Fighting the Medical Wars
JC Smith, MA, DC
After twenty years on the frontline fighting in the trenches in the medical wars, I feel like a weathered “leatherneck” Marine veteran, scarred from too many battles, emotionally drained contending with medical mistakes and misinformation, and physically hurting with a sore shoulder, a bad low back, and carpal tunnel syndrome after giving over a million spinal adjustments. Indeed, it’s tough being a chiropractor for many reasons.
Until I entered the medical wars, I never realized how ferocious and corrupt the medical profession actually was. As President Clinton mentioned when he initiated his Health Care Reform Act, the medical profession is laced with too much greed, too much fraud and too much indifference—indeed, the national average of a 28 second consultation speaks for itself. People thought he was mistaken, but for those of us on the cutting edge interfacing with the medical profession, he probably understated the truth. He also omitted that the medical society was also monopolistic and tyrannical, concepts that he too was unwilling to admit in our so-called free enterprise system.
I know this sentiment makes most people flinch whenever they hear criticism of the medical lords and high priests, as the late Dr. Robert Mendelsohn once described in his book, “Confessions of a Medical Heretic.” Too many positive TV programs have mistakenly depicted MDs as heroes—the Marcus Welby imagery. After all, Dr. Welby never misdiagnosed, never mistreated, never misinformed, never lost a patient, had a wonderful bedside manner, and most always cured the patient. Fantasy yes; reality no.
This fantasy still exists in the minds of most Americans who ignore the real facts of medical care. For instance, aside from the 100,000 or more patients who will die this year from adverse drug reactions, experts also admit that 3,000 patients die each week from medical mistakes—drug reactions and botched surgeries—in hospitals, all brought to you at a cost over one trillion dollars. Yet, nothing is said to warn the public. I imagine the press believes it unimportant or inevitable, believing the old medical excuse—“The operation was a success, but the patient died, and here’s a bill for $60,000.” This is exactly what I was told after my father died from an unnecessary and ineffective heart bypass surgery.
Reportedly, over 80-90% of the medical expenses people will incur during their lives will be during their last few months on Earth. For example, the husband of a long-time patient of mine recently passed away from leukemia. They both knew he was dying, but during his last 25 days spent in the hospital, the doctors kept assuring the wife that there was a chance a “new test” and another “specialist” just might help save her husband. She told me they made her feel guilty if she didn’t agree to their recommendations, so she relinquished and agreed. She admitted that they both knew he was dying, but the pressure from her MDs was very intimidating.
Well, after 25 days in the hospital, numerous tests and specialists, he died anyway. Not only was that traumatic for her, but when she got the hospital bill, she was shocked again. Can you guess what 25 days in the hospital cost? Take a guess–$30,000, $40,000 or how about $60,000? Try again, because her bill was $205,000. She admitted to me that it was a waste because he was dying and there was nothing anyone could have done, but playing on her emotions and hope, the MDs were able to bilk her insurance for this incredible sum.
To make matters worse, she later got another bill for only $125. She phoned the hospital, asking what it was for. The billing clerk told her that her husband’s body wasn’t removed by 11:00 PM, so she was charged for another day in the hospital room. She asked her, “Now who’s responsibility was that? Was I supposed to remove my husband’s body too?” Talk about pouring salt into a wound!
The medical wars continue, pillaging the poor folks who come into the path of the medical mercenaries. This example is just one of millions every year who fall prey to unscrupulous MDs and hospital administrators who knowingly exploit unsuspecting patients, playing on their last remnants of hope, or until their patience or insurance runs out. Chilling, isn’t it, that supposedly “ethical” professionals rip-off patients, allthewhile laughing all the way to the bank. A classical example of too much, too late, too costly and to no avail!
Another interesting medical battle anecdote occurred when an empowered, educated patient of mine went in for a mammogram. While waiting her turn in the x-ray department, she encountered a young man suffering with a back problem. Here’s her email message to me about him.
“There was a young man, maybe in his thirties, in there talking to the anesthesiologist before me and I could hear them. He is going in next week for back surgery for a slipped or possibly ruptured disk! I heard t them tell him that in the future he may have to have his spine fused together if it collapsed. Well, he went on down to the x-ray department and then I went down there and we were in the waiting room together and I asked him if he had tried chiropractic first. He said that he didn’t “believe” in it! I told him it wasn’t a religion and he didn’t have to believe in it, but if he would at least go by your office and pick up some materials about the FACTS about back surgery and how the US Public Health Service doesn’t even recommend it, then maybe he could save himself a lot of pain and money. I gave him your phone number and address but who knows if he will follow through, but I felt good about at least trying.”
Another unsuspecting medical victim about to undergo a most probable unnecessary back surgery—to hell with the AHCPR guideline. Even though my empowered patient tried to inform him of his options, his closed mind will keep him from hearing the truth. And, of course, his MDs would never give him information of his options, instead opting for the “voodoo” diagnosis—“If you’re dumb enough to go to a quack to let him crack you and he paralyzes you, don’t come crawling back to me.” Enough said, patient conned, and surgeon makes a bundle.
Whether it’s an unnecessary back surgery, heart bypass, hysterectomy or any of the many surgeries that ethical medical professionals and governmental agencies deem unnecessary, the victims of the medical predators continue to accumulate. There’s just too much medical propaganda, too much systematic discrimination against “alternative” providers, too much greed by insurance companies (“Squeeze care to expand profits”), and too much ignorance among the public (“I don’t believe in chiropractic”). Even when writers like Lynn Payer, author of “Disease Mongers,” or Howard Wolinski, author of “Serpent on the Staff,” expose this corruption, it generally falls on deaf ears, equivalent to religious heretics before the Reformation warning people of the pitfalls and abuses of the Church.
Without a public platform, the chiropractic profession remains enigmatic to the public and press. The medical misinformers have so ingrained themselves as the only experts on all health matters that all chiropractic dissidents are invalidated automatically. The typical media spin on chiropractic always takes the medical perspective of skepticism and ridicule, or so it seems. For example, after the AHCPR guideline on low back pain was released, The Today Show featured Dr. Art Ulene presenting this report. After he detailed the findings accurately, the host, Matt Lauer, concluded that “So, if you have a back problem, then you should see a chiropractor first.” “Oh, no,” said Ulene, “I would never recommend a chiropractor. Go see an osteopath instead.”
In one fell swoop, Ulene invalidated our profession in the minds of millions of viewers. I wrote an angry letter to Ulene to vent my frustration, asking him why he couldn’t give credit where credit is due. I explained that if spinal manipulative therapy had been left in the hands of osteopaths, it would be a lost art today. I told him it was the courage of chiropractors taking pot shots across their bows from medical detractors that saved this healing art. After the US Public Health Service finally concluded in their definitive study that SMT was preferable to drugs or surgery, why couldn’t he acknowledge that? Of course, I received no reply. His goal was accomplished—invalidate the damn chiropractors and distort the truth to save the medical monopoly. Ugh!
Just when was the last time any DC was on a national talk show telling our side of the issues? I can’t remember ever hearing an articulate DC like Jerry McAndrews or Lou Sportelli giving our side of the story on a national television program. Instead, I see MDs relating to the public about chiropractic or alternative health care, which is equivalent to a Republican giving the Democratic agenda without any feedback from the other side. Or, we have seen the fringe DCs who embarrass us all with their pandering and antics—free spinal exams, chiropractic hyperbole to cure everyone of everything, or the classic Money Hum. The typical media spin when it comes to chiropractic has little to do with our good results as much as it embellishes these fringe elements. Biased reporting, but standard for the medically-minded media, and it all leaves mainstream chiropractic with another black-eye. I wonder when the media will ever present a program showing the many patients saved from back surgery or helped with their visceral health problems, but I’m not holding my breath because it doesn’t make for sensational copy. The Money Hum is just too enticing for the press to ignore.
Until the chiropractic profession is able to find a spokesperson, and preferably someone who has fought in the medical wars, we will remain the mystery science profession. Until our public relations includes a real-live spokesperson on national television, we will remain enigmatic to the public. Until we have our position presented by an articulate spokesperson, the public will remain victims of the medical wars. Just when will this profession go on the offensive instead of fighting defensive battles as we now are with the HCFA case? When will the ACA develop a proactive PR plan to put our agenda in front of the public by getting someone on national TV? Otherwise, the medical war will continue and we’ll continue to be small revolutionaries fighting battles, losing ground, watching as more Americans become victims of medical mercenaries. Just when will this tide change, and what will it take? I’m all ears.