Peter A. Ubel, M.D., Amy P. Abernethy, M.D., Ph.D., and S. Yousuf Zafar, M.D., M.H.S.
N Engl J Med 2013; 369:1484-1486October 17, 2013DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1306826
Few physicians would prescribe treatments to their patients without first discussing important side effects. When a chemotherapy regimen prolongs survival, for example, but also causes serious side effects such as immunosuppression or hair loss, physicians are typically thorough about informing patients about those effects, allowing them to decide whether the benefits outweigh the risks. Nevertheless, many patients in the United States experience substantial harm from medical interventions whose risks have not been fully discussed. The undisclosed toxicity? High cost, which can cause considerable financial strain.
Since health care providers don't often discuss potential costs before ordering diagnostic tests or making treatment decisions, patients may unknowingly face daunting and potentially avoidable health care bills. Because treatments can be “financially toxic,”1 imposing out-of-pocket costs that may impair patients' well-being, we contend that physicians need to disclose the financial consequences of treatment alternatives just as they inform patients about treatments' side effects. Health care costs have risen faster than the Consumer Price Index for most of the past 40 years.
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