As I See It: Should we save conventional medicine from itself?
Medicine was practiced differently a century ago. Doctors visited your home. They carried all their medicines in a briefcase. We moderns smugly note that most practices then would be quackery today. Now patients visit the doctors. Now just the standard drug directory (the Physicians Drug Reference) is itself too heavy to carry around.
What a difference 100 years can make!
But we moderns shouldn't get complacent. With history as our guide, we know that in 100 years today's state-of-the-art medical practices will also be obsolete or seen as quackery. That realization can enlighten us about how to let medical practices evolve naturally.
Conventional medical practice today rests on a three-pronged model of drugs, surgical procedures, and elaborate high-tech testing. This model has only come into existence in the past 75 years. But we now know the reasons why it should be heading for a decline or collapse.
First, it is ineffective when we need it most. Chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, dementia, arthritis, substance addiction, and others ravage our population. Despite minor improvements in treatment, conventional medicine can't stop the pandemic effect of chronic diseases. Conventional medicine treats symptoms, risk factors, and abnormalities. But it can't identify causes, and the notion of curing or eradicating a chronic disease is practically foreign to it.
Second, overuse and misuse of medications creates "super-bugs" that may soon be untreatable. Some speculate that many surgeries may become too dangerous due to the risk of infection.
Third, the cost for essentially ineffective treatments is exorbitant. Doctors, hospitals, and drug companies are pricing themselves out of existence. Few people could or would pay for ineffective treatments. Conventional medicine needs a government bailout to survive. Obamacare, single-payer, or any government-supported system is essential to rescue conventional medicine from its own failures.
Fourth, conventional medical literature recognizes that medical errors, in many forms, are now our third-leading cause of death. That's right behind cancer and heart disease, the two leading causes of death. Paradoxically, seeing your doctor is the most dangerous and lethal thing you could do today for your health.
So what can replace conventional medicine as we know it today?
One possible contender could be some combination of "alternative" practices. There are so many that we can't yet determine which might eventually predominate.
Another contender could be healthy lifestyle practices. Proper diet, exercise, and smoking cessation are already known to be capable of preventing 70-90 percent of several major chronic conditions (90 percent of type 2 diabetes, 80 percent of coronary artery disease, 70 percent of stroke, and 70 percent of colon cancer). That scale of success is unimaginable using conventional medical practices.
With all of its negatives, conventional medicine should be in decline. But it is actually booming. Why?
Economists recognize that failing enterprises and obsolete industries should go out of existence. Successful competitors emerge. This natural and "organic" process regularly occurs in a normally functioning economy. But our government can thwart this process. Government financing, mandates, subsidies, or bailouts preserve dysfunctional economic elements and stymie effective replacements.
That has happened to the practice of medicine. Conventional medicine with all of its drugs, surgeries, and incessant testing is too ineffective, costly, and dangerous. But the conventional medicine elite still control what our government dictates about the practice of medicine. So government policy and practices prop up conventional medicine's survival and growth. Natural growth and evolution don't occur. The practice of medicine remains dysfunctional. This result occurs whether the label is Obamacare or single-payer.
Let's get government out of regulating health care. Our health depends on it.