A new study finds that investment in computer, communications and diagnostics technologies could drastically cut the long-term care costs for breast cancer and cardiovascular disease, through better use of patient screening and adherence to treatment.
The potential savings in the UK alone could exceed 35 per cent, according to researchers from Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School of Belgium.
The study takes data from small-scale trials of the new technologies in the UK, Belgium and Germany and runs them through a computer analysis of the costs and benefits, if scaled up across an entire population. It focuses on two specific ailments, breast cancer and cardiovascular disease.
“This is the first analysis of the full ‘value chain’ of healthcare investments from healthy individual to first diagnosis to disease treatment to recovery or death,” said the lead researcher, Prof. Walter Van Dyck of Vlerick. “It shows there’s a hefty up-front cost for these new technologies – which society may or may not want to pay. But it also shows that, in the long run, there’s also a net saving to society by keeping more people healthier for longer in their lives. That’s an important lesson in health economics.”
In the breast cancer case, the study found the average cost per patient over 25 years could fall by 37 per cent. The long-term savings would come from using genetic testing and patient records to screen efficiently for population groups deemed most at risk, and then concentrating mammography, check-up and other early-detection techniques on those individuals – in essence, catching the illness earlier, when it’s easier and cheaper to treat. But the up-front cost, of computer and testing technologies, would be substantial: £2 billion in the UK alone, and it could take six to eight years for payback to show. The savings, stemming from the earlier detection and a resultant drop in costly late-stage surgery and chemotherapy, is over 25 years, net of input costs.
The cardiovascular case focused on disease prevention, rather than mitigation. Using data from prior studies of the effect of regular exercise, doctor’s check-ups and tele-monitoring of at-risk individuals, the researchers concluded that healthcare costs for heart attacks could drop 46 per cent, or £2,600 per patient – chiefly through avoiding heart attacks in the first place, and treating early problems in the GP’s office rather than in the emergency room.