Role Modeling and Regional Health Care Intensity: U.S. Medical Student Attitudes Toward and Experiences With Cost-Conscious Care

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To examine medical student attitudes toward cost-conscious care and whether regional health care intensity is associated with reported exposure to physician role-modeling behaviors related to cost-conscious care.


Students at 10 U.S. medical schools were surveyed in 2015. Thirty-five items assessed attitudes toward, perceived barriers to and consequences of, and observed physician role-modeling behaviors related to cost-conscious care (using scales for cost-conscious and potentially wasteful behaviors; Cronbach alphas of 0.82 and 0.81, respectively). Regional health care intensity was measured using Dartmouth Atlas End-of-Life Chronic Illness Care data: ratio of physician visits per decedent compared with the U.S. average, ratio of specialty to primary care physician visits per decedent, and hospital care intensity index.


Of 5,992 students invited, 3,395 (57%) responded. Ninety percent (2,640/2,932) agreed physicians have a responsibility to contain costs. However, 48% (1,1416/2,960) thought ordering a test is easier than explaining why it is unnecessary, and 58% (1,685/2,928) agreed ordering fewer tests will increase the risk of malpractice litigation. In adjusted linear regression analyses, students in higher-health-care-intensity regions reported observing significantly fewer cost-conscious role-modeling behaviors: For each one-unit increase in the three health care intensity measures, scores on the 21-point cost-conscious role-modeling scale decreased by 4.4 (SE 0.7), 3.2 (0.6), and 3.9 (0.6) points, respectively (all P < .001).


Medical students endorse barriers to cost-conscious care and encounter conflicting role-modeling behaviors, which are related to regional health care intensity. Enhancing role modeling in the learning environment may help prepare future physicians to address health care costs.

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