A Little Common Sense Beats Too Much Health Care

In today’s Los Angeles Times, there were three articles with a common theme: too many people are being sold medical tests and procedures that do not promote better health.
In the first Times article, we learn there are 220,000 bariatric surgeries performed a year. Originally it was hoped that, by undergoing this drastic procedure, people might be spared from obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and arthritis. Alas, the ongoing medical expenses for these post-bariatric patients has been found to be the same as for those who opted not to have the surgery.

In another article, the practice of screening mammograms is examined. There are too many false positive tests, and 25 to 45% of all women who get screening mammograms will face a false positive test in the course of a ten-year period. Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, the author of “Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health,” points out that the persuasive messages women are subjected to (“Get screened, it might save a life!”) overstate the benefits of mammograms without informing anyone of the risks. These risks involve unnecessary radiation, biopsies, and chemotherapy. I get burned up when my health care provider tries to cajole me into a procedure which I don’t need at the moment. It’s almost un-American not to get overly sentimental about this subject. I would much rather receive a handout informing me that a good way to prevent breast cancer is to eat a plant-based diet, than be subjected to ionizing radiation, which is known to cause cell mutation.

The third article today reports that a coalition of seventeen leading medical societies has come up with a list of 100 medical procedures, tests, and therapies they consider to be overused, wasteful, or even dangerous. They estimate that about 30% of our health care dollars are wasted in this way. What’s thirty percent? 750 billion dollars a year.

All of us make lifestyle choices that affect our health. Recently, a young mom I know reported that, as soon as her son’s school party was over, she rushed him to the doctor, and he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Antibiotics in hand, she was confident that the tough little guy would be back in the saddle soon, since Little League opening day ceremonies were in a few days. I was puzzled by this and just want to know why the kid couldn’t have stayed home and rested when he first fell ill. Perhaps pneumonia would not have set in. A warm bed and a bowl of soup is all it might have taken.

In a similar story, I had a healthy young woman come in to my office recently. Many well-meaning friends had urged her to see a medical doctor, because she was having pain in her chest. What she had was a rib out of place, and a two-minute chiropractic adjustment left her feeling much better. I am glad it wasn’t necessary for her to get a chest x-ray, an electrocardiogram, maybe even an angiogram, just because her friends thought she should. Medical tests are not without expenses, risks and side effects. People, let’s encourage our friends and family to use common sense first, and medical care only when necessary.

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