Doctor holding a stethoscope

Medical costs, risks, and benefits

biologyJohn Gordon, Content DeveloperMar 23, 2020

The Science Museum of Minnesota’s Weighing the Evidence exhibit is all about learning how to make smart and effective decisions around healthcare and medicine. To help break this sometimes-complicated process into simple chunks, David Gillette of Twin Cities Public Television and I created a series of short videos for the exhibit (David did all the work and I stood nearby and occasionally said, “Looks good!”).

These subjects are especially relevant today as we face a new threat to our health in COVID-19, and as we learn about new—and sometimes not-yet tested—treatments.

This video is about understanding the costs, risks, and benefits of a treatment or health decision. For example, some people have suggested that a combination of an anti-malarial drug (chloroquine) and an antibiotic may be effective at treating a coronavirus infection. What are some of the costs, risks, and benefits of this treatment?

Well, right now these drugs may be difficult to acquire and expensive—those are costs. Chloroquine, as I understand it, can be very dangerous to your heart when taken in the wrong dose—that’s a big risk. And the benefits are still unclear—very little testing has been done to show if this is truly an effective treatment. All of these things could change as we study this treatment more and as drugs become more or less available, but right now the costs, risks, and benefits of this treatment suggest that you should wait and see rather than pursuing it now.

How about social distancing, sheltering in place, and self quarantining? For many people, these things can mean missing work for a long period of time, and that’s a big cost. And they can make you feel lonely and worried—those are real costs, too! The risks are very low, though—done right, these behaviors will lower your risk of infection and of infecting others. The benefits are fairly clear, too: lower infection rates so hospitals don’t get overwhelmed and so medical researchers have more time to develop effective treatments.

Check out the video, and start thinking about costs, risks, and benefits for yourself. Having the right tools can make a situation like this less frightening.