Hospitals rushing to build proton-beam treatment centers

Innovative healthcare technology has the power to save lives and increase efficiency. But when it comes to spending, some hospitals aren't checking the price before going after new technologies that don't necessarily work better than older, cheaper ones.

In Washington, D.C., in particular, two new proton-beam cancer treatment facilities are on the verge of being approved by local government, even though in Baltimore--a mere 40 miles away--the Maryland Proton Treatment Center also is being built, according to NPR's Shots blog.

Both Johns Hopkins Medicine and MedStar Health have been arguing their sides before a D.C. local health department, arguing that the closest proton therapy center is too far away for D.C. residents to use.

Projected profits for the Hopkins center, which would be built at Sibley Memorial Hospital, where the Hopkins center would be built, are projected to hit $15.8 million by 2019. Chip Davis, Sibley president, said he thinks that this kind of treatment is needed, but not for all types of cancer.

Other physicians, however, said they think more proton therapy centers are unnecessary.

"Neither [Hopkins nor MedStar] should be building," Ezekiel Emanuel, a former healthcare adviser to the Obama administration who now works at the University of Pennsylvania, told NPR. "We don't have evidence that there's a need for them in terms of medical care. They're simply done to generate profits."

Last spring, some doctors were singing the same tune--research firm KLAS concluded in a report that the high cost of proton beam therapy and limited data on its effectiveness as a cancer treatment made providers hesitant to embrace the technology. Side effects on patients can be equal or worse than those associated with traditional radiation therapy. Harvard University health economist Amitabh Chandra went so far as to call proton therapy centers the "death star of American medical technology" last year.

According to NPR, doctors at the University of Maryland said that the Baltimore-based proton center would be more than enough for the area.

To learn more:
- read the NPR article

Related Articles:
Costly cancer treatment comes under fire
Are high-tech healthcare solutions worth the price?
Michigan mulls new $160M proton beam cancer centers
Docs not sold on proton therapy

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