Medical care in America is a disaster

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Even as a young boy and then again later in life I had plenty of reasons to doubt the efficacy of American medical care. When I was but eight years old I was told that I needed to have my tonsils removed. Why? Because the “doctor” said so. So off I went and out came my tonsils, resulting in some of the worst pain I have ever experienced and as it turned out for no good reason. Not too long after I was told I needed surgery to repair my hernia. I had no symptoms, no pain, no discomfort yet again the “doctor” said so and off I went once again. And again I was treated to intense pain.

Nenita Irwin

A few years later I was serving in the United States Marine Corps in Vietnam when I got bit by an enemy mosquito resulting in me getting both dengue fever and malaria. After nine miserable days in a field hospital I was told I was good to go, but I would first have to visit the psychiatrist because they believed that just maybe I had become a little depressed. So I went and saw the shrink and after maybe 20 minutes of chit chat he wrote me a prescription for a very powerful anti-depressant drug. Only he accidentally wrote the prescription at four times the normal dosage.

Consequently, I was utterly stoned, so much so that one day when some one accidental tripped off a 20 millimeter canon on one of our jets everyone instantly hit the ground. Everyone that is except me. I just spun around and said “wee!” That cost me ten more months in hell. You see I was due to go to Japan with that squadron. But when the Commanding Officer observed my behavior, he decided I was too crazy to go Japan with his squadron so he reassigned me to the Group, thereby keeping me in Vietnam for ten more months Thanks doc. But these are just some of my personal experiences; let’s look at the bigger picture.

According to the World Health Organization the United States of America ranks a miserable 37thin terms of quality of health care systems (Page 18). That is behind Malta, Iceland, Colombia and even Chile. But lousy health care isn’t cheap. On average the typical American spends about double what people in other nations pay for health care. Specific details can be found in a report from Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker:

Comparing health spending in the U.S. to other countries is complicated, as each country has unique political, economic, and social attributes that contribute to its spending. Because health spending is closely associated with a country’s wealth, the remaining charts compare the U.S. to similar OECD countries – those that have above median national incomes (as measured by GDP) and also have above median income per person. The average amount spent on health per person in comparable countries ($5,280) is roughly half that of the U.S. ($10,224).

Ron Irwin

Interestingly France ranks number one in the world for health care but the French pay less than half of what Americans pay for our much inferior health care.

A recent Johns Hopkins study claims more than 250,000 people in the U.S. die every year from medical errors. Other reports claim the numbers to be as high as 440,000. Medical errors are the third-leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. If you live in America you are nine times more likely to get killed by your physician than by a gun shot. Yet almost daily the media is screaming about the need for more gun control yet rarely if ever is there any mention of the miserable state of American medical care.

Fixing this problem is vital but extremely complex. I will share my thoughts in greater detail in future articles but for now I offer these two observations. Let’s stop the profound deification of our “doctors.” “Doctor” is an academic title and not a professional title. I am a “doctor” but of Jurisprudence not medicine. Believe me when I say you do not want me coming after you with a sharp knife.

My professional title is lawyer or Attorney at Law. Those who have earned Doctor of Medicine degrees become professionally known as Physicians and Surgeons. So drop the “doctor” and start using physician and/or surgeon and the deification factor falls to a more rational level where you can and must start asking more questions.

Then there is the matter of the Hippocratic Oath.  It was first written about 275 AD and is said to be an oath taken by all physicians worldwide. But the often quoted first command, “First do no harm” was not added until the 17thcentury.

Papyrus text: fragment of Hippocratic oath.
(Wellcome Library, London. Creative Commons)

The full importance of that command needs to be more fully integrated into the daily practice of all physicians. Is that surgical procedure truly needed for my patient’s health? Are those prescriptions I am about to write really in my patient’s best interest? And perhaps what is the real message here is that perhaps all physicians need to become more focused on promoting good health, rather than simply treating disease.

Need proof of just how far off the mark modern medicine truly has fallen? For many years I was clearly extremely obese and obesity is a serious and potentially deadly human condition. Yet over a period of about 20 years and with several visits to my physician not once was I told that I needed to lose weight. Yet in 2012 when I weighed 315 pounds and was struck with Congestive Heart Failure and diabetes I was given a lot of prescribed medications which I rapidly stopped taking as soon as I had lost 140 pounds and regained health rather than treat disease.

More to come on this topic but for now please take away the reality that gaining and maintaining good health should be your goal number one and when you do visit your physician that goal should always be a part of the conversation.

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