May Medical Centers Give Nonresident Patients Priority in Scheduling Outpatient Follow-Up Appointments?

 

Armand H. Matheny Antommaria, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 28, no. 3 (Fall 2017): 217-221.

 

Many academic medical centers are seeking to attract patients from outside their historical catchment areas for economic and programmatic reasons, and patients are traveling for treatment that is unavailable, of poorer quality, or more expensive at home. Treatment of these patients raises a number of ethical issues including whether they may be given priority in scheduling outpatient follow-up appointments in order to reduce the period of time they are away from home. Granting them priority is potentially unjust because medical treatment is generally allocated based on medical need and resource utilization, and then on a first-come, first-served basis. While it is difficult to compare the opportunity cost of waiting for an appointment to different patients, nonresident patients incur higher expenditures for travel, room, and board than resident patients. Giving them priority in scheduling to reduce these costs may be justifiable. Preferentially scheduling nonresident patients may also indirectly benefit resident patients consistent with Rawls’s difference principle. This potential justification, however, rests on several empirical claims that should be demonstrated. In addition to reducing resident patients’ waiting times, medical centers should not prioritize nonresident patients over resident patients with more urgent medical needs. There is, therefore, a limited and circumscribed justification for prioritizing nonresident patients in scheduling follow-up appointments.

 

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