New survey shows physicians feel need to limit health-care costs but make that secondary to the interests of their patients

A new survey about health-care costs reveals that 85 percent of U.S. physicians feel a responsibility to address costs but say other professionals have more of a responsibility to do that, because physicians’ obligation toward patients’ interests is more important than cost reductions.

While 36 percent of physicians said they have a “major responsibility” to reduce costs, other major players in health care, such as lawyers, insurance companies, hospitals and drug companies, bear that major responsibility, says the study published in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Physicians feel stuck in a difficult position,” lead author Dr. Jon Tilburt says in a Mayo Clinic release. “Despite their sense of responsibility to address health care costs, physicians consistently express a commitment to the best interests of patients even when it is expensive. Given this finding, we recommend that cost-containment strategies aimed at physician behavior should focus on innovations that not only promote savings but also preserve physicians’ commitment to individual patients.”

Physicians expressed general agreement with quality initiatives that may also reduce health costs, but were less enthusiastic about cost-containment measures involving changes to payment models, says an American Medical Association release. For example, physicians opposed the idea of cuts in Medicare fees for hospital readmissions and eliminating fee-for-service models.

A strong majority of physicians (69 percent) were enthusiastic about promoting chronic disease care coordination and limiting corporate influence on physician behavior (63 percent). The survey also found that 76 percent of physicians are aware of the costs of tests or treatments they recommend, says the Mayo release.

Physicians said costs can be reduced by improving quality, efficiency and continuity of of care through evidence-based initiatives and cost transparency, says the AMA release. Results of the random survey of 2,500 U.S. physicians indicate ways in which policymakers can collaborate with physicians to address rising health care costs.

“Moving toward cost-conscious care in the current environment in which physicians practice starts with strategies for which there is widespread physician support might create momentum for such efforts…,” writes the study’s authors in the journal article. Tilburt says physicians want to do the right thing, but when push comes to shove, they will do what’s best for patients. Let’s start with win win strategies that physicians support and that will cut costs and improve care, he said in a MedPage Today video interview. Click here to watch that video.

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