"Choosing wisely" to reduce low-value care: a conceptual and ethical analysis

J Med Philos. 2013 Oct;38(5):559-80. doi: 10.1093/jmp/jht042. Epub 2013 Aug 26.


The American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation has recently initiated a campaign called "Choosing Wisely," which is aimed at reducing "low-value" care services. Lists of low-value care services are being developed and the ABIM Foundation is urging the American Medical Association and other organizations to get behind the lists, disseminate them, and implement them. Yet, there are many ethical questions that remain about the development, dissemination, and implementation of these low-value care lists. In this paper I argue for conceptual clarity with respect to the label "low-value care." Thus far it has not been precisely defined, and I argue that there are actually 10 distinct categories of low-value care. I discuss the ethical challenges and considerations associated with each category. I also provide arguments that can be used to justify the reduction of some of these categories of low-value care. These arguments rely on Rawlsian and Hegelian notions of justice, as well as on concepts about the fiduciary obligations of physicians. Finally, I outline the various mechanisms that could be utilized for the reduction of low-value care (i.e., incentives, punishments, nonrational influences such as appeals to social norms, emotions, or ego, and creation of conditions that make avoidance easy such as defaults and reminders). I provide normative guidelines for the use of each.

Keywords: behavior change; ethics; evidence-based medicine; influence; low-value care.

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Delivery of Health Care / economics
  • Delivery of Health Care / ethics*
  • Delivery of Health Care / methods*
  • Ethical Analysis*
  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Philosophy, Medical*
  • Physician's Role*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Social Justice