By Dr. Hoffman
What our country's faltering health care system badly needs is a dose of Intelligent Medicine. A supposed rationale for the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") was that rapidly escalating health care costs threatened to sink our economy. But as the act gets haltingly implemented, the prospects are dimming for promised cost-savings.
What we seem more likely to get is more of the same--expensive care with rationing and fewer choices. Medical costs are escalating because of our continued reliance on high-tech, commercially-profitable medical "fixes". Health care "reform" doesn't seem to be doing much to address this pernicious trend.
Since writing the first edition of How to Talk With Your Doctor, things have only gotten worse for my fellow professionals. The passage of the new health care bill has driven more doctors out of private practice into large, hospital-owned mega-practices. There, more of an assembly-line mentality prevails. Increased overhead costs and falling reimbursement rates will necessitate even more harried schedules, with less room for personalized medicine, or discussion of other than standard treatment options.
Meanwhile, bureaucrats will be busy formulating "guidelines" which will codify medical practices, making it less likely that innovation will flourish. With the advent of EMRs (electronic medical records systems), health practitioners will find their therapeutic choices narrowed to the algorithms displayed on their computer screens.
This is what I sometimes have referred to as "paint-by-numbers medicine". As never before, you as a consumer need to be forearmed, lest you succumb to cookie-cutter care.
Nor is it reassuring that this expensive care is getting us anywhere. A recent survey revealed that avoidable medical errors now represent the third leading cause of death in the United States.
New research conducted by Patient Safety America estimates that 440,000 Americans die annually from preventable hospital mistakes. "We are burying a population the size of Miami every year from medical errors that can be prevented," says Leah Binder, president and CEO of Leapfrog. http://business-news.thestreet.com/philly/story/medical-mistakes-are-the-third-leading-cause-death-the-us/1
At the new www.drhoffman.com I pledge to get you the health information you need to make informed choices.
"All too frequently, what is conveyed about health by many journalists is wrong or misleading."
That's one of the assertions contained in a stirring editorial in the January 1, 2009 New England Journal of Medicine entitled "Communicating Medical News-Pitfalls of Health Care Journalism." http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp0805753
Susan Dentzer, on-air health analyst for PBS News Hour, argues: " . . . a problem that is worsening in this era of the 24/7 news cycle is the frequent failure to put new developments into any kind of reasonable context for readers or viewers. In this environment, reporters become little more than headline readers or conduct interviews that amount to a 'hit and run' version of journalism."
The missing ingredient? Intelligence!
As someone engaged in the daily reporting of health news on my radio show Intelligent Medicine, the Intelligent Medicine podcasts, and via blogs and newsletter articles, Dentzer's provocative op-ed got my attention. If you follow my work, you realize that I'm frequently called upon to do "damage control" and refute the often simplistic and erroneous assertions of mainstream journalists-especially when it comes to supplements and complementary medicine.
Dentzer writes: "Should we present black-and-white versions of reality that lend themselves to stark headlines, rather than grayer complexities that are harder to distill into simple truths? I believe that when journalists ignore complexities or fail to provide context, the public health messages they convey are inevitably inadequate or distorted."
I couldn't agree more. Dentzer cites as an example the reporting surrounding the 2006 Women's Health Initiative Randomized Controlled Dietary Modification trial that concluded that a "low fat" diet produced no benefit in terms of reduced risk of disease in women. The press headlines: "Fat Doesn't Matter for Women's Health!" The implication: "Forget the salad and pass me that bucket of KFC!"
At the time, I drilled down and analyzed the data in the study, and concluded that the researchers were asking the wrong question. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent, and the study did not discriminate between good Omega 3 fats and poor-quality trans-fats; it paid no attention to the glycemic index of carbs that women consumed on their low-fat diets; and it didn't address the salient problem-low-fat diets perpetuated weight gain, insulin-resistance, and sugar-related degenerative diseases. A valuable "teachable moment" opportunity for the American public was wasted.
This happens ALL the time. As when headlines pronounced "St. John's Wort Ineffective in Depression" (In the same study, the popular anti-depressant Zoloft fared no better);
Or when the dailies exulted "Forget Ginkgo Biloba for Memory" (When numerous studies substantiate its benefits in Alzheimer's, and NO conventional drug has equaled it for mild cognitive impairment).
Or when, in 1999, millions of women were panicked by the media, went cold-turkey and stopped their hormone replacement therapy, succumbing en masse to hot flashes and insomnia (Re-analysis of the original Women?s Health Initiative Study showed that estrogen actually REDUCED the incidence of heart disease in younger, healthier women who began HRT in their 50's-and these hormones weren't even bio-identical!)
Mainstream medical journalists have so often been wrong, and we've been there on your behalf to challenge them on such issues as the dangers of commonly-used prescription drugs, paltry, inadequate guidelines for supplements like vitamin D; the low-fat, low cholesterol diet dogma; expensive cancer drugs that barely prolong life with a host of side effects--these are but a few examples!
Instances in which I have had to dispel the cloud of misinformation promulgated by the mainstream media have abounded in past years, and they will continue in 2014 and beyond.
I view my responsibilities as a health journalist very seriously. I have a duty to uncover the truth, however difficult it may be to buck widely held convictions of the medical establishment. My commitment is to you, my patients, listeners, and readers, and I vow to renew that pledge here at www.drhoffman.com as we tackle the complex medical stories that will make headlines in the coming months and years.
Nor will I pull punches when it comes to excesses committed on behalf of alternative medicine. Over-the-top, unscientific claims made by uncritical partisans of natural medicine do our cause untold damage because they undermine the credibility of the entire field, arming skeptics who call what we do "quackery". I promise to unmercifully "call 'em as I see 'em" when it comes to exposing out-sized pitches made by zealots or hucksters.
In addition to my own opinions, my vision for www.drhoffman.com is to curate high-quality content from some of the best clinicians and writers in the field of integrative medicine. You'll see contributions from established, marquis names and rising stars alike. We hope you will benefit from their diverse perspectives.
A word about politics. It is not my intent to impose my political views upon you. Followers of Intelligent Medicine comprise the entire gamut of political orientations, from the Progressive Left to the Libertarian Right.
What they share is an interest in maintaining the safety of our food, water and air; a belief in freedom of choice in medicine; a preference for low-tech natural choices when it comes to health care; and a critical perspective on the status quo.
It is sometimes said that "All politics are local" and when it comes to our "neighborhood", we want to create a Health Zone that preserves access to the supplements, healthful foods, clean environments, and innovative health practitioners who deliver results for us and our families.
Therefore, whenever the integrity of our health care system is under attack by wrong-headed politicians, bureaucrats, or greedy corporations, count on me to sound the alarm. Intelligent Medicine offers a "big-tent" that transcends narrow political party labels.
www.Drhoffman.com will soon be re-positioned to fully leverage all the advantages of the most up-to-date website design and social media to deliver you the health news you need in a convenient mix of formats. I invite you to bookmark us and visit frequently to access all of our freshly-sourced Intelligent Medicine content.