If doctors and patients used prescription drugs more wisely, it could save the U.S. health care system about $213 billion a year, by reducing medication overuse, underuse and other flaws in care that cause complications and longer, more-expensive treatments, researchers conclude.
The new findings by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics improve on numerous prior efforts to quantify the dollars wasted on health care.
Numerous experts have estimated tens of billions, perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars, could be better used each year to improve patient care and outcomes and to slow down spending by government health programs, insurers and consumers.
The institute, part of data analysis and consulting firm IMS Health, used proprietary data on prescriptions written by doctors -- many of which patients never fill -- plus other information to produce a current, more reliable estimate of avoidable costs solely related to medication use.
IMS arrived at the $213 billion figure based on six categories in which doctors, patients or both could be making better use of medication, from getting a prompt diagnosis when new symptoms arise to taking medicines as directed by the doctor.
Across the six categories, the researchers generally focused on spending on a handful of very common or very expensive diseases -- from high cholesterol and blood pressure to HIV and diabetes -- for which costs of care and complications are well documented.
"There's even larger avoidable costs if we were to look at all disease areas" where patients aren't getting optimal care, Murray Aitken, the institute's executive director, told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview. "There's a big opportunity for improvement."
The $213 billion equals nearly 8 percent of the more than $2.7 trillion the U.S. spent on health care last year -- billions that could pay health care costs for more than 24 million uninsured Americans, according to IMS.