A medical treatment, or therapy, is an attempt to remediate a health problem following a diagnosis of disease or injury. All treatments carry risks and benefits; the choice depends on a physician’s judgment, patient preference, availability of alternatives, costs and so on. Medicine’s success in advancing vaccines, antibiotics and other cures has encouraged physicians to apply new therapies to more patients. To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail; to a doctor with a new drug or procedure, everyone seems a candidate for it.
But just because something works for the average person does not mean it will work equally well, or that any particular individual won’t suffer undesired side effects. That’s why fair tests such as randomized trials are important: they help to eliminate biases and provide some confidence that the new treatment will not prove harmful.
Even so, many people report not getting the care they need because of cost. This year, the share of adults who reported missing or delaying medical treatment because of cost rose 12 points among those with lower incomes and nine points among those in middle income groups.
The costs of a medical treatment can vary, depending on the provider, where you go for care and whether or not you have insurance. Generally speaking, costs are lower when you choose an in-network provider. This means that your insurance company has negotiated rates with the provider; going to a non-insured provider can significantly increase your expenses.
Medical treatments can range from medication to surgery and all kinds of procedures in between. In general, the more invasive a treatment is, the more expensive it will be. A surgical procedure is a lot more expensive than an outpatient visit to a specialist and getting an X-ray.
Some medical problems have no cure, and the treatment is simply a way to manage them. For example, some people with type 1 diabetes are treated by insulin to keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range. Similarly, some heart conditions can only be managed with medications and regular checkups.
What matters to patients about their medical treatment is the outcome, not the process of obtaining it. In general, the outcomes that matter most are grouped into three tiers: (1) overall survival; (2) quality of life; and (3) the experience of care. For instance, while patients do care about mortality rates, they also want to know that they’re receiving the best possible quality of care and can return home as quickly as possible. In addition, they are interested in the level of discomfort that they have to endure during treatment and how long it takes them to recover from a procedure or illness. These factors are known as “patient-centered measures.”