Doctors Must Serve Patients, Not Society


When we go to the doctor, most of us expect to receive the best possible advice on whatever ails us. Unfortunately, some medical groups see that as a quaintly archaic notion. Associations are recommending that the doctors should consider more than the patient they are treating. According to The New York Times, these groups want doctors to shift “from being concerned exclusively about individual patients to exerting influence on how health care dollars are spent.”

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The Times quoted the chairman of a task force at the American Society of Clinical Oncology as saying, “We understand that we doctors should be and are stewards of the larger society as well as of the patient in our examination room.”

It is hard to imagine a scarier concept. A patient should always be the doctor’s top concern.

Take a moment and think about what it might mean to be “stewards of the larger society.” Sooner or later doctors — acting as stewards of the larger society — will be encouraged to let some people die so others can live. Talk about a prescription for corruption!

When doctors are urged to start making such choices, the only thing we can be sure of is that doctors, members of Congress and their friends will always be protected.

It’s frightening to believe that any self-selected elite could rationally believe it’s qualified to act as “stewards of the larger society.”

Rather than self-appointed elites making health care decisions for the rest of us, we need to empower patients to take charge of their own health. Give people the ability to monitor their own vital signs on a daily basis, and most will quickly learn to lead a healthier life. Give people the ability to choose their own insurance coverage, and they’ll quickly find a plan that suits their needs.

Most of all, though, give people the assurance that their doctor is working for them and not “society at large.” If consumers can’t trust the information doctors give them, there is no way they can make rational decisions.

Some elitists scoff at the notion that most Americans can understand the choices before them on health care issues. They need to read Megan McArdle’s fantastic new book, “The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success.” Through countless examples, she makes the case that experimentation and pragmatism always leads to better solutions than a carefully designed plan put together by the so-called experts.

Along the way, McArdle offers an assessment of the 2008 financial crisis that is different from what both liberals and conservatives believe. “The financial crisis happened for the stupidest reason imaginable — no one thought that housing prices would fall as much as they did.”

In other words, the collapse came because all the “experts” made assumptions that sounded reasonable but weren’t prepared for what really happened.

That was disastrous enough with the financial crisis. It’s chilling to consider what might happen if the nation’s doctors began acting as “stewards of the larger society” and make the same mistakes.

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