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Understanding Hobson’s Choice in Medicine

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Hobson’s choice  in Public Health

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By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA

[From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

A Hobson’s choice is a free choice in which only one thing is offered. Because a person may refuse to accept what is offered, the two options are taking it or taking nothing. In other words, one may “take it or leave it.”

The phrase is said to have originated with Thomas Hobson (1544–1631), a livery stable owner in Cambridge, England, who offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in his stall nearest the door or taking none at all.

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An oil portrait of Thomas Hobson, in the National Portrait Gallery, London. He looks straight to the artist and is dressed in typical Tudor dress, with a heavy coat, a ruff, and tie tails

[Thomas Hobson, the National Portrait Gallery, London]

***

In Medicine

One of the first examples that springs readily to mind in trying to look for examples of Hobson’s Choice in Medicine is the issue of defensive medicine. While the physician actually has the option of not “shotgunning” a patient (that is, shooting randomly large number of tests in order to cover legal liability and prevent medicolegal backlashes), the risk of missing a diagnosis and the fall outs thereof are so large, that it basically degenerates into a Hobson’s Choice.

The idiosyncrasies of medicine and the way the body reacts to them always leaves us open to the risk of working within the constraints of Hobson’s Choice.

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pills+capsules+other

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For example, antibiotics have saved more lives than we can count, yet, an idiosyncratic, unpredictable reaction may just be waiting for us around the corner.

In Public Health

In the Indian Public Health scenario, all that the patients are offered in a primarily paternalistic system is the choice Hobson had offered all those years ago. Much like Henry Ford, who told customers lining up to buy his revolutionary Ford Model T that they could have their cars in “any color so long as it is black”, the Indian system, hobbled by the lack of an empowered public, and a patient choice scheme, functions on the basis of Hobson’s choice.

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untitled

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Assessment

Even in the clinical sciences, with shared decision making and user driven healthcare still in their infancy in the nation, a paternalistic physician offers naught but “this or none” choice to their patients. While one can say that the lack of general awareness of the public tends to spawn this issue, we cannot shake off our personal stake in this matter just by hiding behind the façade of moral determinism!

Conclusion

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3 Responses

  1. HC

    The False Choice Of Burden Reduction Versus Payment Precision In The Physician Fee Schedule.
    https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20180814.373630/full/

    Dr. David Marcinko MBA

    Like

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