Monday, April 07, 2008

Are doctors good for your health ?

We all want to remain healthy and we expect our doctors to help us to do so. However, while doctors are good at healing you when you fall sick, they are not very good at keeping you healthy. Today, doctors have become illness specialists, not wellness specialists. Things were different in the past. In China, for example, doctors were paid as long as the family was healthy. If someone fell sick, payments were stopped until he recovered, because the fact that the person fell ill meant that the doctor was not doing a good job . This was a very sensible approach – and it’s one we should consider revisiting.

Unfortunately, today we seem to have lost our commonsense . We don’t trust our own bodies and everything has become medicalised . We blindly do whatever our doctor tells us to do – pop a pill, do a scan, run a test , get an operation – the list is endless ! We need to regain control over our bodies. If you want to remain healthy, you are likely to learn much more by copying the lifestyle of a fit and healthy 80-year old, rather than by going to your doctor. The fact that this person is not a doctor maybe his biggest advantage because he does not see the world through a doctor’s “illness” lens.

We have been brainwashed into believing that modern medical treatment is based on impeccable science. We trust that current medical treatment has been scientifically proven and that doctors “know best” , which is why we don’t question them. However, this is not true . Doctors are human and are as susceptible to the lure of technology as everyone else. Even though the efficacy of bypass surgery has never been scientifically proven , it is now at the heart of a billion dollar industry. Clinical trials have shown that bypass surgery improves life expectancy in only 5% of patients with coronary artery disease – but doctors continue performing this operation on thousands of patients who will not benefit from it. Angioplasty is no better, because coronary arteries which have been opened by placing a stent will often get re-blocked in a few months . (The coronary arteries are not like a drain-pipe that they can be unclogged ! ) Hypertension
( high blood pressure ) is not really a disease ( it’s just a finding on a clinical examination), but it’s overdiagnosed - and overtreated. Even though anti-hypertensives are useless for the majority of “ patients “ they are prescribed for, many people take them for their entire lives. Mammography has not been show to improve breast cancer survival rates but is still routinely advocated; inspite of spending billions on research, we are still failing miserably in our “war against cancer”. It’s become a fashion to check cholesterol levels, but it’s a fact that high cholesterol levels do not cause heart disease in most people ; and the overglorified cholesterol drugs ( statins) are a wasteful expense for the vast majority of people who take them.

There is now a long list of books which have documented how harmful medical care can be, and even their titles can be eye-openers ! These include: The Last Well Person: How to Stay Well Despite the Health-care System by Nortin M. Hadler; The Secrets of Medical Decision Making: How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of the Health Care Machine by Oleg I. Reznik; and Disease-Mongers: How Doctors, Drug Companies, and Insurers Are Making You Feel Sick by Lynn Payer. Even “ good “ doctors are tricked by the multi-billion dollar marketing budgets of pharmaceutical companies who peddle the newest ( and most expensive) drugs . There is now extensive documentation to show how the pharmaceutical industry has corrupted the medical profession .

Studies on iatrogenic disease (diseases caused by medical treatment ) suggest that medical treatment is one of the leading causes of death in the US. Hospitals can be dangerous places and the path-breaking Institute of Medicine study showed that thousands of patients die of medical errors even in the best US hospitals ! The moral is simple – don’t leave everything upto God – or upto the doctor, either. You need to take responsibility for your own health !

Before trusting your doctor, you should do your own homework so that you can verify everything he says independently. The good news is that it’s become much easier to do so . You can use the internet to do your “ due diligence”; and books and blogs written for patients ( and by expert patients) are chock-full of reliable and unbiased information. The true experts are
“ expert patients” , who have learnt to live well inspite of their illness. They can be great role models, and we can learn from their personal experience .

If doctors ( the word is derived from the Latin root, “docere” , which means to teach) help patients to do their homework intelligently, everyone will benefit! Educating yourself about your health is one of the most cost-effective ways of improving your health. Well-informed patients take much better care of themselves, and information therapy helps to make medical care much more patient-friendly.

We have a rich and ancient heritage . Indian medicine was rightly called Ayurveda - the Science of Life , not just the science of just treating illness. I believe that people are the largest untapped healthcare resource – and if we want to remain in the pink of health, we’d be much better off learning from each other ( for example, through support groups and online social communities), rather than depending upon doctors. It’s your body – you cannot outsource your responsibility of taking good care of it to anyone else !

I wrote this article for Times Wellness !


  1. Anonymous2:40 PM

    I enjoyed very much your article, thanks for sharing it with us! I would say that we shouldn`t blame our physicians for our health condition, they are burdened with bureaucratic things and are too stressed. We should take the responsibility for our wellness and try to keep a balanced lifestyle. It may sound a little bit strange from a Toronto life insurance broker but I`m very fond of the alternative healing methods flourishing in our country and I agree with the statement that everyhting has its origin in your mind.

  2. Anonymous1:32 AM

    On-line patient groups are a terrific resource for those wanting to approach their health aggressively. The collective wisdom of many patients who have many doctors and many experiences can be invaluable (while, of course, care must be taken to sift through the mis-leading - but this more often than not is done by the on-line group).

  3. I really appreciated your article. Coming from a doctor, it's an eye opener to the entire healthcare industry.
    While it's disheartening to see most medical professionals ignore the points you raised, the patient community is equally to blame for the apathy.
    Please continue the good work - you changed my outlook on how doctors conduct themselves in the Indian scenraio


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