Monday, April 30, 2012

Mythical Beings that Inhabit the Matrix, Part 4: Doctors

     In another article (link), I pointed out that medical school is an extended infomercial for the drug industry. In this article, I’ll describe how patients and doctors collude on jacking up the cost of medical care in the United States and some other countries. No, I’m not suggesting that patients deliberately shortchange themselves by telling doctors how they can make medical care more expensive. I’m suggesting that there are many superstitions surrounding concepts of Western medical care, and doctors’ customers—many of them shouldn’t be called patients—are so swept up in these superstitions that they demand that doctors adhere to them. Some of these superstitions are as follows:
1. There’s a medicine for every person’s ailment.
2. Every medicine designed to treat a given ailment is equally effective on all patients who have that ailment.
3. Medicines necessarily cure diseases.
4. Medicines are the only cures for diseases.
5. Only a quack would let a patient leave his office without a prescription.
6. The quality of medical care is best measured by the number of prescriptions or other treatments the doctor prescribes.
     Ordinarily, I don’t even take an aspirin for a headache or cough syrup for a cold. A few weeks ago, though, I had such a bad cold that I went to a doctor. After examining me, he wrote a prescription for four drugs, and not one of them was cough syrup. That wasn’t an exceptional case.
     With taxpayer subsidized medical care around here, it’s not unusual for someone to leave a doctor’s office with six prescriptions. I don’t know of even one doctor who would dare tell a customer, “You don’t need medicine. You need rest, plenty of liquids, and a balanced diet. Once you’re well, you need to get more exercise. You’re a slob.”
     That would never happen. Any doctor who prescribes commonsense treatments for ailments would be immediately labeled a quack. Just how effective is medicine, anyway? 
     According to one article I read and couldn’t find again, only a third of all medical prescriptions are effective. Under the best of conditions, when a drug is approved for medical use, that’s because it has been shown effective in certain cases—usually severe cases. If you don’t have a severe case of something, it’s useless to take a medicine that’s effective only in severe cases.
     Nonetheless, the superstition persists that a medicine that’s effective in treating one person’s ailment is just as effective in treating everyone else who has that ailment or an ailment similar to it. Few people want the doctor to tell them that there’s no medicine that will do them any good.
     In many cases, the customer’s complaint is really just a complaint and not a symptom or a disease. Let me give you an example of the difference. If you feel sluggish, you have trouble breathing, and your head hurts, those are complaints. If you have a high temperature, dry throat, and chest congestion, those are symptoms. If the doctor tells you that you have the flu, he’s telling you that you have a disease. If your heart stops beating, your body assumes room temperature, and your muscles become rigid, a prescription is useless. Let’s take a couple of common complaints.
     One customer complains of sleeplessness, which he self-diagnoses as insomnia. Actually, insomnia is just a fancy word for a complaint known as sleeplessness. The other customer complains of being tense and irritable due to pressures at work. Does either of them need drugs? Probably not. Sometimes insomnia is due to less need for sleep. In most other cases, it’s due to distractions that can be shut out; thinking about them makes the sleeplessness worse. In either case, insomnia is nothing to lose sleep over. As for tension and irritability due to pressures at work, school, or elsewhere, prescription drugs—psychotropic, or mind-altering, drugs—almost always do more harm than good. I’ve never heard of a case in which anything good came of these classes of drugs for tension or depression.
     Rather than offering you a prescription written in Latin, you’d be better off getting one written in three words of plain English: “Deal with it.” If you insist on the prescription being written in Latin, maybe the doctor can please you by writing, “Illigitimi non carborundum,” which is faux Latin for, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”
     I’m sure that a lot of doctors’ customers would rankle at the suggestion that they should eat well and otherwise learn to take responsibility for their lives instead of looking for drugs to treat their symptoms. Yes, I said, “Symptoms.” In all but a few cases, most drugs do nothing to treat diseases; they treat only symptoms. Most doctors are honest enough to admit this fact to their customers, but ingrained superstitions die hard. Drug customers still insist on a drug that will “cure” them.
     Another ingrained superstition that refuses to die is the belief that a doctor is not a doctor unless he’s a celebrity spokesman for the drug industry. Caveat vendor—let the seller beware: If drug customers don’t get the drugs they crave, they’ll just look for another pusher. That’s just the way the drug industry wants things to be. Here are some interesting statistics and links to the information used to obtain them:
1. Physicians are 9,000 times as deadly as gun owners. (link)
2. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, after alcohol and tobacco. Fourth and fifth are traffic accidents and gun violence. (link)
3. Taking the lowest estimate of how many Americans are killed by medical malpractice each year (120,000), American doctors kill over twice as many people each year as the Mexican Drug War has killed in the last five years. (link) 
4. Over 106,000 Americans die each year just from the side effects of prescription drugs “properly prescribed and properly administered.” That’s twice the number of Americans killed in traffic accidents. Over 2,000,000 Americans suffer “serious side effects” from these “properly prescribed and properly administered” drugs.  (link) and (link) 
5. An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 Americans die from illegal drugs each year.  (same source as #4)
6. Of 100 U.S. medical schools, 75 of the offer fewer than 25 hours of instruction in nutrition—usually interspersed with instruction in non-nutrition courses. Only one fourth of all U.S. medical schools offer even one course in nutrition. One U.S. medical school offers no nutritional instruction at all. (link) 
     The bottom line is, doctors are not in the healthcare business. They’re in the business of treating injuries and symptoms. If you want healthcare, see a nutritionist or a practitioner of "alternative medicine” (a.k.a. a traditional healer).
     See parts 1 through 4 of this series:
     "Mythical Beings that Inhabit the Matrix, Part 1: News Reporters"
     "Mythical Beings that Inhabit the Matrix, Part 2: Politicians"
     "Mythical Beings that Inhabit the Matrix, Part 3: Pastors"

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