7 Reasons Hospitals Buy Technology They Don't Need

Cheryl Clark, January 12, 2012

Why do healthcare chiefs keep buying high-priced gadgets and gizmos that don't improve quality of care? It defies logic. So I asked around to see if anyone could explain this phenomenon.

I was intrigued by last week's report from the independent, non-profit ECRI Institute, which uses the science of evidence to advise clients how to avoid bad purchasing decisions. The document lists 10 technologies, many of which ECRI's experts say hospitals should resist or delay, because data showing they improve care is weak or doesn't exist.

We keep hearing that health providers should be cutting costs, not building and spending on glamour and glitz. The Independent Payment Advisory Board is poised to set draconian reimbursement reductions. And comparative effectiveness findings stemming from the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute will distinguish those treatments and devices that add value from those that don't.

Despite all this, every week it seems another hospital announces another CT scanner with more slices, another robot with newer software, a higher-Tesla MRI, or a $200 million cyclotron that shoots protons at cancer, with scant evidence they improve care over what already exists.

I asked several industry experts for their thoughts, including Jennifer Myers, vice president of ECRI's procurement advisory group, SELECT Health Technology Services, and hospital analyst Nate Kaufman. They told me how often they hear of these decisions being made, and what might be going on behind the scenes.

Here are seven reasons why hospitals buy million dollar technologies that lack scientific evidence showing they actually help patients:

1. Doctors demand it. They cry; they whine; they threaten to quit or cause trouble if they don't get it. High-demand/high-volume physicians under consideration for employment say they won't join an organization or practice unless it has a particular new, expensive gadget. This trumps all other reasons why many hospitals and doctors buy technology they don't need.

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