GPs are being urged not to compromise their "unique" relationships with patients when cutting costs.
Speaking at the Royal College of GPs' (RCGP) annual conference in Liverpool today (20 October), Chair Dr Clare Gerada said GPs are under pressure to "replace the language of caring with the language of the market".
She warned patients "are not commodities to be bought and sold".
Gerada implored GPs not to lose sight of why they entered the profession and to continue to care for the patient as a person during difficult economic times.
"In this brave new cost-driven, competitive, managed-care world, I worry about the effect that the language of marketing is having on our clinical relationships," she said.
"It's changing the precious relationship between clinician and patient into a crudely costed financial procedure, turning our patients into aliquots of costed tariffs, and GPs into financial managers of care."
Gerada spoke of her support for the role of GPs in commissioning, but warned that clinicians must "tread carefully" to ensure "it is the public's pulse we have our fingers on, not the public's purse".
The RCGP leader obtained a warm response to her opening speech, receiving a standing ovation from some delegates.