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March 1991

Gaming the System: Dodging the Rules, Ruling the Dodgers

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Human Values and Ethics, College of Medicine, University of Tennessee, Memphis.

Arch Intern Med. 1991;151(3):443-447. doi:10.1001/archinte.1991.00400030013003

Although traditional obligations of fidelity require physicians to deliver quality care to their patients, including to utilize costly technologies, physicians are steadily losing their accustomed control over the necessary resources. The "economic agents" who own the medical and monetary resources of care now impose a wide array of rules and restrictions in order to contain their costs of operation. However, physicians can still control resources indirectly through "gaming the system," employing tactics such as "fudging" that exploit resource rules' ambiguity and flexibility to bypass the rules while ostensibly honoring them. Physicians may be especially inclined to game the system where resource rules seriously underserve patients' needs, where economic agents seem to be "gaming the patient," with needless obstacles to care, or where others, such as hospitals or even physicians themselves, may be denied needed reimbursements. Though tempting, gaming is morally and medically hazardous. It can harm patients and society, offend honesty, and violate basic principles of contractual and distributive justice. It is also, in fact, usually unnecessary in securing needed resources for patients. More fundamentally, we must reconsider what physicians owe their patients. They owe what is theirs to give: their competence, care and loyalty. In light of medicine's changing economics, two new duties emerge: economic advising, whereby physicians explicitly discuss the economic as well as medical aspects of each treatment option; and economic advocacy, whereby physicians intercede actively on their patients' behalf with the economic agents who control the resources.

(Arch Intern Med. 1991;151:443-447)