Thursday, April 30, 2009

Safety - Attack of Doctors; Hippocratic Oath

April 30, 2009, Investor's Business Daily

Prelude: What follows in an article by Betty McCaughey. McCaughey is a patient advocate and founder of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. She is also a fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former lieutenant governor of New York State. Her point of view directly counters policy makers in the Obama Administration, who believes the government should reserve the right to override doctors’ decisions based on computer evidence of effectiveness.

Patients count on their doctor to do whatever is possible to treat their illness. That is the promise doctors make by taking the Hippocratic Oath.

But President Obama's advisers are looking to save money by interfering with that oath and controlling your doctor's decisions.

Ezekiel Emanuel sees the Hippocratic Oath as one factor driving "overuse" of medical care. He is a policy adviser in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and a brother of Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff.

Dr. Emanuel argues that "peer recognition goes to the most thorough and aggressive physicians." He has lamented that doctors regard the "Hippocratic Oath's admonition to 'use my power to help the patient to the best of my ability and judgment' as an imperative to do everything for the patient regardless of the cost or effects on others."

Of course, that is what patients hope their doctor will do.

But President Barack Obama is pledging to rein in the nation's health care spending. The framework for influencing your doctor's decisions was included in the stimulus package, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The legislation sets a goal that every individual's treatments will be recorded by computer, and your doctor will be guided by electronically delivered protocols on "appropriate" and "cost-effective" care.

Heading the new system is Dr. David Blumenthal, a Harvard Medical School professor, named national coordinator of health information technology. His writings show he favors limits on how much health care people can get.

"Government controls are a proven strategy for controlling health care expenditures," he argued in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in March 2001.
Blumenthal conceded there are disadvantages:

"Longer waits for elective procedures and reduced availability of new and expensive treatments and devices."

Yet he called it "debatable" whether the faster care Americans currently have is worth the higher cost.

Now that Blumenthal is in charge, he sees problems ahead.

"If electronic health records are to save money," he writes, doctors will have to take "advantage of embedded clinical decision support" (a euphemism for computers instructing doctors what to do).

"If requirements are set too high, many physicians and hospitals will rebel - petitioning Congress to change the law or just resigning themselves to ... accepting penalties," he wrote in NEJM early this month.

The public applauded the new requirement for electronic records, not foreseeing that it would put faceless bureaucrats in charge of your care.

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