Based on their findings, 59 percent of doctors believed they have some responsibility in holding down health care costs. Only 36 percent thought they have a major role.More than half of doctors, however, said each of five other groups carry “major responsibility:” trial lawyers, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and patients.“What physicians are trying to tell us is that they don’t see themselves as necessarily any more responsible for health care costs than all of those stakeholders,” said Dr. Jon Tilburt, an associate professor at the Mayo Clinic and the study’s lead author.
The key group here is “patients.” Doctors are certainly right to suggest that a more consumer-driven system could do much to improve quality and drive down costs. But they seem overlook the fact that the current system, based on fee-for-service payments, is stacked in favor of the doctors. Health care can probably never be a fully level playing field. But if patients could inform themselves about prices before going through with various tests and treatments, they could contribute to lowering costs by opting out of unnecessary or overly expensive ones.We favor reforms that will allow that to happen. In the meantime, doctors ought to own up to the part they play in ratcheting up costs throughout the health care system. Given this survey’s rather damning finding that only one in nine doctors “said they need to take ‘a more prominent role’ in limiting unnecessary tests,” however, it looks like they won’t be coming clean anytime soon.[Surgeon image courtesy of Shutterstock]