Dr. Jack Wennberg's work on variation in medical treatment serves as the foundation for a lot of what we do in the Health Policy Program at New America. His pioneering research showed huge differences in the way that similar patients are treated in different places, and the vast unnecessary spending that results. While the restructuring health care delivery is far from complete, it has come a long way, sometimes rapidly, often as the result of Dr. Wennberg's work, which in our view deserves a Nobel Prize in economics for exposing the pervasiveness of supplier-induced demand in health care.
Last week, Dr. Wennberg was awarded a different prize, the first MacLean Center Prize in Clinical Ethics and Health Outcomes by the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago. While he is not a clinician, his contributions to shared decision-making and understanding patient preferences have had a profound effect on moving toward a very different ethos in medicine, toward what he calls informed patient choice. Shared decision-making, which grew out of work Wennberg and colleagues began in the 1980s, has become a watchword in both clinical medicine and health policy circles, and will one day reshape the doctor-patient relationship for the better.