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Medicine and Public Policy |

Ethical Practice in Managed Care: A Dose of Realism

Mark A. Hall, JD; and Robert A. Berenson, MD
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From Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, D.C. Requests for Reprints: Mark A. Hall, JD, Department of Public Health Sciences, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Medical Center Boulevard, Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1063. Current Author Addresses: Mr. Hall: Department of Public Health Sciences, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Medical Center Boulevard, Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1063.

Copyright ©2004 by the American College of Physicians

Ann Intern Med. 1998;128(5):395-402. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-128-5-199803010-00009
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This article examines the ethics of medical practice under managed care from a pragmatic perspective that gives physicians more useful guidance than do existing ethical statements.The article begins with a framework for constructing a realistic set of ethical principles, namely, that medical ethics derives from physicians' role as healers; that ethical statements are primarily aspirational, not regulatory; and that preserving patient trust is the primary objective. The following concrete ethical guidelines are presented: Financial incentives should influence physicians to maximize the health of the group of patients under their care; physicians should not enter into incentive arrangements that they are embarrassed to describe accurately to their patients; physicians should treat each patient impartially without regard to source of payment, consistent with the physician's own treatment style; if physicians depart from this ideal, they should inform their patients honestly; and it is desirable, although not mandatory, to differentiate medical treatment recommendations from insurance coverage decisions by clearly assigning authority over these different roles and by physicians advocating for recommended treatment that is not covered.





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