Estimating the Costs of Medicalization

Peter Conrad, a sociologist at Brandeis has been a thoughtful commentator on the phenomenon of medicalization for the past four decades.  His team has just published a new paper in which they estimate the costs of medicalization.  The abstract sums the matters up nicely.

“Medicalization is the process by which non-medical problems become defined and treated as medical problems, usually as illnesses or disorders. There has been growing concern with the possibility that medicalization is driving increased health care costs. In this paper we estimate the medical spending in the U.S. of identified medicalized conditions at approximately $77 billion in 2005, 3.9% of total domestic expenditures on health care. This estimate is based on the direct costs associated with twelve medicalized conditions. Although due to data limitations this estimate does not include all medicalized conditions, it can inform future debates about health care spending and medicalization.”

In the paper, they are careful not to overstate their case, and provide appropriate cautions as to the interpretation of the data, recognizing that classifying indications as medicalized is fraught with subjectivity.  Nonetheless, this is an important contribution to the ongoing debate over the issue, and provides for the first time economic data.  From there, others can dissect the relevancy of the conditions they have chosen as well as challenge and refine their economic analysis.  From our perspective, the paper is timely, especially as the debate over DSM-V and its proposed introduction of dimensional measures continues.

Link to Estimating the Costs of Medicalization by Conrad et al. 2010 (subscription may be required).

Links (here, here, here, here, and here) to previous posts on the DSM-V controversy and medicalization in psychiatry.

Image Credit: Free Press Release