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Too much medicine: not enough trust?
  1. Zoë Fritz1,2,
  2. Richard Holton3
  1. 1 The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute (THIS Institute), University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  2. 2 The Division of Health Sciences, Warwick Medical School, Coventry, UK
  3. 3 Faculty of Philosophy, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Zoë Fritz, The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute (THIS Institute), University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 0AH, UK; zbmf2{at}


As many studies around the theme of ‘too much medicine’ attest, investigations are being ordered with increasing frequency; similarly the threshold for providing treatment has lowered. Our contention is that trust (or lack of it) is a significant factor in influencing this, and that understanding the relationship between trust and investigations and treatments will help clinicians and policymakers ensure ethical decisions are more consistently made. Drawing on the philosophical literature, we investigate the nature of trust in the patient–doctor relationship, arguing that at its core it involves a transfer of discretion. We show that there is substantial empirical support for the idea that more trust will reduce the problem of too much medicine. We then investigate ways in which trust can be built, concentrating on issues of questioning, of acknowledging uncertainty and of shouldering responsibility for it. We argue that offering investigations or treatments as a way of generating trust may itself be an untrustworthy way of proceeding, and that healthcare systems should provide the institutional support for facilitating continuity, questioning and the entrusting of uncertainty.

  • allocation of healthcare resources
  • autonomy
  • clinical ethics
  • philosophy of medicine
  • truth disclosure

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See:

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  • Contributors ZF and RH conceived the ideas for this paper in discussion together; they both reviewed relevant literature and wrote sections of the original manuscript. They both developed the concepts and reviewed and revised the manuscript in its entirety.

  • Funding ZF was supported by Wellcome grant WT100577AIA and Wellcome grant 208213/Z/17/Z.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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