world's costliest disease, according to a new American Cancer Society report. And big-ticket technologies used to diagnose and treat the disease are part of the reason cancer care costs so much—from stereotactic radio surgery systems that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to the massive nuclear particle accelerators used for proton beam therapy and the physical plants needed to house them, which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, these expensive cancer treatments are not always more effective than less expensive options and many patients simply don't need them. So why do hospitals keep spending money on them?

Because calculating the ROI of cancer care is about much more than money.

Hospitals that invest in high-cost cancer technologies do not do so lightly. It is, they argue, not only critical to their mission of offering patients the best possible care, but it is also a business imperative.

Organizations invest in the latest cancer diagnosis and treatment technology in order to show that they are a state-of-the-art facility. They tout the technology in advertisements and annual reports to boost their reputation among patients and referring physicians. They buy machines to keep up with competitors and to recruit the best specialists, who want to practice in a facility that has the equipment they trained on. And patient demand drives purchases too—even if patients don't actually need high-tech care, hospitals that have it still bring them in the door.

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