Why Too Much Medicine is Making Us Sicker and Poorer
by, Shannon Brownlee
This is a must read for any modern American. Brownlee’s thoughtful research provides a very poignant diagnosis for the pathological misgivings of the US health care system. Through several detailed examples she exposes many of the myths that we have the best health care in the world and demonstrates how the the spiraling costs are a symptomatic result of our belief in the newest technologies, diagnostic equipment, and out of control malpractice system. The premise of the book is best summarized in Brownlee’s own words in the following passage:
“Our relentless search for wellness through medicine has created a kind of therapeutic imperative, the urge to treat every complaint, every deviation from the norm, as a medical condition. We’ve come to believe that if a test can be performed, it should be performed; if a treatment can be used to lengthen life, no matter how incrementally, is should be used, regardless of whether the intervention will improve the patient’s sense of well-being, or is what the patient really wants. Families often tell doctors to “do everything possible” for their elderly and dying loved ones, often without realizing that “doing everything” won’t necessarily stave off death for long but could make the patient’s last few days or weeks more miserable that they might have been.” (206)
There are stories of cardiologists that unnecessarily perform cardiac surgery on patients that would be better off medicated, children diagnosed with depression and ADHD for simply going through the normal difficulties of their teenage years to become placed on medications that cause them to commit suicide, cancer patients who refuse chemotherapy because they desire a dignified passage to death to later be placed on life support against their will. Brownlee also provides a scoping overview of the political changes of the past 30 years that have affected the health care system, driving primary care into oblivion by promoting high paying specialization while managed care insurance plans place limitations on what primary care physicians are permitted to do.
More than once this book caused me to feel a sense of dread and doom because I am afraid that the problems we all know are inherent in our health care system won’t get better until they get progressively worse. As we all know from the past two years of health care debate and the enactment of the Health Care Affordability and Patient Protection Action “Obamacare,” more that 50% of our nation public is vehemently opposed to reform despite the skyrocketing cost of insurance premiums and ballooning cost of diagnostic tests and medications. The truth is that our highly individualize society is unwilling to forgo the most expensive treatment because our culture inherently believes that more is better.
This book caused me personal conflict since my career has been bound to the health care industry. The last ten years I have been working in the pharmaceutical industry and I’ve witnessed countless investments to polish up the manufacture of drugs that have not chemically changed in 15 years, and these high cost investments occur because the FDA expects the most current and practices to be employed at all times, even if it has no affect on the drug itself. All of this cost is pushed to the consumer. Also, as a recent nursing graduate soon entering into a hospital based profession I have been witness to the high cost of care required to have multiple doctors, nurses, physical therapists, dietitians, and social workers all provide overlapping care at high cost to the patient’s insurance plan. It is an interesting industry that I have benefited from, one that may bankrupt our nation.