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Doctor-Patient Relationship

This article, “How the doctor-patient relationship has become a prisoner’s dilemma”, written by the Washington Post, discusses how the pharmaceutical industry has transformed the relationship between a patient and a doctor into something mirroring the prisoner’s dilemma. A study found that the self-interested choices of the patient and the doctor result in either over-treatment or under-treatment. Using game theory, the researchers found that treatment decision mistakes are made 42 percent of the time due to these conflicting interests.

In class, we have discussed game theory and the idea of the prisoner’s dilemma. Here is the example that researchers are giving to show the relationship between patients and doctors. Suppose there is a patient who comes in asking for opioids. It is in the doctors best interest to give the patients the prescription because if he has real pain, he needs the drug. If he is just looking for drugs, then it is still in the doctor’s best interest to give the patient the prescription because otherwise the patient could give the doctor a poor review. Giving the patient the prescription is the doctors best option (dominant strategy) even though in the long run, the outcome to the patient could be worse.

This idea mimics the prisoner’s dilemma. With the rising healthcare costs, doctors and patients will need to start considering where they are going to save money. Reducing costs may put doctors and patients interest in conflict due to this prisoner’s dilemma. Doctors may consider other options rather then the best option for the patient because it is going to be in the doctor’s best interest. 


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