Medical facilities are bemoaning the loss of revenue that has followed the COVID-19 epidemic. The conventional explanation is that patients are staying away from hospitals and clinics because they think them unsafe and fear contracting the virus should they go.

Hospitals say they’re losing $50 billion dollars a month. Extrapolated to a whole year that comes to $600 billion or 17% of the total annual medical cost in the US. This amount doesn’t count the reduction in other medical expenditures such as doctor visits, outpatient treatments, and drugs not prescribed and hence not purchased.

The conventional explanation for this drop in diagnostic and therapeutic events is that patients are putting off needed care that will subsequently result in increased morbidity and a rebound in medical spending. Such reasoning may be correct, at least in part. But another possibility seems likely. Much of the medical care dispensed in this country is unnecessary resulting in overuse of our bloated system. Such overuse is encouraged when a third party, an insurance company or the government, pays the bill.

Take two aspirins and call me in the morning may be replaced by take two aspirins and forget about calling me. If tincture of time could be patented, now would be the time to buy the company’s stock.

Anyone who has spent a lot of time in the medical profession is fully aware of how much unnecessary diagnosis and treatment is prescribed. We’ve been worried about being bankrupted by the cost of healthcare – the most inexact word in the language. The silver lining of this epidemic may be the solution to the problem of cost. Also, iatrogenic diseases and nosocomial infections don’t happen to those who stay away from doctors and hospitals.

Maybe we don’t need a score or more new medical schools. Perhaps we have too many hospitals, doctors, and clinics. In my hometown “urgent care centers” seem to sprouting like tulips in the Netherlands in April. They threaten to outnumber fast food joints. A few are just for children. Are we really that unhealthy? There’s a reason that I called a book about medicine Doing Nothing. Not only is it easy, it’s also frugal. Everybody was so worried about the exorbitant cost of medical care that we ignored the obvious solution. Don’t buy more than you need.