If you are reading this, you already know there is an epidemic of overuse in health care. Yes, there is underuse too, and this has been the subject of many lobbying and quality improvement initiatives to date. The medical-industrial complex, particularly in the United States, has capitalized on the fears of individuals who worry they might be victims of underuse, to the tune of billions in unnecessary and harmful "just to be sure" testing, medications, and procedures.
Of course the health of individuals and populations is primary, but we cannot discuss this in isolation, without due attention to cost and sustainability. Given the finite resources we have in health care, we can't afford to throw away the precious time of patients and clinicians, or the money of patients and taxpayers. The best way to fix either problem is to see them – under- and over-use – as one. We need the right amount of care.
Who doesn't dream of a problem in which all you have to do is shuffle the deck to solve it!? This resonates strongly with my predisposition (and tiny amount of training) with Integrative Thinking.
The classic example of two sisters splitting an orange is a good illustration of the potential of integrative bargaining, as well as its elusiveness (Follett, 1940). Two sisters both want an orange, and they compromise by cutting the orange in half. What they would have discovered had they discussed it, however, is that one sister wanted the pulp for juice, and the other wanted the peel for a cake. Discovering that they each wanted different aspects of the orange would have helped the sisters to split the orange in a way that each gets the most individual utility out of the agreement
– Kirk D, Oettingen G. Gollwitzer, PM. (2011). Mental contrasting promotes integrative bargaining. International Journal of Conflict Management, 22(4), 324-341.
This is not a traditional way of thinking. The idea that "less" can lead to "more" is not intuitive. Some examples may help to illustrate the meaning of this when applied to health:
1.By ordering fewer unneeded tests and consultations for one patient (say, to review their cardiovascular profile), the clinician can instead emphasize and support the role of lifestyle changes and free up the patient's time and energy to exercise (which will improve their health far more than any cholesterol test or drug could).
2. If a patient can stop paying for a medication she doesn't need, she has a better chance of making rent payments that month, decreasing stress and the morbidity associated with homelessness as well as reducing the chance of an adverse event or side effect from medication.
3. If one patient's MRI for a sore knee is cancelled because it was planned to assess for a meniscus tear and is not needed as meniscus surgery is not shown to be effective, then timely access is now an option for another patient who needs that MRI (perhaps they've clinically had a stroke and the CT was normal, so the pattern of pathology on the brain MRI would change the treatment plan to prevent further strokes)
It goes on. However, because many people don't think about the big picture for themselves, their practice, or society as a whole, it can be hard to convince them to consider the 'Less is More' mentality. They may only hear "less" and run screaming.
This is why we need to create a huge swell of support, a cultural shift to make the discussion about overuse and underuse the norm. Jeanne Lenzer explains more about how the Lown Institute is attempting this with the Right Care Alliance in The Backstory—Is US healthcare a frontier for a new civil rights movement?