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American Healthcare is Becoming a Dangerous PracticeWayne Pierce for Salem-News.com
For many doctors, a quest for profits soon takes the focus off their dedication to the health of their patients.
(EUGENE, Ore.) - The study of medicine is a science. The practice of medicine is often sloppy and dangerous. We can no longer believe in our doctors with blind faith, but must educate ourselves and manage our own health.
Unbelievably, more people in the US are killed by medical errors each year than are killed by auto accidents. While the cost of US healthcare exceeds that of any other country in the world, the quality of healthcare is rated lower than the forty some European Union countries, including Canada and many of the poorer countries.
Most of us grew up with great admiration and faith in doctors, which provided a sense of security for individuals and families. If we became ill, we knew we could depend upon our doctor to help make us well and even save our lives.
Unfortunately, many doctors have joined clergymen, politicians, and corporate CEO’s in becoming tarnished gods, no longer worthy of our trust, thus destroying the sense of security that our society once knew. While Americans try to hang on to their belief that theirs is the greatest nation in the world, there is a growing awareness of how the important people in our lives cause us harm and have betrayed us.
Catholic priests by the dozens are charged with molesting our children. Billionaire corporate executives are exposed for committing fraud and destroying our life’s savings while wiping out investors who put their trust in them.
Corporations construct, produce and market products that are knowingly toxic and dangerous to our health, making billions of dollars while making us sick.
Sodas and high energy drinks laced with caffeine and high fructose corn sweeteners being poured down the throats of our kids interfering with their sleep, making them obese, and causing them to suffer side effects that we don’t yet understand.
Then there is the US government, whose members we elect to represent us and make our lives more safe and secure, but are more inclined to represent the special interests who are only interested in profits and often knowingly harm us.
When we hear about the priests and other clergymen who molest kids, or that a billionaire like Madoff is headed for prison for bilking even his friends out of billions, or when Bush pardons one of Cheney’s staff members after he commits treason by betraying an undercover CIA agent, and the list goes on, we might chuckle--like what’s new?
However, the fog is clearing and our awareness of this dangerous world that was created for us by the most wealthy men in the world is causing us to become anxious and insecure. Discontent is brewing as Americans are waking up.
Will I be next to lose my job to workers in China and India? Will I be forced out of my home because I can no longer make the payments? If I become ill, will I be able to find a doctor who is willing and able to help me? If I need help, will I have to go into debt in order to pay the exorbitant healthcare bills? How will I get my kids through college?
Up to now, Americans have been very patient and have not made the demands of their leaders that are so common in other countries. When workers in France feel they are not being treated fairly, they take to the streets and raise hell until their concerns are addressed. They cannot be ignored or things can really get out of hand.
I realize that we might not feel these activities are justified. However, it gets attention, brings negotiators to the table, and problems get resolved. Author William Blum writes very depressing books about the inner workings of the US government and publishes a monthly newsletter. He once wrote about the latest illegal antics of then President Bush and said that if a leader in any EU country pulled the stuff Bush was pulling, the people would be marching in the streets.
However, Americans are brain dead. As Bush took us into Iraq, Blum could not understand how Americans could allow their president to be such an outlaw. It is truly amazing how tolerant and complacent we are, perhaps a condition of so many good years.
Though we don’t have much control over the world that has been created for us, I find there is one area where we can assert ourselves and this is in taking control of our health and healthcare.
However, it requires some changes in our basic knowledge and belief system. If we are going to maintain our health, we must educate ourselves about our bodies, diets, and prescription and non-prescription drugs, many of which are toxic and dangerous. We must learn to manage our own healthcare and not place our faith and trust in someone just because they wear a white lab coat.
No amount of education can offset faulty character, lack of caring, arrogance, or the dedication to profits over people. What is most crucial is that we must give up our old thinking and learn to believe in our ability to know how we feel. If we have been feeling ill for two days and a doctor sees us for ten minutes and tells us we are fine, something is wrong and we have wasted our time and money. We might have risked further complications and even death.
Though they sometimes don’t like it, for after all, some do feel that they are gods, we must have the courage to question their judgment. Rather than putting our faith and trust in drug companies and healthcare businesses, for which most doctors work, I firmly believe that we must take charge of our own healthcare.
Because of their good health and lack of experience, many people are not aware of how sick the American healthcare business has become. Those who best understand our healthcare system are those who have experienced it directly or through friends and loved ones.
Over the years, I have shared my own stories about my difficulties with obtaining decent help from our healthcare system, in person and through Internet newsgroups. And I have been amazed by the number of stories that exist that involve doctor negligence or error. Many of these stories are much my own.
The worst and most tragic story I have ever heard relative to doctor incompetence and inability to think independently, occurred in early 2009. A young boy was ill (I have no details about his symptoms), so his parents took him to Urgent Care. The nurse checked his vitals and the doctor looked him over briefly.
When this cursory look, which is so common, did not reveal any problems, the doctor told the parents that the boy was fine and sent him home. When the boy became ill again, his parents took him back to the Urgent Care, where a doctor again told them that the boy was fine. I will assume he was seen by whatever doctor was on duty. The boy continued to be ill, so once more they took him to Urgent Care, with the same results. The parents wisely believed in their son when he continued to complain, so decided to take him back to see a doctor--for the fourth time, to no avail.
The doctor could not find anything wrong with him and told the parents to put their son to bed, wrap him in warm blankets, let him rest and he would be fine. The parents obeyed to the doctor. The next day when the parents went in to see their son, they discovered that he had died in the night. The autopsy on their son revealed that he had been suffering diabetes and that he had died of insulin shock and coma. Is it really possible that these doctors could ignore the boy’s complaints, the desperation of his parents, and fail to perform a simple blood test to try to diagnose what might be wrong with him? A simple cheap test that would have saved his life.
What I have learned from my own experience is that doctors at any office or clinic share the same patient file with other doctors. So, if one writes in the file that the patient is fine, the next doctor is likely to save time and support his fellow doctor by following suit.
Most doctors today belong to businesses they’ve created with other doctors, where their quest for profits soon takes the focus off their dedication to the health of their patients. Arrogance causes some to feel that they know more about our health than we do.
Unfortunately, many are just incompetent and lazy. There are lessons to be learned from stories like this. When we or our children feel ill, and we discover that our doctor, or doctors at some clinic, are not listening to us and helping us, we must believe in ourselves, ignore their opinions, and seek help elsewhere. This should preferably be an office that has no ties with the one that failed us, for new doctors should not see files created by the previous doctor(s).
My favorite girl cousin called me one time and told me that she had been suffering lots of chest pains and was worried about her heart. She said that she had called her doctor, I think on a Thursday or Friday, and he told her to come in early next week and he would do some testing.
I became alarmed and told her that she needed to call a cardiologist and tell him her symptoms and tell him it was an emergency. Or she should check into the Emergency hospital immediately. Like most people, she placed her faith in her doctor and told me that she was going to wait to see what he found out.
My aunt called that weekend to tell me that my cousin had died of a massive heart attack. We sometime listen to our doctors at our own risk. Her doctor demonstrated his incompetence by not calling in a cardiologist or advising that she report to Emergency immediately.
Though I hate to think about it, doctors that refer patients to other doctors or Emergency without seeing them first, cost their business at least one office visit. If doctors want to think like businessmen, we must join them. My cousin’s mistake was putting her faith in her doctor and allowing him to make decisions about her healthcare for her. Sounds strange, but this isn’t always wise. Each year, three hundred thousand people die of heart attack on the way to Emergency.
I believe this happens because primary doctors often don’t listen to their patients and clogged arteries feeding the heart are not easily detected. Tell a regular doctor you are having chest pains and he might blame it on gas, heartburn, etc.
Tell a cardiologist the same thing and he will most likely want to do an angiogram, which is the only way to be sure. In my opinion, anyone with symptoms they feel might be related to their heart should call a cardiologist immediately. These are one of the few specialists who will find time to see you immediately--sometimes meeting you at Emergency.
After eating a couple shooters (raw oysters) one evening, a man became quite ill and his system became intent upon expelling whatever bug had invaded his system. After a few days of being ill and still running a fever, he checked into Urgent Care.
After he explained his symptoms to the admitting nurse, she told him that the doctor would probably want a stool sample to determine what type bug he had, which sounded like the proper thing to do. The young doctor who saw him was a bit arrogant as he told the man that he probably had the flu, but wasn’t going to prescribe any antibiotics or anything because these medications were being abused, which I happened to agree with.
Instead, he recommended that the man get some over-the-counter medications to deal with the symptoms. Some days later things still hadn’t settled down so, thinking about what the nurse had told him, he called his regular doctor and explained what was going on and asked that she just order a stool sample test at the lab.
A couple days after the test, his doctor called and asked where he had eaten the raw oysters. Antibiotics were prescribed and so it goes. Had the doctor at Urgent Care dispensed with his god-like image of himself and followed his nurses wise advice, his illness would have been diagnosed with a simple inexpensive test.
Can anyone explain why it is that doctors so frequently ignore all these simple diagnostic tests that are available to them? The good news from this story is that when the man doubted his doctor’s opinion, he took it upon himself to follow through.
I was out walking one day and stopped to talk to a neighbor lady. Being I had had what was probably a similar neck surgery, I asked about the light scar near the bottom of her neck. She told me that she had suffered from a ruptured disk that had been repaired.
Anticipating the answer, I asked how long it had taken for doctors to diagnose the problem. She told me that for two years doctors told her she was suffering mental illness and it wasn’t until the problems became quite pronounced that they did an MRI and discovered the ruptured disk. I said, Welcome to the club.
With me it took them three years. Ruptured disks do not always cause pain, but can cause migraine activity, seizures of various severity, visual aberrations, numbness and tingling in extremities, etc.
The main focus of today’s healthcare system is on profit. I was walking at the mall one day when I saw one of my previous doctors that I heard had retired. We stopped and talked for awhile and I told him he was too young to retire and that I would miss him.
He said that he loved practicing medicine, but that the group he belonged to placed too much emphasis on the business and making money, so he quit. There was a time when doctors had their own office and ran their operation, often with the help of one or two nurses--sometimes their wife.
Just as they have done with most other jobs and professions, the businessmen, efficiency experts, and computer system engineers have taken over US healthcare and doctors. On the surface, the theories and logic make sense. In the legal sense, the only time a doctor is practicing medicine is when he is with the patient and trying to help him.
Greeting the patient, moving him to an exam room, fetching his file, checking his vitals, asking what’s bothering him--all this can be done by nurses or clerks, thus ostensibly utilizing the doctor’s skills more efficiently. This all makes sense until one analyzes what has happened to modern doctors’ offices.
A clerk checks you in at the front desk. Her work life consists in sitting at that desk eight hours a day, answering phones and checking in patients. A different clerk or nurse has pulled your file and escorts you to an exam room.
A nurse comes it, takes your vitals, reads on the computer monitor what the front office clerk typed into your file and asks again about your complaints. Prior to entering the exam room, the doctor reviews what the front clerk and nurse have typed into your file and asks again about your problems.
He rarely takes notes, but when he’s finished with you, he goes to the dictating station and dictates his diagnoses and recommendations, etc. This recording goes to a medical transcriptionist who types it into your file. This is a general overview and I’m sure things vary slightly from office to office.
In this scenario, it is easy to see what happens. Several people are involved in your healthcare and have access to your patient files, which they can change without the doctors’ permission.
There are at least four opportunities for error: front clerk, nurse, doctor’s dictation, and transcriptionist. If you pay attention, you will notice that several people in the doctor’s office have authority to make changes to your file.
About six years ago I was checking into my doctor’s office one day and the receptionist said, Are you here about your left shoulder? I said, No, I am here about my right shoulder.
She said, Oh, I’ll change that in the computer. A couple months later I checked into the same office and the receptionist said, Are you here about your left shoulder? I said, No, I thought we fixed that last time. I am here about my right shoulder.
She said, Oh, I’ll fix that so it won’t happen again. What’s the problem with this? We have office clerks changing our patient records on their own. What if I was having memory problems and could not recall which shoulder it was I was seeing the doctor about? I have read about doctors who are banding together and complaining about the modern computerized offices they work in and the chance of errors.
How about the doctors? There was a time when they did much of what the businessmen and efficiency experts call “clerical work.” They checked the patient’s vitals, allowing more time with him. The patient discussed his symptoms with only him so there were no “communication problems.”
They kept handwritten notes that were identifiable as his and that no one else could change. With the help of the businessman, efficiency expert and computer engineers, the doctors is responsible for a bewildering number of patients, for whom he does not have complete control. It is good to know that with “digitized patient records,” many people in the doctor or clinic’s office have access and can make changes. The legal ramifications are very interesting.
One of President Obama’s major initiatives is a “digitized national healthcare record system.” I shudder to think of what it would be like if doctors all over the US had access to all my files, with the misdiagnoses, faulty opinions, and sometimes stupid statements that some doctors might have put there.
I highly recommend that all patients call their doctors’ offices and request copies of their files, required by law. Patients can otherwise go to their doctors’ offices and sit and read their files. While they placed faith in their doctor, they might discover that he wrote that he was faking their symptoms. Or that the patient was just suffering mental illness. There is a legal requirement that patients can fill out forms and comment about what has been written in their file, which becomes part of their record.
Though I’ve been talking about the darker side of medicine here, I do know that most of our doctors are professional, of good character, well educated, and competent. I’d like to close by saying that my current doctors are great and that I feel fortunate to be able to work with them in managing my own health.
Previous articles by Wayne Pierce on Salem-News.com
Wayne was born in a small farm town in California's San Joaquin Valley. At age ten, he moved with his family to San Jose, California, which at the time had a population of 50,000 and was surrounded by orchards--mostly prunes. At age twenty, he joined IBM, one of the first electronic plants that would evolve into what we know today as Silicon Valley. Most of his college education was acquired through part-time classes while sometimes working ten hours a day. Wayne started on the bottom in the magnetic disk manufacturing facility, which produced the large disks for the earlier IBM computer systems. These magnetically coated disks would evolve into what we know today as hard drives. Wayne's last assignment with IBM was setting up their first inkjet printer lab that became what we know today as the Lexmark printer business. After his retirement from IBM, he wrote human interest stories for a small town newspaper.
You can write to Wayne Pierce at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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