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Beware of medical misadventures

Two separate pieces of write-ups doing the rounds mostly in social media have again brought to fore the dark side of medical care. One is a depressing read from a popular Asian destination for medical tourism. The other piece relives cautionary tales of subjecting ourselves to too much medical care, with doctors who should know better driving along unnecessary interventions. This is based on worrying trends on the other side of the Atlantic, the good old US of A.

Let’s start with the first piece. Easily available national stats will quickly tell you how many Kenyans are hopping onto planes in search of healthcare in a popular destination in Asia. Some have genuine reasons to pursue care that is either locally unavailable, or comes much cheaper in the destination of choice. But others are unsure of themselves, and are unguardedly pursuing a utopian state of health. They have subjected themselves to needless health screens. The tests have inevitably unearthed something, or have all turned out normal. As the write-up details, you give out your test samples, and they all get binned. No tests are actually carried out. You get a nicely printed out, but fabricated set of results! Massive profits are made, you are none the wiser.

The other side of the Atlantic now. You see, the practice of medicine should have some valid scientific basis, what is commonly referred to as evidence-based medicine. Every intervention, including diagnostics, prescription medicines, surgical procedures etc, should be based on valid proof of benefit. Where scientific data is lacking, there are other avenues to guide objective interventions. But as it turns out patients are getting so much stuff done that is either completely unnecessary, or potentially harmful. Why is this happening? Look up the piece by a staff writer with The New Yorker.

You might ask yourself why all this matters to you. The business of medicine should have your interest and wellbeing at the forefront. All that gets done to you should have some tangible benefits. You should never be subjected to tests or treatments that have questionable value. There is a huge economic burden to you as an individual when you end up paying for unnecessary interventions. Not to mention potential harm which can occur with ill-intentioned tests, and subsequent poorly informed medical interventions.

What can you do about it?

Don’t subject yourself to misdirected medical adventures. Nobody ever needs full body imaging to hunt for some elusive quiescent disease, lurking somewhere in between millions of body cells. Not every imaginable disease can be screened for. And not every positive result is a true positive. In other words, not everything that gets detected warrants some action. Learn to ask questions, and don’t blindly accept every recommendation that springs forth from your healthcare provider. Choose wisely where you get your care from, and what kind of care you subject yourself to.

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