When Scott Ramsey talks about medicine, his upturned palms often rise to form an imaginary scale. As a physician, cancer researcher and health economist, he weighs the cost and benefit of various treatments, doggedly advocating for the best patient care for the least amount of money. With the heart of a healer and the pragmatism of a numbers guy, he is leading the push for evidence-based medicine and cost containment in health care.
Worldwide, Ramsey is one of only a handful of doctors who are also health economists. He's led landmark studies on patterns of care, costs and cost-effectiveness of treatments for lung, colorectal and prostate cancer.
"I'm passionate about opportunities to blend medicine and economics," he said. "Each one informs the other in critical ways. First, I want patients to get treatments that work. And if there are treatments that work equally well, I want them to get the most cost-effective care. Cancer is so costly, and a lot of treatments offer patients very little, either in terms of survival or quality of life. We need to be wise stewards of our resources."
The adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" definitely holds true for cancer. Though effective screening tests exist for many types of cancer-allowing disease to be detected at its earliest, most curable stage-such measures remain underused. A Cancer Prevention Clinic opened its doors at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in 2006. With Ramsey at the helm until 2010, the clinic helps patients accurately assess and reduce their risk of cancer. The first of its kind in the region, the program offers physical exams, genetic counseling, same-day screening tests and risk-reduction services like nutrition and exercise counseling.
By moving cancer prevention from a scattershot approach to a focused delivery setting, Ramsey hopes to even the scales of cost and benefit.
"We have this illusion that there are infinite resources, but the reality is health-care costs and the numbers of uninsured are skyrocketing," he said. "Rather than cutting more people out of insurance, I want to cut out the things that don't work, and use that money to improve and save lives. It's a win-win proposition."