It is naive to suggest medicine is still an art and not a business. It has become a profit-minded venture for most health-care providers. Medical advertising has expanded from traditional areas such as plastic and cosmetic surgery, to heart procedures, orthopedic treatment, general and bariatric surgery, colonoscopies, hemorrhoid treatments, and even cancer treatment.
Indeed, the competition for the cancer patient has become so intense that advertising budgets for cancer clinics have skyrocketed. Oncologists, fresh from training programs, are offered salaries well into six figures.
Unfortunately, the by-product of the transformation of medicine from art to business is that profit becomes more important than patient care. The result? The quality of medical care has plummeted, and medical errors have increased.
The share of medical students becoming primary care doctors has decreased substantially, because most doctors choose more lucrative fields. Physicians are seeing more patients in each day and spending less time with each one in order to generate more revenue. In addition, they are utilizing "physician extenders" such as assistants and nurse practitioners to further increase the number of patients shuttled through their offices.
Physicians complain about the cost of malpractice insurance not because the amount is high in relation to their income but rather because paying anything affects their bottom line. The problem is that those doctors who put their pocketbooks first and the patients second are the ones most likely to commit malpractice.
Today there’s a general suspicion of the medical profession. Medical information on just about any condition is available with a few clicks of the mouse, TV is swarming with prescription drug ads, and lawyers are always standing by to help patients turn suspected mistakes into six-figure settlements. Americans are worried about their health care and rightly so. But this doesn’t mean doctors should bear the brunt of this frustration and be labeled pill-pushers or glorified medical merchants.
We criticize doctors for constantly being late to appointments but then hypocritically expect them to stay with us as long as it takes to help us. We grouse about paying for every minute of their time, but it’s our payments that allow doctors to stay in business. In America, medicine is a market, and prices are set by supply, demand, and barriers to entry.
Doctors pay an average of $160,000 for their grueling training. Counting college, medical school, and internships, it typically takes 12 years before a doctor can set up shop—far longer than it takes lawyers, financial advisers, or members of practically any other field. Physicians spend their 20s napping on cots slightly softer than the average coffee table between endless shifts in hospitals during their residencies.
Of course all this effort doesn’t automatically make every doctor a living picture of benevolence or competence, but it does make physicians far better experts on the human body and what ails it than the average person, and their knowledge deserves respect.
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