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Your Doctors’ Dirty Little Secret

What’s Up, Doc?

doctor and nurse sharing a secretIt’s difficult for many of us to accept that our doctors often put their own financial interests ahead of our safety and financial security. Some readers may even get defensive about it – especially, of course, doctors themselves.

Not all of them, of course. The good ones know this doesn’t apply to them and are rightly embarrassed by what’s become mainstream medical practice in many parts of America.

But much of the medical profession in America has mastered the art of victim-hood. Their moral outrage at being challenged on these unethical practices comes easily – too easily to be authentic.

Our Healthcare Sucks reports on a survey of physicians in which over 90% admitted to practicing defensive medicine in which they hospitalize patients who don’t really need to be hospitalized in order to protect themselves from perceived risk of malpractice lawsuits. Protecting oneself from potential lawsuits is very much about protecting one’s financial livelihood. And it’s perfectly understandable – up to a point.

Some patients even think the over-testing and over-treatment that defensive medicine produces is actually good for them. They’re wrong. Hospitals are dangerous places.

Doctors know this, yet persist with these practices they know may endanger their patients’ lives anyway. What’s up with that?

Once you parse all the explanations for this dominant phenomenon, it all boils down to one thing: they’re the victims.

They’re victims of a litigious culture and over-zealous malpractice lawyers. They have to do all this over-testing and over-hospitalizing to protect themselves. It’s only natural…

They’re Only Human

It’s true, our doctors are only human. I devote the better part of a chapter in Our Healthcare Sucks to establishing that fact, warts and all.

So we need to cut them some slack, right?

Maybe, but don’t be too quick to embrace such tolerance of bad behavior.

Doctors aren’t all cut from the same cloth, after all. Those in lower-paying primary care specialties – lower-paying in comparison to higher-paid specialists, not to average Americans – tend to be closer to “human.”

The higher you go on the income scale, the more arrogant and “super-human” they fancy themselves.

It’s not called a “superman complex” for nothing.

Scamming for Profits

These also tend to be the worst offenders. Here’s a snippet from Our Healthcare Sucks showing relative incomes for select medical specialties in America:

“These two procedures – open heart surgery (along with its sister procedure, angiography) and back surgery – are the biggest areas of unnecessary medical procedures in the United States, as the data from Dartmouth’s Atlas Project will  bear out (see…

“Is it a coincidence these two are also the highest paid medical specialties?

“Take a look. Here’s what the average and maximum annual incomes (after expenses) for specialists with 3+ years of practice experience were from June, 2003 through mid-2009:[1]


Specialists Average Maximum
Cardiac surgeons $515,000  $811,000
Interventional cardiologists  468,000   811,000
Neurosurgeons  541,000   936,000
Spine surgeons  670,000 1,352,000
Plastic surgeons  412,000   820,000
Primary Care
Internal medicine  176,000   238,000
Family practice  135,000   239,000
Pediatrics  175,000   271,000

“Get the picture? The bottom line in medicine is the bottom line – maximizing physician incomes and corporate profits is the modus operandi of medicine, make no mistake about that.”

Defensive medicine and other abusive practices described in Our Healthcare Sucks are practiced for the obvious reason that they maintain and maximize the incomes of the increasing number of doctors who practice this way.

Seems obvious, right?

So why the total disconnect between this blatant – and dangerous – medical reality and Americans continuing to cling to outdated romanticized notions about their doctors and hospitals?

If anything, it appears we cut our doctors way too much slack already. Here’s why…

Deadly Deception

How much slack you’re willing to cut your doctors about these ongoing deceptive practices – and they’re all rooted in deceiving patients into believing they need medical interventions they don’t actually need – depends on whether you or a loved one has, in fact, been victimized by them.

And that you realize it.

Most of the time, we’re totally unaware of what’s actually going on in our medical care and are unable to detect when we’re being victimized.

We’re at a huge knowledge disadvantage, after all, which is what makes it all so inherently unethical by even the medical profession’s own Code of Ethics.

Try telling someone who’s been needlessly hospitalized to protect her or his doctor from an imagined lawsuit and contracts a MRSA infection while hospitalized that they need to cut their doctor some slack.

MRSA infection increases surgical risks by SEVEN timesNot only is MRSA itself potentially fatal, but it leaves you at up to seven times greater risk of complications from future surgeries – including death.

That’s a pretty steep price to pay to lessen your doctor’s anxiety about malpractice risk, especially when malpractice suits are at all-time lows – as they are currently.

In the context of the profession’s own Code of Ethics that prohibits needless hospitalizations, it’s inherently unethical.

And it goes on every day across America – and by the vast majority of doctors.

  Their Dirty Little Secret  

So how much slack is appropriate here?

If you reverse the self-serving premise of the doctors who practice this way that it’s they who are the victims and recognize the truth – that their patients being victimized by these practices, with MRSA and much worse, are the true victims – then you might also want to reverse the question of who gives who how much slack.

After all, our doctors’ own Code of Ethics demands that they put their patients’ interests before their own.

Is it so unreasonable to expect them to abide by their own Code of Ethics?

What profession demands the right to behave unethically, after all?

And why would you want anything to do with such people, much less let them cut open your body?

Think about it the next time you’re told you need surgery or need to be hospitalized.

Think really hard about it…and know who profits from what you’re being prescribed.

Follow the money.

And get that second opinion you’ve heard so much about. Find doctors who practice conservatively rather than rush you into highly-invasive elective surgeries and procedures (true emergencies, of course, are another matter altogether).

   In Harm’s Way

In another era, this would all seem overly cynical. But that was then, now is now.

The evidence is pretty compelling, after all. And it suggests that unneeded surgeries, tests and procedures represent most of the wasteful medical spending in America that’s estimated to account for up to half of our medical costs – costs that we consumers are increasingly paying out of our own pockets.

Ignoring this evidence is what would be truly cynical – and a financial disservice to you and your family.

And you really shouldn’t waste your energy worrying about offending the people who practice medicine this way. In too many cases, they’re completely shameless.

But they’re anything but harmless.

Weigh in with your own comments below.

[1] Physician Salaries and Salary Surveys.

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

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