Recently, a writer on the Huffington Post described his experience with a friend undergoing treatment for slow-progressing lung cancer. The author describes multiple sets of mistakes by his friend’s “elite” medical team, and repeats the phrase that the doctors might kill him before the cancer does. There are a few excerpts below.
“The result is dangerous medical chaos. Doctors love pictures and get paid a lot for ordering and reading them. Over the years my friend has been subjected to countless and mostly unnecessary imaging studies with contrast dyes that have compromised his kidneys. It seems likely that renal insufficiency will kill him before his lung cancer does. He is also no longer eligible for additional lung-cancer treatments because his kidneys flunk protocol requirements. And along the way he has been prescribed several unnecessary medications that also hurt his kidneys. Everyone focused on the lung cancer; no one noticed the harm they were doing to the kidneys.
There have also been several close calls because he was prescribed multiple medicines by multiple doctors without coordination and due consideration of the drugs’ interactions and synergistic harms.
The mistakes were all easily preventable if anyone were minding the store and paying attention to the patient, not the lab tests. In any common-sense world doctors would care about risks and harms and wouldn’t always be rushing to order stupid and dangerous tests and treatments.”
Unfortunately, these experiences are not unique. According to recent statistics, medical mistakes cause about 440,000 deaths each year. Many of these deaths are preventable, and a significant number of these patients could be saved with basic communication and oversight.
With the healthcare model revolving around billing for the number of tests and procedures performed (and drugs prescribed), doctors have little financial incentive for minimizing tests and procedures. With the increase of specialization in the medical field, rarely is there a single doctor looking out for the patient’s global health. Even with the best of intentions, doctors frequently over-test, over-prescribe, and spend too little time with patients to get to know the full story.