Doctors Are Human

I still have trouble believing the constant amazement at the fact that doctors are human. Sarah Kliff writes this morning on the new study showing that unnecessary heart procedures go on all the time:

“We had one physician say something I thought was pretty amazing. ‘We know the evidence shows not to do this, but we’re still going to,’ ” recalled Grace Lin, the lead researcher on the study at the University of California San Francisco Medical School. “There were some very strong financial and emotional biases towards going ahead with the procedure.”

I really don’t know why people have this expectation that doctors are somehow superhuman. They’re just like you and me (literally, in my case). They are susceptible to financial incentives.Ten cent coupons work. The financial incentives behind doing a heart procedure are WAY more than than that amount. Of course they will be influenced by that.

I’m not saying that it’s the only thing that influences them. They are also biased by their experience and what they’ve been taught, as well as a desire to do good. But denial won’t help us do better. We have to acknowledge that these pressures exist, minimize them, and continually be on guard against them. This is just as much a conflict of interest as any other, but for some reason we don’t treat it as such.

[Cross-posted at The Incidental Economist]