Thursday, October 4, 2012

Doctors without Science

Seth Roberts at his best:
Extremely Disappointing Facts About Doctors

The gist of Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You … by Mart Makary, a med school professor at Johns Hopkins, is that doctors have failed to regulate themselves. Nobody else regulates them, so they are unaccountable. In many ways, Makary shows, bad behavior (e.g., unnecessary treatment, understating the risks of treatment) is common. Hospitals hide how bad things are. Makary mostly discusses surgeons — he’s a surgeon — but gives plenty of reasons to think other specialties are no better.

The book is one horror story after another. At one point, Makary quit medical school. He was disgusted and appalled by seeing doctors — his teachers — push an old woman to consent to an operation she didn’t want and didn’t need. She refused, again and again, but the doctors kept pushing. Makary objected. He was ignored. Finally she agreed. The operation killed her.

I know Peter Attia as a co-founder, with Gary Taubes, of the recently formed Nutritional Science Initiative. Makary met him when Attia did a surgery residency at John Hopkins Hospital. Attia had seen a doctor about back pain and had been told he needed surgery. They operated on the wrong side, causing damage that prevents Attia, an excellent athlete, from playing most sports. Eventually Attia left medicine. He felt “modern medicine was too frequently dishonest with patients, at times understating risks and overtreating patients as a matter of reflex” — “as a matter of reflex” meaning “as a matter of course”, i.e., usually. And Johns Hopkins Hospital is one of the better hospitals in America. “Almost everyone I talk to has a story about a friend or a family member who was hurt, disfigured, or killed by a medical mistake,” writes Makary. He has six such stories, including his grandfather and his brother. His grandfather died from unnecessary surgery.

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