Op Success, Patient Died


“The Operation Was a Success, But the Patient Died”

(and here’s a bill for $50,000)

 Today the Clinton Administration announced it would convene a task force to investigate ways to decrease the 100,000 deaths annually from medical mistakes. The television news reports about this seem to have focused on two issues—poor penmanship by doctors and drug names that are too similar. While these are undoubtedly minor problems, they certainly are not the root cause of the vast majority of medical deaths.

The root cause of these deaths rests principally with the profit motive in medicine. As yet, no one has suggested that the obscene fees and unbridled greed of many surgeons and hospitals are the real motives that drive this enormous problem. If medical writers are accurate when they say that 78-90% of all surgeries are unnecessary, this cannot be ignored. Even the AHCPR guideline on LBP mentioned that “Surgery has been found to be helpful in only one in 100 cases of low back problems.” Yet back surgeries continue to increase, and the US does five times more than any other country. Is it coincidental that the profit motive in healthcare only exists today in the US?

While the figure of 100,000 deaths is no doubt a low-ball estimate since many mistakes/deaths are misdiagnosed and not reported for fear of lawsuits, this figure would decrease greatly if the huge monies weren’t involved. Supposedly, when European countries socialized their medical care, surgeries dropped to a 10 percent level. As the late Dr. Robert Mendelsohn once wrote, “The reason there are 90% too many surgeries is because there are 90% too many surgeons.”

Yet the medical cartel isn’t interested in a 90 percent drop in surgeries in this country. Imagine if this were to occur—not only would there be a lot of surgeons selling stocks and bonds instead, hospitals would suffer, suppliers/druggists would suffer, and a huge dent would occur in the healthcare expenses. Not only would the medical men suffer, but the insurance industry would too. As I was told, “If we pay out more, we can charge more in premiums, so there’s more money for everyone.”

The perverse motivation within the medical cartel to do more surgeries, not less, is the underlying problem facing these iatrogenic deaths from medical mistakes. As long as the profit motive is alive and well, there will never be any reform to lower these rates. Even if MDs took penmanship courses to improve their handwriting, it would do little to stop this trend. One solution is to take the huge profits out of medicine by socializing this expensive segment of our economy. Another solution is to implement guidelines which recommend non-surgical/drug treatments such as chiropractic care for the epidemic of low back pain or chelation therapy in lieu of bypass surgeries.

But as long as the perverse profit motive exists in healthcare, none of these AHCPR recommendations will be implemented. Presently patients are still denied their right to informed consent in these matters—they are not told of alternatives to medical care as the law prescribes. Hospitals still deny patients access to alternative providers by virtue of their discriminatory delegation of hospital privileges. Insurance companies frown on chiropractic care because it’s too cheap. Until these perverse motivations are somehow changed, we will only get more of the same—too many unnecessary and ineffective surgeries leading to too many deaths and disabled victims.

As the late, great psychologist, AH Maslow, once said, “If your only tool is a hammer, everyone looks like a nail.” Americans have been nailed for decades now with the quick-fix promises of surgery. Now it’s becoming obvious that this mentality has lead to huge profits for the medical cartel and thousands, if not millions, of unnecessary surgeries and deaths in this country. Although Clinton’s task force may be well-intended, it will meet the same resistance as his Health Care Reform Act that was sabotaged by the same medical cartel. Indeed, the medical men have a very large hammer, and they’ve been successful in nailing anyone who stands in their way to making money.