Friday, January 30, 2009

The Fountain of Youth?

Medicine isn’t a fountain of youth. In America, we spend more and more and more on medicine and it’s not making us any healthier.

Scholars evaluating ‘health outcomes’ have begun to see this and are getting scared. After all, what will they have to do when more medicine amounts to giving people sugar pills. I read a paper by a scholar I respected on the availability of MRIs. The conclusion was we use them more when they’re available (in a direct linear relationship), but there is a considerable question as to whether we are any better because of it. He suggests that we may need to start looking for non-health based outcomes. In other words, we need to ask how it made people feel.

We saw another study that showed that doctors in New York visit a certain population of their hospital patients three times as many times as doctors in San Francisco. They also keep them for thrice as many days in the hospitals. “Good for them!” you may say. But when you compare outcomes, there is no difference. Those who stayed 10 days in San Francisco had the same outcome as those who stayed 30 in New York. Zero difference.

“You get what you pay for,” we say to ourselves. If we pay more for healthcare, we get more life out of it. But we’ve maxed out on medicine. There’s no more life that can be purchased for most of us. There are certainly some people who need new breakthroughs to live as long as everybody else. But for most of us, throwing more money at body scans and vitamins is just like throwing money down a toilet. Staying an extra day in the hospital. Getting that X-ray for a rib you knew was broken. Will that make us healthier? Will that add years to our lives? No.

Why do we? Because we think it will. Somewhere in our psyche is the thought that we can buy eternal life. Like Simon the Sorcerer who when he “…saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power…” (Acts 8:18-19a). We think life is for sale, and doctors are the vendors. I’ll let you in on a secret that, if everyone knew about it, would save us from financial ruin: Doctors don’t hold the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Giving us money just makes us rich. Save your money. Or better yet, use it to save others. Extension of your life cannot be purchased; but that’s not true for at least a billion people around the world. Buy for them the health you already enjoy.

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