A recent article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) encourages physicians to consider the healthcare costs of their patients when upholding their oath to do no harm.
Part of the Hippocratic Oath calls for doctors to only do good for their patients, referring to medical treatments and surgeries. However, doctors Christopher Moriates, Neel Shah, and Vineet Arora argue protecting the financial well-being of a patient should also be covered by this oath.
There are continually growing concerns over healthcare costs in America. CNBC reports that medical bills have become the number one reason that Americans file for bankruptcy. Furthermore, nearly 20% of Americans age 19-64 will have difficulty paying for their healthcare costs. Despite President Obama’s sweeping healthcare plan, there are still fears that many Americans will be left with massive medical bills.
Moriates, Shah, and Arora write that, in addition to protecting their patients from the harmful effects of diseases, doctors should have a moral obligation to “help patients avoid experiencing financial harm as a result of medical care.” The authors admit that the many laws and insurance plans available can mean it is difficult for doctors to determine who is at risk for financial harm. To remedy this, they suggest that doctors treat all patients as a potential financial risk.
In an example scenario, Moriates, Shah, and Arora describe how a doctor could screen a patient for financial risks. Their process involves interviewing a patient for potential financial risks and eliminating treatments that may be unproductive. After taking these initial steps, the authors suggest being transparent about potential costs of treatments, and offering practical alternatives to treatments.
In short, the authors of the article encourage doctors to educate themselves on ways to lower patients’ healthcare costs. They also want doctors to become more sensitive to the financial needs of their patients.
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