During our life experience we sometimes make startling discoveries about the institutions and devices that we trust to protect us and benefit us. We discover that some inventions of man, usually without malice by those who implemented them, are hurting us and limiting our progression. Such discovery is normal in the medical field. We regularly discontinue medications and treatments that we discover are doing our patients harm. But sometimes we are surprised and don't know what to do with the truth when it is presented to us.
I believe that our current concept and application of standard of care is one of these long-trusted devices is harming patients. I believe that it must be reconsidered and discarded.
Standard of care consists of the care that experts would consider to be best practice. The standard of care guides physicians as they make treatment plans for their patients. The purpose for having a standard of care is to prevent patients from being mistreated by negligent or malicious medical practitioners. If a court establishes that a physician caused damage by not following a standard care, that physician can be convicted of malpractice. Despite its protecting purpose, I believe that standard of care has contributed to patients' ultimate harm. It has made and continues to make health care inaccessible to them.
To prove this point, let's look at it from an economic standpoint. We've discussed supply and demand in the past. The price of any commodity is a function of the relationship between supply and demand. When demand for commodity increases with regard to supply, the commodity becomes scarce and costs more. When demand decreases with regard to supply, the commodity becomes less scarce and costs less. Now let's examine a scenario to see how standard of care effects the relationship between supply and demand.
Let's assume that American family practitioners read in the New England Journal of Medicine that extensive meta analysis of multiple studies proves that medication XYZ is hands-down the best treatment for ear infection. Within a short time, the data is almost universally accepted by family practitioners and a new standard of care has been established. Medication XYZ is a relatively new product and significantly more expensive than older antibiotics, but a course of XYZ is now the standard of care for ear infection.
Now when the doctor sees patients with ear infections, he prescribes XYZ. It is the standard or care. The medications he used formerly are not less effective than they were. But, if he practices something other than the standard of care he will expose himself to malpractice suits if those treatments fail. In this scenario, what has standard of care done to the price of health care?
First of all, the price of treating ear infections has gone up because the medication used is more expensive. Patients paying cash will feel that cost immediately. Patients on insurance may not immediately feel the change, but they notice it when their insurance premium goes up the following year. Those receiving government assistance may not recognize the change, but everyone's taxes will go up because of it.
Doctor's dedication to the new product will have some effect on the relationship between supply and demand as well. Because doctors are now universally using the XYZ, demand rises dramatically with regard to supply. Scarcity will increase and prices will go up. And so the cost of treating an ear infection has gone up for two reasons: first, because the new standard of care calls for the use of a more expensive medication and second, because the standard of care has created a demand for the product that has driven up its price.
The above scenario characterizes a complex process, but accurately summarizes what may be the leading cause for the rising cost of health care over the last thirty years. Standard of care, a device meant to protect patients from negligence and malice, has made health care unaffordable and inaccessible to them.
What must we conclude then, is it economically impossible to provide Americans with good health care? We've shown that if all doctors use the hottest new medications, the price of health care will continue escalating. Does supply and demand require that quality health care be reserved for the few?
Our problem does not lie in seeking the best health care. It lies in dictating “the best health care” and then force feeding it to Americans. “Best care” cannot be dictated to doctors. Doctors cannot dictate it to patients. Doctors should exert themselves to stay abreast of the latest studies and the best data. They should be held responsible if they do not provide truthful and complete information to their patients. Patients will choose from doctor recommendations a treatment plan that that suits their needs and their budget. They will determine the best care.
I believe that the current concept of standard of care is harmful, both to America as a whole and to patients as individuals. I believe that it does not protect patients, but makes health care inaccessible to them. Consensus of best practice as seen in standard of care has gone too far in bridling physicians and their patients. Freedom must be maintained in all fields, especially health care. As we jettison obstacles to this freedom, American health care, the very best health care in the world, will become accessible to all American citizens.