Given the enormous amount of money that is spent on our health care system and the research that has gone into the various diseases we would be excused if we think that there should be able to trust our health care system to deliver quality health care. Sadly, our Western health care system falls well short of what is desired. Instead of healing and health it largely delivers suffering and further disease. Mendelssohn as far back as 1979 (and he wasn't the first to suggest it) considers that the public has been 'conned' about the benefits delivered by 'scientific medicine'. There is a great deal of myth that surrounds our current system.
A part of the myth is that medical practice has produced an overall increase in health in the past one hundred years. However, historical analysis has found that general improvements in social and environmental conditions provide a more adequate explanation of the changes than the rise of 'scientific medicine'. Factors such as the improvement in diet and nutrition, sanitation and improved general living conditions have made the greatest difference.
Hospitals are deadly. Mistakes/errors, accidents, infections, medical drug disasters, diagnostic equipment including; X-rays, ultrasounds and mammograms make hospitals very dangerous. Hard technology has taken over the central role in modern medicine as it is considered effective and efficient. This has however been questioned. It is considered uneconomic and it also causes an unnecessary amount of pain and suffering. Accidents in hospitals now occur more frequently than in any other industry except mining and high rise construction. In addition to this are the medical doctor caused diseases. They are so common that they have their own name - iatrogenesis. Again the general public is unaware of how common this disease is. All told, iatrogenesis accounts for 784,000 deaths each year in the United States - more American deaths than all the wars of the 20th century combined. 98,000 deaths a year are caused by medical errors alone, and surgical errors account for another 32,000 deaths. These figures include only deaths. Officials admit that medical errors are reported in official data only 5 percent of the time, so the problem is much greater - exactly how much greater, no one really knows.
Research carried out in Australia showed that the equivalent of a jumbo jet load of people died unnecessarily died each week in Australia because of medical interventions - this information was contained in an official Health Department report. It was substantially hushed up - because of the potential impact of the information on the general public! We talk about and work to reduce road accidents and we 'ground' airplanes that are shown to have faults - but the general public is generally unaware of the risks that they take when they come under the care of the medical health care system.
Apart from accidents and medical mistakes adverse drug reactions and infections account for many of the incidences of iatrogenesis. Adverse drug reactions are very common. Some of these reactions can be minor but they can also be deadly. There are five main groups into which these adverse reactions can be placed. Those that:
- adversely affect the blood cells,
- cause toxicity in the liver,
- damage the kidneys,
- affect the skin, and
- affect the unborn baby.
The hazardous side effects listed here do not include allergic reactions or medication errors, but rather the effects of the drugs themselves. Out of the 2.2 million cases of serious adverse reactions to drugs each year, authorities have listed four types of drugs as being the worst offenders for adverse reactions. These are antibiotics (17%), cardiovascular drugs (17%), chemotherapy drugs (15%), analgesics/anti-inflammatory drugs (15%). 198 drugs were approved by the FDA from1976 through 1985 and over 50 percent had serious post-approval reactions. Many adverse reactions were discovered during clinical trials and were covered up by pharmaceutical manufacturers in order to get FDA approval. The FDA is also far from blame free when it comes to giving approval for drugs that have serious reactions. The whole drug approval process has many problems and cannot be relied upon to protect the public from dangerous drugs.
Antibiotics are no longer working on many extremely dangerous bacteria or they only work in doses that that cause serious side effects. The development of these antibiotic resistant 'superbugs' is in the order of a crisis. In the years following the introduction of antibiotics they were (and still are) used for the treatment of common colds and flu and other complaints. Antibiotics, such as tetracycline were used (and still are) over long periods of time for the treatment of acne. Ampicillin and bactrim were used for the wrong reasons and there has been a reliance on antibiotics to treat recurrent bladder infections, chronic ear infections, chronic sinusitis, chronic bronchitis and non-bacterial sore throats. The UK office of health Economics in 1997 (cited in Chaitow) reported the following statistics:
· 5,000 people are being killed every year (in UK hospitals alone) by infections that they caught in hospital.
· A further 15,000 deaths are being contributed to by the infections that they caught in hospital.
· One in 16 patients who goes to hospital for anything will develop a 'hospital acquired infection'.
· Many of the infections acquired involve the difficult to treat 'superbugs'.
· USA figures published more than a decade ago show that 1 in 10 patients develops an infection that they caught in hospital - this involves around 2.5 million people every year.
· Every year 20,000 of these people die from their infections and the deaths of a further 60,000 are contributed to by the hospital acquired infection - a large number of these involve antibiotic resistant 'superbugs'.
The current approach of our health care system is ineffective and can potentially cause more harm and damage than the original condition. Although undoubtedly many lives have been saved by timely medical intervention much medical intervention is unnecessary and alternatives, which don't cause the same devastation, are available. Everyone needs to consider the way they interact with the medical system. Try to avoid the health care system if you can and certainly question your medical practitioner very carefully about any intervention they wish to make. Many will not like this questioning and just want to be seen as the 'all knowing, all wise doctor' - but this they are not! Do not be conned and do not buy into myths about the medical profession and health care.
Having said this it is important that if you are currently taking medication that you don't suddenly stop. Seek information, discover alternatives and discuss changing you approach to health care with a health professional. If your current medical practitioner is uninformed about alternatives (as many are) or unwilling to discuss these with you (as many are) then you may need to seek a different health professional who is prepared to help you improve your health rather than just use medical drug prescriptions or surgery!