Healthcare USA: Biased Research, Bogus Medicine – Part 1

Who Do YOU Trust?

With our presidential election cycle now shifting into high gear – along with the heated rhetoric about healthcare reform in America, or “Obamacare” – it’s a good time to step back from the charges and counter-charges to ask what’s the real status of healthcare USA? If it’s really as ethically compromised as I maintain in Our Healthcare Sucks, will either approach make much of a difference?

Any sober and objective look needs to bypass the ideology of healthcare reform or its polar opposite of free-market deregulation and go deeper into the heart of our medical research – because that’s where the ethical erosion in our healthcare all starts.

The graph to the left  from a paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics shows the rising trend  in retractions of medical research due to fraud and error in American healthcare. The sky-rocketing blue line is retracted studies in relation to the published research in the green bars.

Such rampant fraud and incompetence in our medical research is hardly reassuring for doctors and patients who rely on it for often life-and-death decision-making – nor is it promising for the future of healthcare USA regardless of who wins in November.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Medical research has sold out to commerce and it’s turned into a not very pretty picture – filled with conflicts of interest, fraudulent research, suppressed negative findings, understated side effects and treatment complications…and profit-sharing. Lots of profit-sharing.

In case you think this is an overly cynical view of something that’s still so highly regarded by the mainstream media – and therefore the American public – the following quotes excerpted from Our Healthcare Sucks show what a couple industry leaders have had to say on the subject:

Medicine can no longer rely on the medical (research) literature for valid and reliable information.”1 Dr. Marcia Angel, former-editor-in-chief, The New England Journal of Medicine

The influence that the pharmaceutical companies…are having on every aspect of medicine…is so blatant you’d have to be deaf, blind and dumb not to see it…We have allowed them to take over…and it’s our fault – the whole medical community.”2  Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, former editor, Journal of the American Medical Association

How does all this persist despite the torrent of disturbing revelations of the corruption of medical research?

How do industry spokespeople – with a straight face –  still get away with…

  • Justifying charging Americans twice what patients in other developed countries pay for the same medications and devices;

  • Refusing to make their consumer disclosures of treatment risks and possible complications as transparent as they are in other developed countries;

  • Leaving Americans at greater risk of medication injury – and even death – than those paying less for the same drugs in other countries.

How does that strike you for the state of healthcare USA?

And how’s it feel to know your life as an American is less valued than those in other countries with greater transparency of medication risks?

And to pay twice as much for the privilege?

Media Complicity in Healthcare USA

Yet the medical industry – the most corrupt industry in America (see Our Healthcare Sucks) – continues  to demand faster regulatory reviews so their “life-saving” drugs and devices can be brought to market sooner. This is routinely packaged to hide behind the familiar bromides of “saving lives” and “medical progress”.

It’s all motherhood and apple pie in healthcare USA, isn’t it? They’re the good guys, after all.

And this line is spoon-fed to a gullible – or is it cynical? – mass media that regurgitates it to an unsuspecting public in earnest and adulating tones.

In many instances, the media – strapped for cash and understaffed – simply use video footage and sales copy prepared for them by their advertisers.

These are their “sponsors”, after all, and you don’t bite the hand that feeds you, do you?

“Gee whiz! Ain’t technology grand?”

So, lost in transmission is the fact that medical ads generate a substantial share of mass media revenues.

Also lost is perspective.

America, after all, is virtually alone in the world in allowing direct advertising by medical suppliers to ill-informed consumers. New Zealand is the only other country on earth that allows this unsavory stimulating of demand for dangerous drugs that cause an estimated 106,000 deaths a year from their prescribed usage in America alone.

The rest have the common sense, and the integrity, to prohibit this form of mass manipulation when the risks for abuse are so potentially lethal (Have you LISTENED to the warnings in these ads?).

And if you don’t think so, how else do you explain the fact – the fact – that healthcare companies account for four times the  fraud settlements with the federal government in America as all other industries combined?

  • That the healthcare industry is riddled with corruption is beyond dispute.

  • That the U.S. is virtually alone in allowing this corrupt industry to advertise directly to consumers – who are also often desperate patients ripe for exploitation – is also beyond dispute;

  • That both the mass media and the medical profession each have inherent financial conflicts of interest in reporting on, or prescribing, the products made by the most corrupt industry in America…is also beyond dispute.

If you doubt this reflects the actual state of healthcare USA, read just the free Introduction to Our Healthcare Sucks (see below). You won’t doubt it for long.

Yet what you generally hear from the mass media are inflated bromides about our “medical progress”.

They’ve audience-tested this stuff. They know their audience is always eager to learn of the next big medical breakthrough that may buy them some more time on this mortal coil called earth.

And even when the occasional objective story manages to creep into their “coverage” of the healthcare industry, it’s followed by endless commercials from the very same industry they’re reporting on.

The deck is stacked – and it’s not in consumers’ favor.

No Help From Washington

And this sorry state of healthcare USA isn’t a politically partisan matter.

Drug companies were first allowed to advertise directly to the American public under Bill Clinton, not some free-market ideologue.

Neither Barack Obama, Mitt Romney or any other politician has the answers to this crisis. They’re all too beholden to the special interests that profit handsomely from perpetuating the shameful status quo of healthcare USA.

This doesn’t mean our presidential elections aren’t important. One choice will make this condition somewhat better than it would otherwise be, while the other is likely to make it far worse with “free-market” theories that simply don’t apply to our uniquely self-perpetuating healthcare industry.

But neither will make any inroads into the erosion of medical ethics that’s driving much of our healthcare crisis – nor is either even likely to try.

And neither is about to tell the drug companies they can no longer exploit – I mean advertise to –  the American public.

Which means it’s up to each of us to…

Grow Some Backbone…

Sign up in the blue box to the right for Part 2 about healthcare USA and a free chapter from Our Healthcare Sucks.

And leave a comment below…you DO have something to add, don’t you?

1 Industry Sponsored Clinical Research – a Broken System JAMA 2008, 300(9);1069-1071

2 Medical schools, journals start to fight drug-industry influence, USA Today, 9/10/08

This article is provided for informational and educational purposes only.
It does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied upon as such.


Learn more first by signing up below for a FREE chapter from
Our Healthcare Sucks.

John Lynch: John Lynch was founder and CEO of Medical Diagnostics, Inc. - twice named to Business Week's "Best Small Companies" in America. He's since founded MedSmart Members to publish consumer health education publications.
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