I’m amused by some of the opinion surveys concerning the debate over health care reform, when they ask, “Are you satisfied with your health care?” Of course not, but that has very little to do with the current health care legislation. Perhaps a more appropriate question would be, “Are you satisfied with your health care insurance?” No, but I suppose that I’m glad that it doesn’t cost any more than it does.
One of the arguments against health care reform is that, “We have the best health care system in the world.” Well, even if this is true, we still have a long way to go. On a scale of 1 to 10, if everyone else scores a 1, and we score a 2, we really don’t need to be patting ourselves on the back and claiming to be the best in the world. Doctors still have much to learn about the field of medicine, even though most people believe that doctors know more than they really do. Doctors are continuing to learn every day (primarily by experimenting on us), and much of what they learn is that they’ve been providing patients with wrong information and the wrong treatment. In the future, we will see how ignorant doctors were back in 2009.
Some 200 years ago, some of the “best” doctors still routinely administered the treatment of “bleeding” patients, but they later determined that this wasn’t such a great idea. The same type of thing happens every day in the field of medicine. Specialists are continually changing their recommendations for daily intake of protein, carbohydrates, caffeine, salt, vitamins, etc., which basically means that what they’ve been telling us for years has been wrong. Dentists put silver fillings in our mouths, then a few years later they decide that those weren’t such a good idea, so they replace them with porcelain crowns. Isn’t this a great marketing strategy? This way they can charge their exorbitant fees twice for the same tooth. The third time calls for even larger fees to replace that same tooth with an implant. It’s a cycle that never ends (and seldom helps).
My cynicism, no doubt, extends from my own personal experiences with health care. Here are a few examples:
– I saw a doctor about chronic backache. He fixed my high blood pressure and cholesterol, even though that’s not the reason I was there, and these issues might never have caused a problem at all. Why did he do this? Because that’s what doctors know how to do–fix high blood pressure and cholesterol. However, my back still hurts, because he didn’t know what was wrong with it. So where is the evidence that he did any good at all? It’s in the results of some research that he read about, but that doesn’t help me with my backache.
– I saw a doctor because my hands become cold and painful whenever I use a keyboard or a mouse, due to the repetitive motion. I told her that I have to curb my use of computers, and I have to wear gloves when I do use them. She (and all of the specialists in her extensive medical network) tested me for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, arthritis, lupus, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, and an extra rib (yeah, I didn’t understand this one either). Their various preliminary diagnoses included everything from tendinitis to Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy to sleep apnea (quite a stretch). They tried treating me with a dozen or so medications, paraffin treatments, ultrasound treatments, an electro-therapy glove, and a CPAP machine. Why did they do all of this? Because that’s what they know how to do. Their final diagnosis was Raynaud’s Syndrome, which basically means that they don’t know what it is. So, after six months (and about 50 visits), what was their suggested treatment? That’s right: Due to the repetitive motion, I shouldn’t use the computer so much, and I should wear gloves when I do–the exact things that I told them on the very first day. The result? My hands still become cold and painful when I use the computer.
– Several years ago I was diagnosed with severe depression. The doctors started a lengthy cycle of prescribing an antidepressant, waiting six weeks, discovering that it didn’t work, and prescribing another one. It’s not a wonder that so many people with depression commit suicide. They endure all the suffering that is humanly possible, and they realize that their doctors can’t help.
– When I contracted poison ivy last summer, I immediately went to the doctor. He gave me a prescription, but after three more days I was so miserable that I went back to the doctor. After the second prescription did no good, on my third visit, he referred me to a specialist. Meanwhile, I would wake up in the middle of the night because my skin was so itchy. I felt so miserable that I sometimes considered calling 911. I would bathe in every soothing liquid I could think of, and then sit in front of a fan dabbing various medications onto my skin. After two visits to the specialist, and increased dosages of a steroid, my symptoms finally subsided, but not before I endured six weeks of intense suffering, and this wasn’t even a serious disease.
– I’ve had allergies for some 50 years, and for 40 of those years doctors haven’t been able to do much to relieve my symptoms. The only thing that the federal government did for me was to take the one medication that brought me some relief (Drixoral) off the market.
– I saw a dentist because of pain in a particular tooth, which was a mystery to all of the specialists in his dental network. However, they did fix six other teeth, although these weren’t causing any problems or symptoms. Since most dental insurance is lousy, I paid most of the bill myself, but the tooth that I originally complained about still hurts.
– I know a woman who was suffering from severe pain in her shoulder. After being passed from doctor to doctor, they decided that she had bursitis. They gave her a shot and sent her home, but as soon as the shot wore off she was miserable again. So, the doctors changed their diagnosis to “shoulder-lock,” and they gave her medication and therapy. Her shoulder still hurts just like before (and now her pocketbook is suffering too).
– I know a man who had surgery for a deviated septum, and then endured five days of painful recovery. Six weeks later he was no better off than before, and he wished that he hadn’t had the surgery and the suffering that it brought.
– I know a young lady who had a sore ankle. The doctors first diagnosed a strep infection. Then they decided that she had cancer, so they made her sick with chemotherapy and then amputated her leg. What kind of Civil War-era “treatment” is that? After declaring her to be cancer-free, her cancer returned.
– I knew a (relatively healthy) man who submitted to an angiogram on his heart, at the recommendation of his doctor. After the procedure, the first time he got up from his hospital bed, he had a massive heart attack and died. The doctors claimed that it was just a coincidence, and it had nothing to do with the procedure. Shouldn’t they have at least admitted that it was possible that the test caused a blood clot?
– I know a man who underwent artery bypass surgery upon recommendation from the doctors and surgeons. After eleven days of suffering in the hospital, they sent him home to suffer (forgetting to prescribe any pain medication). They told him that he would feel like new in six months (and they congratulated themselves, and recorded another “success” on their spreadsheets). Soon he was back because of fluid on his lungs. A few months later he was back because he still had no energy. They diagnosed atrial fibrillation, and they “shocked” his heart and sent him home. He’s still sick–the cycle never ends.
– I knew a woman with congestive heart failure. Sorry, this isn’t on the doctors’ list of what they know how to treat. So, after five years of angina, depression, ineffective medication, and hundreds of wasted visits to doctors and hospitals, she died a painful death.
– We all know many people with diabetes who are “treated” with insulin shots and a strict diet, but who still often die prematurely.
Doctors usually don’t know how to treat their patients, so they do so based upon certain studies, but often without even applying good reasoning. They fail to notice when the results of a study are within the margin of error (basically, inconclusive), and they take action as though the one medication that helped a handful of people is going to help everyone. They don’t realize that the results of those studies are often biased by a researcher who is trying to prove his own hypothesis, or by a drug company that is trying to drum up business for a new drug.
Here’s the trick with these studies: The researchers use a group of, say, 2,000 people. Of 1,000 people treated with a placebo, six of them die. Of 1,000 people treated with a new drug, only three die. Their conclusion? That the new drug cuts the risk by 50% (from six to three). However, they’re stating the results using relative risk. In terms of absolute risk, the results are really inconclusive (0.3%) and within the margin of error: 0.6% in the placebo group (6 / 1000) vs. 0.3% in the treated group (3 / 1000). In situations like this, I’ve even heard them say that the risk is “doubled” if the new drug isn’t used (from three to six). This is clever, but quite deceptive.
Despite what we want to think, doctors are not healers. How many people do you know who have had repeated (and unsuccessful) surgeries for the same ailment, such as back problems? Doctors can set a broken bone, in basically the same way they did 100 years ago. They are probably best at treating sore throats. They are quite skilled at making the sore throat go away after trying a few medications (and enduring their side effects). This process usually takes about three weeks (with multiple, and expensive, visits, of course), when the sore throat would have probably healed itself in a few days.
Doctors also think that they’re good at artery bypass surgeries, regardless of how much they’re actually helping their patients. Even if the operation is successful, and even if it helps for a while, the patient’s quality of life still suffers due to the frequent (and expensive) doctor visits, the stressful waiting in doctors’ waiting rooms, and the constant rotation of medications and their side effects. Also, the more doctors that are involved, the worse it is. The patient might as well just plan on canceling any future plans for his life, and devoting 100% of his time to his health situation. He had better get used to the three trips per week to the various doctors for the rest of his life, because none of them are capable of monitoring which drugs they’re prescribing, or balancing the side effects with any benefits. Then there are all of those subsequent procedures, like removing fluid from the lungs that was caused by the initial surgery.
Simply stated, doctors only do the things that they know how to do, regardless of whether or not it helps us. This is a sad situation. Yes, I realize that with billions of dollars of research, they have made great strides in certain specialized areas such as prosthetics, but what have they done for more wide-spread problems such as cancer, diabetes, and the common cold?
The opponents to health care reform are concerned about denying treatment in certain cases. They often ask, “What if the doctor is wrong?” In other words, what if a patient is denied treatment, but the doctor later realizes that they needed that particular treatment after all? Well, that would be unfortunate, and no doubt those kinds of situations would occur. However, we need to stop asking, “What if the doctor is wrong?” and just accept that fact that doctors are often wrong. They are forever telling us that certain diseases are caused by certain foods and nutrients in our diet, and then a few years later they inform us that avoiding those foods and nutrients caused an even worse health problem. We need to realize that doctors are, ever so slowly, increasing their knowledge base (and using us as test subjects).
Unfortunately, doctors often hinder rather than help. They perform unnecessary tests or surgical procedures, and sometimes the patient dies. Sometimes this happens because they underestimated a risk factor, they made a surgical error, or the patient contracted a staph infection in the hospital. How much “help” are they providing for unborn babies who are aborted? When did they remove the “first do no harm” clause from the Hippocratic Oath?
Consider the doctor who administers an unnecessary screening for cancer. Upon a positive result, he then treats the patient for a cancer that never would have caused a problem. However, the treatment itself causes the patient to die, due to an infection or an innocent mistake during treatment. How much good has that doctor done for that patient? Without the doctor, the patient would still be alive and well, but with the doctor, the patient died and his family suffered.
So, what if the doctors are wrong? Well, I bring bad news because doctors are often wrong indeed. Perhaps it would be a blessing in disguise for certain health care to be restricted. Maybe it would protects us from the poor judgment and wrong decisions by ignorant doctors. Yes, I’m sure that my personal experiences have made me somewhat cynical. (Maybe it’s time for my annual bleeding.) However, if our health care system is truly the best in the world, then may God have mercy on the rest of the world.