You probably want your doctor to care about people, but how much do you want her to care about all of them? That’s the question I ask when I read articles – generally by bioethicists, often respectable ones – asserting that one of the moral responsibilities of physicians is to be responsible stewards of the healthcare dollar.
This rhetoric concerns me, because I worry it may ultimately degrade the already-challenged physician-patient relationship.
The cornerstone of medicine, the most fundamental principle, in my mind, is the absolute, rock-solid belief that your doctor is your unqualified advocate and will work as hard as possible to provide you with the best medical treatment possible, as if you were a member of her own family (Dr. Marty Samuels and I originally described this as “The Uncle Marvin Test”).
To be clear: this doesn’t mean the most expensive pills – by all means prescribe or substitute an equivalent generic, when available. This doesn’t mean the most expensive diagnostic studies – it’s generally in the patient’s medical interest to avoid unnecessary procedures that usually carry some intrinsic risk and also can lead to false positive results that can in turn lead to needless anxiety — and on occasion, permanent harm. This doesn’t mean extra days in the hospital – a hospital is one of the world’s most dangerous places, and it’s often in a patient’s best interest to be discharged as soon as possible (see here if you need more convincing).