JAMA commentary calls for incorporating economic reality into medical education

September 14, 2010

Medical students and residents should receive much more thorough and realistic instruction about the economic forces affecting health care and their own clinical decisions so that they can better serve patients' well-being and the nation's economic welfare, says a commentary published today in a theme issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which focuses on improving medical education.

The commentary is written by Samuel Y. Sessions, MD, JD, a Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute (LA BioMed) investigator, and Allan S. Detsky, MD, PhD, Departments of Health Policy Management and Evaluation and Medicine, University of Toronto.

"New physicians will be at the hub of the health care system throughout their careers as both patient advocates and allocators of resources," the authors write in the JAMA commentary. "Instead of considering economic forces to be extraneous, medical education should develop approaches to better equip physicians for this dual role through improved teaching of evidence-based medicine that reflects both economic and statistical realities. Good patient care and good public policy demand no less."

The commentary notes that health care spending continues to grow, reaching 17.3% of gross domestic product in 2009. It points out that physicians "play a critical role not only in the well-being of their patients but also in the nation's economic welfare" as they make choices about how to care for their patients. As a result, the commentary calls for "incorporating information about economic realities into medical education to enable physicians to make better-informed decisions for patients and for the United States."

The authors point out that physicians' diagnosis, choice of medication and course of treatment can affect spending and patient well-being for years to come. To ensure economic realities are part of the physicians' decision, the authors call for a "core, required medical school course that would consolidate and integrate elements of existing health policy, ethics, and evidence-based medicine courses and modify them to better reflect overt and covert economic influences on clinical decisions."

The authors also call for revising "the remainder of medical school and residency curricula" to incorporate economic realities so that the medical students and residents would take these into consideration in their medical decision-making.

"The primary goal of incorporating economics more directly into medical education would be to improve physicians' critical capacity to assess all factors affecting their decisions, as well as their social and ethical implications," the authors write.
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About LA BioMed

Founded in 1952, LA BioMed is one of the country's leading nonprofit independent biomedical research institutes. It has more than 150 fulltime and part-time researchers conducting studies into improved treatments and cures for cancer, inherited diseases, infectious diseases, illnesses caused by environmental factors and more. It also educates young scientists and provides community services, including immunization and childhood nutrition programs. LA BioMed is academically affiliated with the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and located on the campus of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. For more information, please visit www.LABioMed.org

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