Physicians have an ethical responsibility to their patients to offer the best available medical care. This responsibility conflicts with their role as gatekeepers of the limited health care resources available for all patients collectively. It is ethically untenable to expect doctors to face this trade-off during each patient encounter; the physician cannot be expected to compromise the wellbeing of the patient in the office in favour of anonymous patients elsewhere. Hence, as in other domains of public policy where individual and collective interests conflict, some form of collective solution is required. Collective solutions may take the form of placing explicit resource constraints on resources available to physicians, or clinical practice guidelines that recognise cost-effective care as acceptable. Such solutions will be politically and ethically sustainable only if patients as citizens of the larger population accept the need for rationing of limited resources in health care.
- Resource allocation
- physician-patient relationship
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Milton C Weinstein, PhD, is Director of the Program on the Economic Evaluation of Medical Technology, Center for Risk Analysis, School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.