Paul Krugman had an excellent post yesterday, explaining why it is wrong to refer to patients as consumers. I fully agree. Patients do not ‘consume’ healthcare. There are no ‘medical care markets’ analogous to markets for bread or vegetables. UBC economist Robert G. Evans , who belongs to an older generation of health economists, is also an outspoken critic of the practice.
We used to know better than this.
Medical care is an area in which crucial decisions — life and death decisions — must be made; yet making those decisions intelligently requires a vast amount of specialized knowledge; and often those decisions must also be made under conditions in which the patient is incapacitated, under severe stress, or needs action immediately, with no time for discussion, let alone comparison shopping.
That’s why we have medical ethics. That’s why doctors have traditionally both been viewed as something special and been expected to behave according to higher standards than the average professional. There’s a reason we have TV series about heroic doctors, while we don’t have TV series about heroic middle managers or heroic economists.
The idea that all this can be reduced to money — that doctors are just people selling services to consumers of health care — is, well, sickening. And the prevalence of this kind of language is a sign that something has gone very wrong not just with this discussion, but with our society’s values.
Paul Krugman, “Patients Are Not Consumers“, The Conscience of a Liberal, 20 April 2011.
Tags: Paul Krugman