In the News

How American health care turned patients into consumers

By Philip Caper
March 19, 2015
Bangor Daily News

A clash of cultures is rapidly developing among those of us who see the mission of the health care system to be primarily the diagnosis and healing of illness and those who see it primarily as an opportunity to create personal wealth.

The concept of health care primarily as a business is uniquely American, and it has gained ascendancy during the last few decades. While there have always been a few greedy doctors, businessmen-wealth-seekers — not doctors — now dominate the medical-industrial complex. They include for-profit insurance, medical device and pharmaceutical companies as well as for-profit and nonprofit corporate providers of health care services, such as the three large hospital systems in Maine.

Partly because of the Affordable Care Act, they also include a rapidly growing army of lawyers, consultants and policy wonks who are creating lucrative businesses helping hapless “consumers” — formerly “patients” — “navigate” their way through the grotesquely byzantine maze our health care system has become.

This shift in emphasis from patient care to money profoundly has affected the practice of medicine and resulted in the clash of cultures within health care. As increasing numbers of “providers” — formerly “doctors” — become employees of large health care corporations — formerly community hospitals — we have come under increasing pressure to diagnose profitable diseases and order profitable tests and procedures without enough regard to the benefits or harm accruing to patients. Hospital “CEOs” — formerly “administrators” — trained in the ethics and practices of business rather than health care are incentivized to configure their “product lines” — formerly “services” — to produce the largest “profits” — formerly “margins.”

Those of us in the health care “business” — formerly “profession” — have been slow to react to this hijacking of our health care calling. Patients, despite sensing something is deeply wrong, feel helpless to push back. That now seems to be changing.

For the past three years The Lown Institute, founded by Dr. Bernard Lown,renowned cardiologist and advocate for universal health care, has held conferences designed to point out the growing problem of overtreatment in medicine. Recently they also have turned their attention to the equally disturbing problem of impaired access to health care and undertreatment. They now advocate for RightCare — not too much treatment and not too little.


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