To the editor:

In the past two decades, Americans have learned to conserve our natural resources. We've learned that our land, air, water and the creatures we share the earth with cannot be exploited endlessly but must be protected.Another treasure worth preserving is a man-made one - our health-care system. We still have the best health care in the world, but we've discovered that it, too, has limits.

Like our national parks, our health-care system is at risk in part because we are loving it to death. Encouraged by insurance coverage that paid for all the care we wanted, we've freely used costly procedures and services when less-expensive alternatives were available.

We must learn to make wise use of our health-care resources because it is in our best interest to do so. Those who pay our health-care bills - for most of us, employers, government and private insurers - are sending a clear signal: Consumers will increasingly share the cost of the care they use. More than one-quarter of employers in one survey said they planned to ask workers to pay more toward their health care in 1991.

Here are some ways to help keep our health-care system strong:

Use the hospital emergency room only for true emergencies. Give your health-care provider all the relevant information about your illness or injury to help avoid unnecessary tests and treatment. Be sure you understand instructions about your care, medication and tests.

Cut your own health risk - stop tobacco and alcohol use, reduce injuries, high blood pressure, overeating and increase preventive care. These personal health factors are linked to two out of three deaths and one in three hospital stays.

Our health-care system is a precious national resource - one that's well worth conserving. Save the whales, save the trees, certainly. But let's make sure we can save the people, too.

Ronald L. Bouck

Utah Hospital Association