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September 6, 1985

Cost Containment and the Physician

Author Affiliations

From the Deputy Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, Boston.

JAMA. 1985;254(9):1203-1207. doi:10.1001/jama.1985.03360090093027

The rapid rise in health care costs is receiving a good deal of attention these days. Proposed responses include the deliberate rationing of expensive medical technologies, such as organ transplantation, and a redirection of our efforts toward preventive care. Although preventive care may improve our health, it cannot be assumed to reduce medical costs, since a later death may be as expensive as an earlier one. I suggest that a major and rapidly growing component of medical costs stems from the widespread application of tests and procedures when they are of no demonstrated benefit and may even be harmful. Identifying and curtailing such unnecessary medical care, rather than rationing beneficial technologies, should be the thrust of cost-containment efforts. Fee schedules should be revised so that they neither encourage nor discourage the use of tests and procedures; we should undertake systematic studies to assess technologies and practices; and we should make every effort to discourage the practice of defensive medicine. The involvement of physicians in rationing is not only premature; it is also inconsistent with our role as advocates for the health of our patients.

(JAMA 1985;254:1203-1207)