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Ralph Weber is a Canadian, an expert in design of health care plans, and the founder of Medibid, an on-line auction center for bidding out non-urgent medical procedures and putting the patient in charge of their own care. He is also a close friend to free-market approaches to containing medical costs, and a personal friend to me, and to Sedera Health.

In this article from The Washington Post earlier this week, Medibid is compared to Priceline, the online auction site for travel made famous by actor William Shatner. The article examines some of the obvious advantages and potential concerns or disadvantages of putting patients in charge of their own health care decisions.

And it is this very issue that I want to briefly address in today’s blog.

Across the medical world, there used to be this pervasive idea that doctors have all of the answers and that the patient is just not smart enough to be actively engaged in the decision-making around their own health care issues. Certainly this was the general feel of what I was brought up in through the British medical system of the sixties and seventies. But working in family practice quickly taught me otherwise.

Patients are incredibly discerning about their own conditions. The whole idea of taking a medical history is that if you listen to the patient carefully enough they will tell you exactly what is wrong, and often can help pinpoint what is causing the problem.

I remember the builder who came in with what looked just like a bad bruise under his thumb nail. “Doctor, I am always hitting my thumb with the hammer in my construction work, but this looks different.”

Yes, it did look different to me as well. I arranged an urgent consultation with a skin doctor for the next day and asked them to rule out malignant melanoma. Seventy two hours later I had a nice note from the specialist thanking me for being careful with this patient, and letting me know that fast action was likely to have saved this patient’s life from a highly malignant cancer.

There is little that shows as much respect to the patient as involving them in their own health care decisions.

And done within the framework of providing them with the information that they need to make good decisions, there is no reason why a patient should not make the primary decisions in relation to their own treatment, even for serious disease.

Sedera Health, provides members access to Surgery Cost Saver which provides price, availability and quality metrics on up to 5 area hospitals for non-emergency surgical procedures.

We have found a typical 77% variation in hospital costs for the same procedure within the same region with no correlation between price and quality. Doesn’t the patient need to know about this? Shouldn’t they be making their own decisions where and how they want their health care handled?

It is time that we do all we can to empower the consumer to make their own decisions about their own health care treatment.

What are you doing to help empower the consumer?