How can bedside rationing be justified despite coexisting inefficiency? The need for 'benchmarks of efficiency'
AbstractImperfect efficiency in healthcare delivery is sometimes given as a justification for refusing to ration or even discuss how to pursue fair rationing. This paper aims to clarify the relationship between inefficiency and rationing, and the conditions under which bedside rationing can be justified despite coexisting inefficiency. This paper first clarifies several assumptions that underlie the classification of a clinical practice as being inefficient. We then suggest that rationing is difficult to justify in circumstances where the rationing agent is or should be aware of and contributes to clinical inefficiency. We further explain the different ethical implications of this suggestion for rationing decisions made by clinicians. We argue that rationing is more legitimate when sufficient efforts are undertaken to decrease inefficiency in parallel with efforts to pursue unavoidable but fair rationing. While the qualifier ‘sufficient’ is crucial here, we explain why ‘sufficient efforts’ should be translated into ‘benchmarks of efficiency’ that address specific healthcare activities where clinical inefficiency can be decreased. Referring to recent consensus papers, we consider some examples of specific clinical situations where improving clinical inefficiency has been recommended and consider how benchmarks for efficiency might apply. These benchmarks should state explicitly how much inefficiency shall be reduced in a reasonable time range and why these efforts are ‘sufficient’. Possible strategies for adherence to benchmarks are offered to address the possibility of non-compliance.