Doctors don't know or care about cost? That's half right

By Dan Michelson
10:38 AM

Having been in healthcare for over 20 years, I have heard many times from many people that “doctors don’t know and don’t care about the cost of healthcare.”

Like many things that we hear over and over, we begin to believe they are true. In this case, it turns out this one actually is true.  Well, at least it’s half true.

The data will surprise you

Two recent studies have found that doctors know very little about cost. But that same research has also confirmed that, contrary to the popular narrative, doctors actually do care about cost.

Recently a study was published in Health Affairs where 503 orthopedic surgeons and residents at Duke University, Harvard University, the University of Maryland, Mayo Clinic, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, and Washington University in St. Louis were asked to estimate the costs of thirteen commonly used orthopedic devices.

Here’s the part that was really interesting. If their response was within 20 percent of the actual cost (a pretty large variance), the answer was considered to be correct. What’s shocking is that even with that buffer, physicians were correct only 20 percent of the time.  In other words, as stated above, as it relates to cost, doctors don’t know.

So, this leads to the second part of the headline, ‘Do doctors care actually care about cost?’  In the same study referenced above, those same doctors were asked whether they thought cost should be considered in the decision making process for devices. 

Eighty percent said ‘yes.’  It turns out they do care.

And that isn’t an isolated data point. Last year, Bain & Company conducted a survey and asked 502 physicians a similar question – do they agree with the following statement, “I feel it is part of my responsibility as a physician to help bring healthcare costs under control.”

Incredibly their response was identical to the first study – 80 percent of physicians agreed that they were responsible for keeping costs under control.

So, two different studies of over 500 physicians with the same conclusion – physicians do care about cost.