Tuesday, July 11, 2017

How patients get taken for a ride !


I've noticed a disturbing trend these days. For-profit healthcare companies, clinics and hospitals are advertising direct to the public - either on hoardings, or by taking out full page ads in newspapers. They promise the equivalent of a miracle cure - and one of the most fashionable trends these days seems to be to use platelet-enriched fractions of plasma. These are  used for all kinds of treatments, from head to toe, depending upon the specialisation of the doctor. Neurosurgeons inject it in the CSF ( cerebrospinal fluid) to treat autism; trichologists inject these in the hair follicles to treat baldness ; and orthopedic surgeons inject these in the joints to treat arthritis. The fact that these are used anywhere and everywhere itself should make them suspect !
Let's look at just one area today - treating aching joints. These elixirs are supposed to regenerate aging joints and make them as good as new, so that patients don't have to undergo knee surgery. This is a tempting prospect, and the tragedy is that many patients get suckered by this kind of advertising.  The bigger tragedy is that there is no one to protect these patients !
A lot of these companies make all kinds of tall claims. Painful knee joints are very common, and because people are reluctant to undergo surgery, most of them are quite happy to try out these treatments, because they're non-invasive, and are marketed so cleverly. It's quite logical to believe - " Why not try it and see? What do I have to lose ? "  And the truth is that some patients will benefit, which will keep the buzz going. Every treatment has a placebo effect, so that even if it is completely useless, some lucky patients will definitely benefit from it.
    The problem is that none of these claims have ever been proven to be true. They sound scientifically plausible, because they talk about " bioactive growth factors" , and they claim that this is backed by sound scientific research.
But guess what? All this research is usually published in poor quality medical journals, who will be happy to publish any rubbish if you pay them for it. This is what breaks my heart - that patients are so gullible , that they're willing to accept all these ridiculous claims.
Part of the problem is that patients naively hope that the government will put a stop to all these scams, and we all know how inefficient the Indian government is.  Patients also expect the medical profession to regulate itself, but sadly this is not going to happen. There is a lot of money at stake, and doctors don't want to speak up against other doctors, because of their code of "professional ethics" .
Patients need to learn to protect themselves, because no one else is going to do this for them, which is why they need to learn to stop and think critically.
If this was really such a big breakthrough, then don't you think any researcher worth his salt who came up with this innovation would be happy to publish it in a reputable medical journal, such as the Lancet or the New England Journal of Medicine? After all, this publication would establish his professional reputation for the rest of his life. If he was sure that his results were trustworthy, then we would take the time and trouble to perform a controlled clinical trial; document his results; do the research stringently ; and get it peer reviewed. Once it was published in a world-class journal ( and any journal would be happy to publish such ground-breaking research) everyone would look up to the researcher as having come up a significant medical advance - the ultimate badge of honour for any doctor !
    The very fact that none of these papers have been published in these leading medical journals itself should tell you that something is rotten in the state of Denmark ! Please don't get cheated or swayed by some of the rubbish these clinics trot out, just because it is very cleverly dressed up in a lot of scientific garb. Patients need to beware and you cannot afford to leave your common sense at home. You need to be on your guard, otherwise you will end up harming yourself.  Please don't allow doctors to take you for a ride !

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