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Health care costs in last year of life can reach hundreds of thousands of euros
Health care treatment in the last year of a person’s life currently accounts for about half of health care budgets and other resources.
Developments in medical technology and expensive drugs have raised treatment costs of individual patients into the hundreds of thousands of euros.
The treatment of one leukemia patient can cost between EUR 120,000 - 260,000, and treatment of respiratory paralysis can cost more than EUR 200,000 a year. In 2003 the most expensive course of treatment in Helsinki cost more than EUR 350,000, which was spent on a pneumonia patient.
One researcher, Dr. Lauri Vuorenkoski of the National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health (STAKES), speaks about the phenomenon of medicalisation.
"On offer are terribly expensive treatments, which lengthen a patient’s life by perhaps just a few months, but they can cost tens of thousands of euros. Patients are given a small spark of hope, while very large amounts of money are being spent."
Vuorenkoski feels that patients and next of kin should consider whether or not such short-term life extension is worth it.
"Nowadays all possible procedures are often implemented to avert death", Vuorenkoski says.
Psychiatric care has now taken its place among the most expensive types of care. In a medium-sized Finnish town, up to about half of the 20 most expensive patients have a psychiatric ailment.
Psychiatric patients currently constitute the largest single group of patients in Finnish hospitals.
There have been sharp cuts in recent years in spending on mental health. It is more difficult than before to get help for minor problems; left untreated, the problems can become more serious, eventually requiring expensive hospitalisation.
Vuorenkoski sees a need for more investment in the prevention of mental health problems. He says that the most efficient way to promote mental health is to invest in prevention outside the realm of health care. His remedies include smaller classes at school, more preventative work on substance abuse, and support for families with problems.