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Profits before Patients??!!

The results of a recent Harris Poll of more than 1,000 U.S. adults ages 18+ offer a startling, and depressing, look at their attitudes towards the U.S. healthcare system.

Here are some of the statistics:

  • 9% of the respondents believe pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies put patients over profits
  • 16% of the respondents believe health insurance companies put patients over profits
  • 23% of the respondents believe hospitals put patients over profits
  • 36% of the respondents believe health care providers (such as doctors and nurses) put patients over profits
  • 24% of respondents rated health insurance companies as having a low reputation, while 15% rated them as having a high reputation
  • 20% of respondents rated pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies as having a low reputation, while 20% rated them as having a high reputation
  • 6% of respondents rated hospitals as having a low reputation, while 37% rated them as having a high reputation
  • 5% percent of respondents rated health care providers (doctors and nurses) as having a low reputation, while 43% rated them as having a high reputation
  • Nearly half of consumers say they think store pharmacists (49%) and health care providers (48%) offer high quality products and services, compared to hospitals (44%), pharmaceutical companies (31%)), and health insurance companies (26%)
  • Approximately half of consumers believe providers (51%) and hospitals (49%) make a positive difference in the country, compared to store pharmacists (39%), health insurance companies (26%) and pharmaceuticals (26%)

While the results do not offer a favorable impression of the U.S. healthcare system, some of the results are not too surprising to me.

I would expect pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and health insurance companies to emphasize profits over patients, or at least have profits as one of their primary objectives. People invest in such companies and expect a return on that investment, which will require the generation of a profit. Also, if such companies aren’t successful at taking care of patients, then in the long run profits are likely to suffer. And at the same time, if you aren’t profitable, it will be hard to offer products and services that will benefit patients. Such companies need to have a focus on both profits and patients; to me it’s hard to say which one should take preference.

But what I really find disturbing is the fact that only 36 percent of the respondents believe health care providers (such as doctors and nurses) put patients over profits. Or put another way, 64 percent of the respondents believe health care providers (such as doctors and nurses) put profits over patients!

If I had been asked to guess what percentage of people believe that healthcare providers put profits before patients, I would have estimated it at less than 10%. In my numerous interactions with the U.S. healthcare system over the past several years, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a doctor or nurse who seemed to be more concerned with financial issues instead of health issues.

It’s hard to tell what exactly people were responding to when they were asked these questions. If you had to wait 30 minutes in a doctor’s office, or only got to see a doctor for 10 minutes, would you have thought of that as an example of putting profits before patient care? I wouldn’t have, but I can’t speak for others.

Or what if the cost of seeing a doctor increases from one year to the next; is that an example of putting profits before patients? Again, I wouldn’t think so, but I’m not sure how others would interpret such an increase.

While in many cases perception is reality, I certainly hope that is not the case here.

If it is, then I think the medical profession needs to take a good hard look at what their role is in the healthcare system, and what type of people are going into the profession.

And if it is just perception and not reality, doctors and nurses need to do a better job communicating how important their patients’ well being is to them personally and professionally. Unfortunately, doctor-patient communications is not always a doctor’s strong point.

But even if they are not good at communicating with their patients, that does not mean they don’t care about your health or that are putting profits before patients.

It would be interesting if Gallup did a survey of heath care providers and asked them the same question about profits vs. patients. My guess is that there would be a huge disparity between how patients answered and how the doctors answered.

Why such a disparity exists seems like a study that would be well worth exploring.

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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