How About Doctor Consumerism?

How About Doctor Consumerism?

The latest sick care-ism is medical consumerism. This latest affront to the profession—one that affects medical insurers as well—comes as a direct result of the national effort to encourage people to take greater control of their medical care. Obamacare made citizens aware that they had choices and challenged them to educate themselves. Suddenly, yesterday’s patient became tomorrow’s potential customer.

But, there are issues when we try to make patients into consumers:

  1. Differentiating between patients, consumers, customers, prosumers, partners and stakeholders and what difference it makes what we call people who have an interaction with a medical professional
  2. Believing that we can actually measure quality of outcomes, like outcomes of surgery performed in a free standing ambulatory surgery center, let alone convincing patients that they can.
  3. Expecting patients to understand sick care cost accounting, what's on their bill and how to challenge what will almost certainly be errors on it.
  4. Expecting to use patients as early evangelists for new ideas.
  5. The overwhelming majority of patients have low health IQs
  6. An even larger number have low sick care insurance IQs
  7. Lack of trust in the data about supposed value in sick care
  8. Relying on the assumption that all patients are willing and able to take more control of their healthcare decisions. Many just want their doctors to tell them what to do, particularly when the decisions are complex and multidimensional or involve ethical conundrums.
  9. All consumers buy emotionally and justify rationally. Is that really what we want in sick care?
  10. As long as someone else pays the tab, the decision making by patients will be driven by perverse incentives and the moral hazard.

Don't get me wrong. Empowering patients to make better decisions in collaboration with their doctors makes intuitive sense and there is lots of evidence, for example, using shared decision making in preference sensitive conditions, that it does so. But, I've also noticed that a lot of people buy stupid stuff when they shouldn't. Like doctors. We need evidence that patient consumerism leads to less spending, not more. There are many perils to DIY medicine. The same applies to doctor consumerism, who, after all, are making most of the wasteful purchases, not patients.

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs

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  • Dr Arèf Khan

    Interesting points raised in your article Dr Arlen, would you venture that it has been some time since the Profession started morphing into a business-oriented vocation?

  • Patrick Vargas

    Thanks for sharing

  • Chloe Palmer

    Nice article

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Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA

Former Contributor

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is a professor emeritus of otolaryngology, dentistry, and engineering at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Colorado School of Public Health and President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at He has created several medical device and digital health companies. His primary research centers around biomedical and health innovation and entrepreneurship and life science technology commercialization. He consults for and speaks to companies, governments, colleges and universities around the world who need his expertise and contacts in the areas of bio entrepreneurship, bioscience, healthcare, healthcare IT, medical tourism -- nationally and internationally, new product development, product design, and financing new ventures. He is a former Harvard-Macy fellow and In 2010, he completed a Fulbright at Kings Business, the commercialization office of technology transfer at Kings College in London. He recently published "Building the Case for Biotechnology." "Optical Detection of Cancer", and " The Life Science Innovation Roadmap". He is also an associate editor of the Journal of Commercial Biotechnology and Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship and Editor-in-Chief of Medscape. In addition, He is a faculty member at the University of Colorado Denver Graduate School where he teaches Biomedical Entrepreneurship and is an iCorps participant, trainer and industry mentor. He is the Chief Medical Officer at and and Chairman of the Board at GlobalMindED at, a non-profit at risk student success network. He is honored to be named by Modern Healthcare as one of the 50 Most Influential Physician Executives of 2011 and nominated in 2012 and Best Doctors 2013.

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