[Skip to Content]
[Skip to Content Landing]
March 26, 1997

The Two Cultures and the Health Care Revolution: Commerce and Professionalism in Medical Care

Author Affiliations

From the Harvard Business School (Dr McArthur), Department of Surgery, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School (Dr Moore), and Partners HealthCare Inc (Dr McArthur), Boston, Mass.

JAMA. 1997;277(12):985-989. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540360053031

The current trend toward the invasion of commerce into medical care, an arena formerly under the exclusive purview of physicians, is seen by the authors as an epic clash of cultures between commercial and professional traditions in the United States. Both have contributed to US society for centuries; both have much to offer in strengthening medical care and reducing costs. At the same time, this invasion by commercialism of an arena formerly governed by professionalism poses severe hazards to the care of the sick and the welfare of communities: the health of the public and the public health. Some of these hazards are briefly listed and reviewed, together with a brief outline of standards that might be established nationally to abate these hazards. A national agency in the private sector is proposed, the National Council on Medical Care, to set standards and provide an approval mechanism that would then be the basis for state enforcement through licensing. Two models for such an initiative are outlined, one based on the National Academy of Sciences as the initiating force, and the other on an initiative provided by a consortium of national charitable foundations interested in health policy. In both cases, wide support from the national foundations would be essential. In the case of the academy model, some government funds might also be available without loss of the freedom of a private-sector initiative. Some operational options for such a national council, its membership, and the conduct of its affairs are briefly outlined as a basis for further discussion.