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What the U.S. Could Buy With Wasted Health Care Money

Imagine an America where the entire business community took its cues from the health care system. Need some help picturing it?

According to the respected Institute of Medicine, it’s an industry that wasted $750 billion in 2009 between unnecessary services, inefficiently delivered care, excess administrative costs, inflated prices, missed prevention opportunities and fraud.

If other industries behaved like this, the IOM projected the following:

  • Banking: ATM transactions would take not seconds but perhaps days or longer as a result of unavailable or misplaced records.

  • Home-building: carpenters, electricians and plumbers each would work with different blueprints, with very little coordination.

  • Shopping: product prices would not be posted, and the price charged would vary widely within the same store, depending on the source of payment.

  • Automobile Manufacturing: warranties for cars that require
    manufacturers to pay for defects would not exist. As a result, few factories would
    seek to monitor and improve production line performance and product quality.

  • Airline travel: each pilot would be free to design his or her own pre-flight safety check, or not to perform one at all.

So perhaps exporting common U.S. health care practices isn’t the best idea. But what about the reverse? On Wednesday’s PBS NewsHour broadcast, health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser travels to Seattle to explore one hospital’s approach to reducing costs and improving care — by importing some of the best practices of a car company.

Just as Toyota believes that eliminating waste from the assembly line process results in better cars and lower costs, officials at Virginia Mason Medical Center say they’ve rooted out inefficiencies by getting rid of waiting rooms, skipping unnecessary tests and moving supply closets directly into patients’ rooms. Tune in for the full report.

In the meantime, we leave you with a thought: What could the U.S. buy with the $750 billion wasted annually on health care? Click on the infographic button above to find out.

Infographic by Allison McCartney. Meredith Garretson and Justin Myers contributed to this report.

Related Content

Coming up on the PBS NewsHour: Betty Ann Bowser travels to Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center to find out what the hospital system learned about improving patient safety while reducing costs from an unlikely source: Toyota’s production line. Tune in for the full report Wednesday, Oct. 24. Online, we continue our coverage with a week-long exploration of why the U.S. health care system is so expensive and some possible solutions to fixing it.

Monday: Why are U.S. health care costs more than two-and-a-half times more than most other developed countries? We talk with Mark Pearson, head of Division on Health Policy at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, about some of the cost-containment strategies that have worked elsewhere in the world.

Tuesday: What steps can you take to make your next hospital stay safer and cheaper? Hari Sreenivasan talks with Elizabeth Bailey, author of “The Patient’s Checklist: 10 Simple Hospital Checklists to Keep You Safe, Sane and Organized.”

Wednesday: We illustrate what the U.S. could buy with the $750 billion wasted in American health care each year, and, in a separate post, our partners at Kaiser Health News examine the “Top 7 Drivers of U.S. Health Care Costs.”

Thursday: In a “Reporter’s Notebook,” Betty Ann Bowser examines Virginia Mason’s decision to eliminate a staple of the American hospital: the waiting room.

Friday: What inefficiencies have you seen in the U.S. health care system? We share some of the first-person accounts submitted by NewsHour viewers.