Doctor Uses Back of the Napkin Math To Make Life and Death Decisions

  • by: |
  • 11/10/2014
Dr. Cary Presant thinks calculating the value of a new treatment by measuring cost over overall survival is a neat idea.  I mean, it's so easy you can use the back of a napkin to make life and death decisions!!!  

He ignores other aspects of the cost and value of medical innovation that take into account patient needs and long term impact.

True, spending on cancer treatments has climbed from $24 billion in 2004 to about $37 billion today. But that’s less than a half a percent of total US health-care spending.
More important: While expensive, since 2004 such innovations were largely responsible for a 40 percent increase in living cancer survivors, from 9.8 million to 13.6 million. The new therapies also saved $188 billion on hospitalizations.
In fact, a new study by Dr. Lee Newcomer confirms this result: United Healthcare’s cancer costs dropped as spending on new cancer drugs increased.
Finally, new drugs help people go back to work. The value of the increase in ability to work is 2.5 times what we spend on new therapies.

Presant's biggest problem, though, is that his cost diagnosis is one-size-fits-all: It treats all patients as the same, ignoring the genetic variation in patient response that a new class of “targeted” cancer drugs will soon address.

Dig a bit deeper, and it’s clear that Presant may have a more ideological motivation:  By ignoring the role of insurers in jacking up the out of pocket cost of cancer drugs to discourage use,  he sides with payors, not patients.  It's the health plans that want docs to use 'pathways' -- back of the napkin calculations -- to make life and death decisions.  Docs who stick to the pathways get bonuses and if they prescribe drugs outside the pathway they don't. 

And this line of thinking does away with the Hippocratic Oath. No longer is the doctor’s first obligation “to apply for the benefit of the sick, all measures that are required.” Instead, Presant seems to believes three months of added life isn't worth it.

In fact, three months or less of survival can lead to a lifetime free from disease because average survival masks greater gains in many groups. Back in the 1980s, experts predicted AZT, the first anti-AIDS drug, would add less than three months of life. Yet nearly 90 percent of people taking AZT lived for two years. That allowed them to survive long enough to get the next-generation anti-retroviral combination that now keeps HIV in check.
Even when innovations don’t work miracles, refusing to die has a value not measured by the ASCO app.
When my friend Lynne Jacoby was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in April 2012, she was told she’d die in weeks. She accepted the diagnosis, but not the prognosis. She entered a clinical trial and received an innovative treatment tailored to her tumors. She was able to travel, work and spend time with her wife and family.

Lynne died last Oct. 6, less than three weeks before her genome was to be sequenced for the next innovation. Her last written words measure the value of innovation Presant ignores:
“For someone like me, who is . . . told that my life would be measured in weeks, I guess I would just want everyone to realize that all of our lives are just measured in weeks, and we have to do whatever it takes to make that as many weeks as possible for everyone.”

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

Blog Roll

Alliance for Patient Access Alternative Health Practice
Better Health
Biotech Blog
CA Medicine man
Cafe Pharma
Campaign for Modern Medicines
Carlat Psychiatry Blog
Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry: A Closer Look
Conservative's Forum
Club For Growth
Diabetes Mine
Disruptive Women
Doctors For Patient Care
Dr. Gov
Drug Channels
DTC Perspectives
Envisioning 2.0
FDA Law Blog
Fierce Pharma
Fresh Air Fund
Furious Seasons
Gel Health News
Hands Off My Health
Health Business Blog
Health Care BS
Health Care for All
Healthy Skepticism
Hooked: Ethics, Medicine, and Pharma
Hugh Hewitt
In the Pipeline
In Vivo
Internet Drug News
Jaz'd Healthcare
Jaz'd Pharmaceutical Industry
Jim Edwards' NRx
Kaus Files
Laffer Health Care Report
Little Green Footballs
Med Buzz
Media Research Center
More than Medicine
National Review
Neuroethics & Law
Nurses For Reform
Nurses For Reform Blog
Opinion Journal
Orange Book
Peter Rost
Pharm Aid
Pharma Blog Review
Pharma Blogsphere
Pharma Marketing Blog
Pharmacology Corner
Pharmaceutical Business Review
Piper Report
Prescription for a Cure
Public Plan Facts
Real Clear Politics
Shark Report
Shearlings Got Plowed
Taking Back America
Terra Sigillata
The Cycle
The Catalyst
The Lonely Conservative
Town Hall
Washington Monthly
World of DTC Marketing
WSJ Health Blog