Study: New Technologies, New Drugs Save Lives and Pay Their Own Way

This is from a Ron Bailey (Reason) review of a new study:

According to [Columbia University economist Frank Lichtenberg], life expectancy increased faster in states that more rapidly adopted advanced diagnostic imaging techniques, were quicker to use new drugs, and attracted an increasing proportion of doctors from top medical schools.

  • Between 1991 and 2004, the average life expectancy at birth in the U.S. increased by two years and four months; during that time, Lichtenberg finds, the use of advanced imaging procedures nationwide almost doubled, rising from about 10 percent to nearly 20 percent of standard imaging procedures.
  • Lichtenberg calculates that the deployment of such diagnostic techniques as CAT scans and MRIs was responsible for boosting average U.S. life expectancy by about eight months during this period.
  • He estimates that the adoption of newer drugs increased average life expectancy by another 18 months; by contrast, the fraction of physicians being trained at top medical schools has declined, which Lichtenberg reckons has reduced overall life expectancy by three to five months.

But what about costs? Are critics right to blame technology for the high price for modern medicine? Lichtenberg [found that:]

  • The top six states used advanced imaging diagnostics roughly 30 percent more often than the bottom six, for instance, making them ripe for comparison.
  • He found that the states with larger increases in high-tech diagnostic procedures, newer drugs, and higher quality physicians did not have larger increases in per capita medical spending.

Comments (5)

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  1. Stephen C. says:

    This is very interesting. It means that spending at the margin works.

  2. Devon Herrick says:

    Countries with socialized health care systems tend to ration diagnostic imaging equipment. Presumably, this is not because the tests themselves are so costly, but because they lead to more aggressive treatment.

  3. Larry C. says:

    The message here is the exact opposite of the message coming from the Obama Administration.

  4. Vicki says:

    I agree with Larry. This result is the opposite of the message the White House is sending out these days.

  5. Virginia says:

    I haven’t read the study or the full review, but I wonder if the states that are quickest to adopt new technologies also save on costs because they run their hospitals/programs more efficiently.

    Perhaps the adoption of new techniques is only an indicator of the underlying business model.