Friday, May 28, 2010

Normal human problems are turned into medical conditions, spiking healthcare costs
by Sherry Baker
Mainstream medicine has a huge new growth industry underway -- the "medicalization" of the human condition. That's the conclusion of a study headed by Brandeis University sociologist Peter Conrad that was just published in the journal Social Science and Medicine. The report, the first study of its kind, documents that over the last several decades, numerous common problems -- many of which are simply due to being human -- have been newly defined as medical disorders that supposedly need prescription drugs and other costly treatments.

For example, menopause is a perfectly natural part of womanhood but it is now considered a "condition" complete with symptoms that physicians often believe need treatment with hormones and anti-depressants. Likewise, normal pregnancies, taking longer-than-average time to get pregnant and impotence (now known by the medical term "erectile dysfunction") are all now seen as medical conditions that may need intense medical monitoring and treatment. And if a child fidgets in class -- bingo! He or she is frequently classified as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and quickly placed on stimulant drugs like Ritalin
Conrad and his colleagues used national data to estimate the costs of these and other common conditions -- including anxiety and behavioral disorders; worries over body image; male pattern baldness; normal sadness; being overweight; difficulty in sleeping through the night and substance-related disorders. In order to document what role medicalizing these problems could be playing in escalating U.S. healthcare spending, the Brandeis research team evaluated current data showing just how much medical spending results from the diagnosing and treatment of these "conditions".

Their findings? The researchers concluded there is a strong and undeniable trend toward a medicalization of human conditions, with a constantly increasing number of medical diagnoses and treatments for behavioral problems and what the researchers called "normal life events".

When they analyzed payments to hospitals, pharmacies, doctors and other health care providers for medical treatments of these medicalized conditions, the researchers discovered that the costs accounted for $77.1 billion in medical spending in 2005. That amounts to almost 4 percent of the total U.S. healthcare expenditures.

"We spend more on these medicalized conditions than on cancer, heart disease, or public health," Conrad said in a statement to the press.

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