Less is More, Mainstream Goes Alternative by Jeffrey Dach MD
Posted May 12 2010 4:02am
Less is More,
Mainstream Medicine Goes Alternative
by Jeffrey Dach MD
Appearing with little fanfare in the media, Dr. Deborah Grady's editorial in the May 10 Annals of Internal Medicine proclaimed a shocking "medical heresy", that less health care is better than more health care.(1) US Health care is generally assumed and expected to be beneficial, yet when outcomes are measured, studies show that more health care equates with worse outcomes, not better. (2,3) This revelation isn't new, and is actually old news, like a worn and familiar piece of old clothing. The real news is that this "medical heresy" in now appearing in a mainstream medical journal. Are mainstream doctors getting fed up? Is Mainstream going Alternative?
Above left image: President Obama Signs the Health Care Reform Bill, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Harmful Medical Care Examples
Dr Grady cites specific examples of treatments that result in harm, with adverse effects outweighing the benefits. The first example is synthetic "monster" hormone therapy used by the mainstream medical system, which was found to cause cancer and heart disease in the famous 2002 Women's Health Initiative study. (4) It seems incredible, but true. The mainstream medical system used Synthetic "monster" hormones for years until the WHI (Women's Health Initiative) study finally convinced millions of women to switch to safer and more effective bioidentical human hormones. My previous articles on the safety and importance of bioidentical hormones discusses this at length. (5)(6)
Above Left mage: Courtesy of Deborah Grady MD
Dr Grady's second example is the discredited practice of arthroscopic surgery for osteoarthritis. Millions of these useless procedures were performed in the late 90's until it was abandoned after randomized trials showed no benefit.(7) My previous article on the placebo effect discussed this.(8)
A third example is the case of SSRI antidepressant drugs which have little benefit for patients with mild to moderate depression, similar to the benefit of placebo.(9) Dr. Grady points out that we now know that in patients with mild depression, the known adverse effects of SSRI antidepressants clearly outweigh the benefits. My previous articles discussed this.(10)
A Fourth example is screening mammography. "The adverse effects of mammography—false-positive findings, biopsies, anxiety, and overdiagnosis and treatment of latent cancers may overwhelm the benefit." (11) My previous articles on screening mammography discuss this.(12)
Dr Grady's final example is the over-use and misuse of antacid drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPI's), which have serious adverse effects of increased rates of fractures, Clostridium difficile infection, and increased risk of pneumonia. (13-18) I discussed the harms and benefits of acid blocker drugs in a previous article. (19)
Reducing Medical Care Opposed as "Rationing"
Dr Grady reminds us that the term "rationing" is frequently misused and abused in health care debates. In politics, those who want more health care oppose those who propose less health care. Less health care is called "rationing", a term originating in the wartime practice of rationing food, fuel and other scarce goods, and services, and may not apply to over use of health services which causes harm rather than benefit.
A False Hope - Bone Marrow Transplantation for Breast Cancer
A perfect example of misuse of the term "rationing' is the discredited bone marrow transplantation for breast cancer. Starting in the 1980's, thousands of procedures were done costing up to 400,000 dollars each. While many women stricken with advanced illness clamored for the "lifesaving" procedure, their health insurance companies balked at paying for an experimental and unproven treatment. A media and legal campaign ensued claiming the insurance companies were cruel tyrants withholding or "rationing" a "lifesaving" treatment. After a couple of decades of harming thousands of severely ill women, medical studies were eventually done, and these showed the procedure had no merit, causing it to be discredited and abandoned. This incredible story can be found in an article by Nicholas Gonzalez MD , and in a book, False Hope . (20-22)
The Solution: Less Health Care
When the health care system is dominated and corrupted by huge corporations that place profit over people, the end result is a health care system that produces more harm than good. Hence, the sage old doctor's advice, Doing Nothing , is frequently the best treatment plan, and one mentioned by my medical school advisor Dr Neil Kurtzman in his first novel.(23)
Above Left Image: Courtesy of Neil Kurtzamn MD
Credit and Thanks to Deborah Grady MD for much of the material for this article. (24)
(2) http://www.annals.org/content/138/4/288.abstract Fisher ES, Wennberg DE, Stukel TA, Gottlieb DJ, Lucas FL, Pinder EL. The implications of regional variations in Medicare spending, part 2: health outcomes and satisfaction with care. Ann Intern Med. 2003;138(4):288-298.
(3) http://www.annals.org/content/138/4/273.abstract Fisher ES, Wennberg DE, Stukel TA, Gottlieb DJ, Lucas FL, Pinder EL. The implications of regional variations in Medicare spending, part 1: the content, quality, and accessibility of care. Ann Intern Med. 2003;138(4):273-287.
(4) http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/288/3/321 Rossouw JE, Anderson GL, Prentice RL; et al, Writing Group for the Women's Health Initiative Investigators. Risks and benefits of estrogen plus progestin in healthy postmenopausal women: principal results from the Women's Health Initiative randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2002;288(3):321-333.
(13) http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/170/9/765 9. Gray SL, LaCroix AZ, Larson J; et al. Proton pump inhibitor use, hip fracture, and change in bone mineral density in postmenopausal women: results from the Women's Health Initiative. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(9):765-771. FREE FULL TEXT
Neil A Kurtzman MD is the Grover E Murray Professor and University Distinguished Professor, Department of Internal Medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock. He has combined careers in clinical medicine, education, basic research, and administration for more than 30 years. Dr Kurtzman was my research advisor in medical school.
Deborah Grady, MD, MPH is Professor of Medicine, Associate Dean for Clinical and Translational Research and Director of the UCSF Women's Health Clinical Research Center. Dr. Grady is an international expert on menopause and the risks and benefits of postmenopausal hormone therapy. Dr. Grady has trained and mentored over 40 young researchers interested in women's health and received the Chancellor's Award for the Advancement of Women and the UCSF Mentor of the Year award.
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