Tech advances often hike patient costs

Even small advances in medical technology can cause steep increases in patients' out-of-pocket costs, the New York Times reported.

The cost of upgrades is particularly inescapable in the management of chronic illnesses. The industry's latest technology entices diabetes patients, for example, to obtain more sophisticated insulin pumps, similar to the smartphone market, where consumers often trade in their devices for something incrementally better, according to the article. And most of those devices have their own pricey accessories and add-ons, such as blood test strips priced at $1.50 apiece.

Those price bumps do not include the cost of insulin, which went from a few dollars a vial in the 1970s and 1980s to as much as $200 a vial today, because it is now produced via patented forms of genetic engineering. Catherine Hayley, a 36-year-old who has had Type 1 diabetes since she was a child, spends more than $4,200 a year out of her own pocket to treat her condition, even though she has health insurance, according to the Times.

Meanwhile, many firms that manufacture such diabetic devices spend millions of dollars a year to market them via advertising, health fair booths and other initiatives.

"They may be better in some abstract sense, but the clinical relevance is minor," Joel Zonszein, M.D., director of the clinical diabetes center at Montefiore Medical Center, told the Times.

Meanwhile, healthcare executives devote more of their time to population health initiatives meant to control chronic conditions such as diabetes. And somewhat paradoxically, advances in technology can also play a role in lowering healthcare costs for providers, although they are distinct from consumer-oriented devices.

For example, the mobile monitoring of diabetic patients can cut costs on the provider side by $3,000 a year or more. And devices with automated text messaging for patients and their nurse managers can help keep costs in check on the provider end.

To learn more:
- read the New York Times article