Unnecessary anesthesia adds $1B to health spending

Patients increasingly are undergoing unnecessary general anesthesia during gastroenterological procedures, costing the healthcare system as much as $1 billion each year in extra spending, according to a study published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The study found that about 14 percent of colonoscopies and endoscopies involved general anesthesia in 2003, whereas 30 percent of the same procedures were accompanied by anesthesia in 2009. But most of those anesthesia services were used by low-risk patients with no heart or breathing problems, leading researchers to allege the anesthesia is a discretionary and unnecessary medical cost, reported MedPage Today.

"These services are not harming patients. They're basically giving them a luxury that is not strictly necessary," lead study author Soeren Mattke, a senior Rand Corp. scientist, told the Associated Press.

That luxury, however, costs an extra $500 per patient with commercial insurance and an additional $150 for Medicare. In 2009, about 3 million low-risk patients underwent digestive scoping tests that included anesthesia services, totaling $1 billion in potentially unnecessary costs, Reuters reported.

Mattke and his colleagues said such discretionary use "represents a sizable target for cost savings" and projected that, as anesthesia use continues to grow, "the overall cost of "colonoscopy screening programs will be closely scrutinized by payers and policymakers," MedPage Today noted.

"There's probably some way ... to make it a more rational, financial decision whereby for the appropriate patients it's utilized and ones in which it's not necessary it's not utilized," Mattke added.

To learn more:
- read the JAMA study
- see the Reuters article
- check out the MedPage Today article
- read the AP article