Medical health providers tell us that people with more health-care options live longer, healthier lives. Drug companies claim that pharmaceuticals can do wonders for people—calm your children, end your depression, lower your cholesterol.
Is it true?
If the people manning the hospitals and doling out the drugs are right, where are all the healthy medicated customers?
Americans pay an estimated 2 times more per person than people in the country with the next-most-expensive health care. Why, then, do studies show that Americans have worse health and lower life expectancies than those in many other industrialized nations like Greece, Spain, Austria, France and Germany?
That is the paradox of modern medicine in the United States: General health continues to deteriorate, even as Americans spend more money than ever before to become healthy.
Still, people’s faith in the medical system remains steadfast.
Soaring Medical Costs
Recent government studies show that, given soaring medical costs, within a decade Americans will be spending an unbelievable one fifth of all their dollars on health care. Analysts see “no end to increases in the cost of going to the doctor and taking medicine” (Associated Press, February 21). In fact, the cost of medical care is projected to rise 7.2 percent each year—a rate far above the government’s official inflation readings.
Already Americans spend more than 16 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product on health care. In 2004 alone, that was $2 trillion. If the estimates are correct, by 2030 America will be spending a third of its national output on medical care—by mid-century, the proportion will have risen to 46 percent.
Such exorbitant health spending is obviously unsustainable. At those levels, just providing health services for the nation’s elderly, disabled and poor would require massive tax increases—probably on the order of doubling them—or vast reductions in services.
Even at current expenditure levels, many American companies are in crisis situations. At General Motors Corp., for example, leaders cite skyrocketing health-care costs, which add approximately $1,500 to the price of each vehicle, as a major reason they are in such financial trouble. The American auto industry spends more money on health care than on steel.
Individuals also feel the pain of health-care costs. A survey published by Harvard Medical and Law School estimated that in 2005 almost 700,000 bankruptcies—half the total number that occurred that year—were filed because of costs relating to illnesses. Even people with health insurance are struggling to pay medical costs: A 2005 Commonwealth Fund report found that of the 77 million Americans straining to pay their medical debts, almost two thirds have some form of health insurance.
But is all the money Americans throw into health care producing the improved health they yearn for?
Despite all the new drugs and treatments, degenerative illnesses are at epidemic levels. Cancer, heart disease and stroke kill 1.4 million Americans per year. The American Legacy Foundation largely blames poor lifestyles choices, pointing out that, in 2000, 81 million Americans were smokers, obese, or both. In 2004 alone, an estimated 1.37 million—3,748 people a day—were diagnosed with cancer. (Consequently, cancer drug sales are soaring. America’s second-largest biotechnology company, Genentech, reported that during the first quarter of this year sales of its cancer drugs Avastin, Herceptin and Tarceva rose 96, 123 and 94 percent respectively.)
Among young adults, a segment of the population usually thought of as being healthy, sharp increases in many illnesses have been noted. Even our children are becoming unhealthy. One third of U.S. children are either overweight or obese; one in four children between ages 5 and 10 show early signs of heart disease. Type-2 diabetes, a condition normally only found in adults, is on the rise in children.
These massive health crises continue to grow even as use of drugs and medical treatments expands. That does not necessarily mean modern medicine causes the problems—but it certainly is not solving them, and often exacerbates them.
Medical Facts and Consensus Absent
In 19th-century Europe, if you had the misfortune to become ill, chances are you would have had one of the most common treatments of the day: having your blood sucked out by leeches. Leech-bloodletting treatment, a practice whose roots go back 2,500 years to ancient Egypt, was used to treat everything from headaches to mental illnesses. Leeches were used to supposedly cure obesity, hemorrhoids, laryngitis, and even eye disorders. Bloodletting was so universally accepted that France imported over 33 million leeches in 1827.
Later, when medical practitioners actually tested the practice of leech-bloodletting, they found that it did absolutely no good and actually harmed people.
Today, most patients would expect medicine to be based upon hard scientific evidence. Yet, almost 200 years later, medicine is a cauldron filled to the brim with popular treatments that have been debunked by evidence. “The problem is that we don’t know what we are doing,” says Dr. David Eddy, a heart surgeon-turned-mathematician and health-care economist who is confronting and exposing the oft non-science-based medical industry (Business Week, May 29). What is required is an “evidence-based medicine” revolution, he says.
According to Business Week, “Even today, with a high-tech health-care system that costs the nation $2 trillion a year, there is little or no evidence that many widely used treatments and procedures actually work ….” Most people would probably be shocked if they knew how many treatments have no scientific proof that they actually help patients. “We don’t have the evidence [that treatments work] and we are not investing very much in getting the evidence,” says the executive vice president of the Commonwealth Fund, Dr. Stephen C. Schoenbaum. Dr. Nelda Wray, research chief at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, worries that “the majority of surgery we do for symptom relief is only effective because of the placebo effect—with significant potential of harming the patient” (Forbes.com, Oct. 27, 2003).
Despite the evidence, much of the medical establishment is either ignorant and apathetic, or it willfully refuses to accept that its guesswork has been shot down.
According to Dr. Eddy, who has spent much of his controversial career proving that the practice of medicine is more conjectural than scientific, only 15 percent of physicians’ decisions are supported by solid evidence. Other doctors and health-care-quality experts who have endorsed Eddy’s work say the percentage of medical treatments that have been proven effective is shockingly low, citing figures between 20 to 25 percent.
Stated another way, you must take the benefits of 75 to 80 percent of any medications, surgeries or treatments your doctor recommends on faith alone, because there is no solid proof showing their effectiveness. In fact, most drugs have negative side effects, so the treatments being prescribed may actually harm you in another way—and possibly even more seriously.
Dr. Eddy has exposed many of medicine’s sacred doctrines to be false. For example, he traced the common practice of preventing women from giving birth vaginally if they have had a previous cesarean to the recommendation of just one doctor. He proved that most doctors were mostly oblivious about the success rates of various procedures, such as surgery for enlarged prostates. Against many doctors’ objections, Eddy also proved that the annual chest X-ray that many doctors make significant money from actually shows nothing helpful.
One of the problems with today’s medical practice is that doctors decide how to treat patients based upon inherited traditions, using their best human judgment as opposed to proof, says Eddy. His work shows that medical establishment rules and judgments are not necessarily right and that medicine makes “decisions with an entirely different method from what we would call rational” (Business Week, op. cit.).
To prove how “woefully outmatched” doctor judgment is “by the complexities of medicine,” and to show how many cherished beliefs are uncertain, Eddy conducted public surveys and lectures at medical society meetings. At these seminars, Eddy would commonly ask doctors to think of a representative patient with an illness and a typical treatment. He would then ask the doctors to write down the outcome of the treatment.
At one urologist society gathering, doctors were asked what the odds were that a man after having corrective surgery would be able to urinate normally. Amazingly there was no agreement among the doctors’ predictions. Even though “[a]ll the doctors were trying to estimate the same thing … they all gave different numbers,” and there wasn’t even any clear trend, with predictions of success ranging from zero to 100 percent (ibid.).
Unfortunately, as Eddy points out, that kind of doctor confusion is typical. “A lot of things we absolutely believe at the moment based on our intuition are ultimately absolutely wrong,” said Dr. Paul Wallace of the Care Management Institute (ibid.).
Professional preference and tradition as the prescription of the day is all too common for the medical establishment. In fact, “Your chances of undergoing a particular operation can vary vastly from one zip code to another, fluctuating by as much as tenfold” (Forbes.com, op. cit.). Dr. Gary Kirsh at the Urology Group in Cincinnati says, “Because there are no definitive answers, you are at the whim of where you are and who you talk to” (Business Week, op. cit.). Kirsh readily admits that he performs many brachytherapies—implanting small radioactive rods directly into cancer in an effort to kill the cells. But, he says, “[I]f you drive 1 _ hours down the road to Indianapolis, there is almost no brachytherapy.” If you were to seek treatment in Loma Linda, California, where in 1990 the first proton beam machine was installed, the odds are you will be treated with proton beam therapy. Go to a surgeon and he will probably recommend surgery, go to a chemotherapist and you will likely get chemotherapy treatment.
Which of these procedures works best? Clearly these doctors have no idea.
Why No Hard Evidence?
With the many advances in science and technology, one may wonder why so many treatments are not based on proven facts.
One reason is that generating information is time-consuming and expensive. Clinical trials can take years and cost multiple millions of dollars. Additionally, by the time results are found, science and medical industries may have already moved on, making the study less relevant, and few organizations are motivated to fund studies that draw little attention. Explaining why hospitals implement new technologies before they have been fully proven, Giridhar Venkatraman, director of surgical services with consulting firm Sg2, says, “By the time research has validated the outcomes, it’s often too late to implement it and get the return on investment” (Modern Healthcare, February 13).
In America, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported in July 2005 that nearly a third of all clinical research produces conclusions that are later refuted and rejected. Additionally, many doctors don’t even have an efficient way of accessing the information. “Most patients assume that their doctors know what research has been done, and if they realized what a tortuous maze it is to get the research to the point of clinicians making the decisions, they would probably be horrified,” says Chris del Mar, dean of Bond University’s Faculty of Health Science and Medicine in Australia (Weekend Australian, June 3).
Del Mar also says that the time required to search for evidence, knowing the right questions to ask, then determining how reliable the answers are, plus understanding how they apply to the patient, are all big barriers for busy doctors trying to help as many people as possible.
Conflicts of Interest
While there are some arguably legitimate factors involved, there is another, more insidious side to why so many unproven treatments and procedures are performed: greed. It seems to exist at all levels within the health-care system. Doctors, drug manufacturers, medical device makers, hospitals (and even governmental regulators) all have one thing in common: “enormous financial incentives to provide more and more care,” even without proof that the care is the most effective—or even that it helps at all (Business Week, op. cit.).
Part of the problem is that many doctors hold both professional and financial interests in the treatments they offer. This may explain why some doctors are reluctant to change their ways, even when common medical practices are proved faulty. Some even lobby Congress to squash funding for studies that may prove their professional beliefs and treatments to be in error. As a result, Congress sometimes slashes funding or halts government-financed research on controversial issues. Dr. Joe Thompson, health adviser to Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, says the federal government Agency for Health Care Policy and Research “often” has its budget targeted by self-interest groups (ibid.).
“There is no question that the economic interests of the physician enter into the decision” process, says Dr. Kirsh (ibid.). Doctors often get paid based upon the number of patients they see. “I can see three patients with acute needs every 15 minutes,” says Texan doctor Melissa Gerdes, who says she is doing her best to make herself available to more clients (New York Times, June 24). Surgeons too are paid according to the number of people they operate on. If a surgeon recommends waiting or other alternatives as opposed to cutting, his take-home pay drops.
“Conflict of interest is hard to rule out,” especially when “[y]ou get paid for operating and not paid for not operating,” says Dr. Jack Paradise, a professor of pediatrics and otolaryngology at the Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
But there is an even greater conflict of interest relating to pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers.
Pharmaceutical companies are known for spending billions wooing doctors with free samples, lavish gifts, and trips under the guise of promoting better products or furthering education. Last year, the pharmaceutical industry spent $60 billion on drug promotion, which Reuters reports was nearly double what it spent on research and development (June 26). Dollars put toward marketing to physicians jumped 81 percent—from $12.1 billion to $22 billion—between 1999 and 2003. Free samples accounted for $16 billion of that, while much of the rest was spent on the doctors themselves (Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 28, 2005). The concern is that doctors may become reliant upon contributions from these medical companies or feel obligated to recommend their products.
Although doctors on the whole don’t seem worried about potential conflicts of interest, the American Medical Student’s Association disagrees, saying that all medical students and doctors alike should just say “no” to all personal gifts. It gets down to trust, they say: “By accepting gifts, we are taking in biases that are going to affect patient care” (ibid.). Critics also say doctors should not place so much trust in medical company claims and should use independent sources of information that are not linked to the companies producing the treatments.
The fact is, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers are, first and foremost, businesses. As such, their first loyalty is to their shareholders, not necessarily to the people using their products. With financial considerations trumping medical considerations, these companies’ methods of pushing their products promote the overuse of unneeded and/or less effective treatments. Since the primary source of income for these companies is sales, there is a huge pull for them to “turn ordinary conditions, like jittery legs [or temper tantrums], into ‘diseases’ that need treatment,” so as to boost profit and shareholder returns (Business Week, op. cit.; see “Has a Disease For Your Problems Been Marketed Yet?” page 27).
In one case, after pleading guilty to illegally marketing its epilepsy drug Neurontin, a subsidiary of drug company Pfizer was ordered to pay $430 million. The company was aggressively pushing the drug for conditions like bipolar disorder, back pain and headache—conditions there was either little or no evidence it helped. While the company enriched itself with billion-dollar sales built upon massive marketing campaigns—which included trips and compensation for doctors—lawsuits allege that patients were experiencing suicidal thoughts, convulsions and tumors.
This type of behavior is why the Food and Drug Administration (fda) is supposed to act as a watchdog over the marketing practices of medical companies. Yet evidence shows that the fda itself also has conflicts of interests that make it largely ineffective in its purpose.
In 1992, the drug industry negotiated a deal with the fda: In exchange for a faster review process of new drugs, the drug companies would pay user fees to the fda. These fees now pay more than half the salaries of the review staff! Also, most fda employees either used to work for drug companies or plan to in the future. This is known as “revolving door” access. Moreover, many of the fda employees have financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
On top of that, fda advisory committees, according to a USA Today study published Sept. 25, 2000, are not truly independent. The experts on these committees advise the fda on whether to approve a drug, what warning labels are appropriate, and how evaluations should be designed. The study found that 54 percent of the time, the experts either owned stock in the company that produced the drug under evaluation, or they had received consulting fees or research grants from it.
The Nov. 18, 2004, Washington Post noted that the fda’s apparently-lenient treatment toward drug companies raised the question of whether “the agency is focusing more on bolstering the pharmaceutical industry than protecting public health.”
Hospitals too are loaded with conflicts of interest that result in the wide use of unproven treatments. Like medical companies, hospitals are businesses that seek to maximize their revenues. The more patients they treat, the greater their cash flow. This doesn’t necessarily mean that financial considerations are put ahead of patient care, but studies show that there are huge variations between treatments at different hospitals.
Consider: A 2006 report from researchers at the Center for the Evaluative Clinical Sciences at Dartmouth Medical School studied 306 hospital referral regions to compare treatments of patients during their last six months of life, and the results were “striking.” For example, the average number of days chronically ill patients stayed in hospitals varied between 6.5 and 19.4 per region. The number of doctor visits received by dying patients ranged between 15.7 and 50 per region. Why the huge discrepancy? Are people in diverse parts of the country so biologically different that the treatments they are receiving in hospitals should vary so much?
The reason behind the discrepancies is economics. Dr. Thompson says hospitals spend huge amounts of money developing new technology, and they want a return on their investment. New operation rooms for surgery, or new radiation equipment, according to Business Week, “are profit centers for hospitals …. Once a hospital installs a shiny new catheter lab [for example], it has a powerful incentive to refer more patients for the procedure” (op. cit.).
Combine that with Americans always demanding to be treated immediately, and you have the prime conditions for “overuse and inappropriate use,” says Thompson. “There is a massive amount of spending on things that really don’t help patients, and often put them at greater risk. Everyone that’s informed on the topic knows it, but it is such a scary thing to discuss that people are not willing to talk about it openly,” says the head of health care at one of America’s largest corporations, who didn’t want to be attributed (ibid.). Scary indeed.
In Luke 18, Jesus Christ uses the parable of the widow and the unjust judge to show that people should continually ask God for their needs. Then, to a group of self-trusting people who thought they had all the answers, Christ asked a lightning-bolt question: “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”
Yes, when Jesus Christ returns at His Second Coming, will He find faith?
There is indeed abundant faith on the Earth today—but not the type Christ was hoping to find. Today’s faith is largely in modern medicine to solve and heal all our ills.
Look at the facts, and you must acknowledge the general role of faith in modern medicine—faith not in God, but in a rickety system of flawed diagnosis and guesswork treatment whose effectiveness is corroded by greed.
While this may come as a shock to some, it shouldn’t. Particularly considering the trillions of dollars involved, how could this oversized giant of an industry remain immune from the cancerous ravages of human nature? Endemic problems plague every other aspect of human endeavor—international relations, government, business and finance, education, social work, even religion. Why then should people believe—despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary—that modern medicine deserves our faith?
Such faith is woefully misplaced.
But if modern medicine can’t be relied upon to fix society’s health problems, who or what can be?
There is only one Being who has all the answers, the Being who designed and created man in the first place. It is He who created the physical laws by which our bodies function correctly—laws we should do our utmost to abide by. Following these physical laws does not merely treat the effects of disease and sickness—it eliminates the causes. These laws include regulating what and how much we eat and drink, upholding cleanliness and hygiene, getting plenty of sunshine and fresh air, sufficiently and properly exercising, sleeping and resting the right amounts, avoiding bodily injury, and maintaining a positive mental attitude.
In addition, only God has the power to heal you—and in His Word, He has spelled out iron-clad promises to heal those who satisfy certain basic conditions. Herbert W. Armstrong expounded upon these in his booklet The Plain Truth About Healing, which we offer to you free upon request.
There is a time coming when all disease will eventually be eradicated and perfect health will be the norm. For information on how this will occur, request our book The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It Will Be Like.