Finally, Doctors Consider Costs of Medical Treatment

Well, finally the American medical establishment has come to its senses. They are finally admitting what most of us have known for many years—that we can no longer ignore the rising prices of health care—especially for expensive treatments and pharmaceuticals. On one hand, this is welcome news—like a breath of fresh air and a reassurance that the American medical establishment is still, albeit very loosely, connected to the reality of the rest of us. At long last, some of the most influential American medical groups are recommending that doctors consider the costs, not just the effectiveness of treatments, when they make decisions about patient care.

  • Medical costs—especially the costs for cancer treatment—are one of the leading reasons why families go bankrupt in the United States.
  • Medical treatment without consideration of its costs can lead to financial harm—or, as some call it, “financial toxicity,” the negatively-spiraling financial effect that the high medical costs can have on patients’ life.

”We understand that we doctors should be and are stewards of the larger society as well as of the patient in our examination room,” said Dr. Lowell E. Schnipper, the chairman of a task force on value in cancer care at the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

The New York Times has reported that new guidelines being developed by the medical groups could result in doctors choosing one drug over another for cost reasons or even deciding that a particular treatment — at the end of life, for example — is too expensive. In the extreme, some critics have said that making treatment decisions based on cost is a form of rationing.

In America’s current health care debate, any mention of cost-consciousness in the doctor’s office evokes concerns about rationing, denial of care, insurance companies pushing for cheaper over better. Doctors themselves have long embraced an ethical responsibility to advocate for the best possible treatment for their patients, regardless of price, and their patients count on that philosophy to guide their decisions. But some doctors say that ignoring cost has become a luxury doctors can no longer afford—one that not only contributes to the unsustainable growth of health care budgets, but also can end up damaging patients’ lives.  –  The Boston Globe

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