Why We Have the Hippocratic Oath


Hippocrates: his oath has had thousands of years of staying power. Tony the Misfit/Flickr hide caption

toggle caption Tony the Misfit/Flickr

We talked on the podcast last week about how doctors occupy this strange position in the health care market. On the one hand they're like any sales person (most are paid on a fee-for-service basis) but on the other hand, we trust them to have our best interests at heart.

The Nobel economist Kenneth Arrow wrote about this in a famous 1963 paper analyzing the peculiarities of the health care market. He suggested that the reason we keep things like the Hippocratic Oath around and enforce a culture of professionalism among doctors is precisely because they have this financial incentive not to act in our best interests.

Here's a great interview with Arrow by Conor Clark at the Atlantic that got posted recently. And here's a modern version of the Hippocratic Oath with updated economics.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from