Thursday, August 16, 2007

Faith Healing in the Medical Profession

I just started reading an old classic today, Anatomy of an Illness: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration by Norman Cousins. In it Cousins refers to the work of William Osler, one of the most respected clinicians in the English-speaking world at the turn of last century. He was well-known for telling his students that he believed that the drugs and standard methods of medical treatment available to physicians at his time were, in his opinion, completely useless. He had quite a reputation as a healer himself and even served as the chairman for the Department of Medicine at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. But it was his firm belief that his success had little to do with the treatments he used and everything to do with his patient's faith in it.

Even today it is a little known established fact that almost every new drug introduced on the market is far more effective in the first few months after it is introduced than it ever is from that point afterwards. Why? Because the newness of the drug leads a doctor to prescribe it with much more enthusiasm. "We used to do such and such a thing for people in your condition, but we have this new drug now and I've heard it does great things! You get to be one of the first people in my practice to use it!"

Doesn't that sound exciting?!!! The belief is that "new" automatically means "improved" and that means that both the doctor and the patient expect it to work better. These assumptions are not necessarily true but it doesn't matter. The patient and the doctor both believe they're going to get better results and, lo and behold, it happens!

Later, though, as the newness of the drug wears off and the doctor's enthusiasm naturally wears down to more normal levels, patient expectations tend to wane as well and reports of the drug's effectiveness tend to decline.

What does this mean? Well, I hate to burst anyone's bubble here, but from where I'm sitting it looks like faith healing and conventional medicine walk hand-in-hand. In fact, faith in medicine is something the conventional medical establishment counts on and the recent onslaught of pharmaceutical advertising on television just proves my point about how important this sector of society actually believes faith in their products to be. Because building faith—making believers out of the healthcare-buying public—is exactly what pharmaceutical advertising is all about.

Why? Why do they have to? Well, guess what alternative healthcare affectionados, they have no choice.

In the Fall 2004 edition of the Harvard Public Health Review, the Harvard School of Public Health reported that the public's faith in the conventional medical establishment, medical insurers and pharmaceutical companies had fallen to an all-time low. Patients' lack of trust was leading them to turn in droves to alternative healthcare and self-medication. It also has led to an increase in conventional healthcare regulation and has contributed, in their opinion, to an increased risk of litigation, i.e. lawsuits, from dissatisfied and disgruntled customers.

So don't expect pharmaceutical television advertising to stop anytime soon. In fact, they've only just begun. And hold on to your hats, alternative healthcare providers. Even though they know faith and good medicine go hand-in-hand, the standard attacks on alternative healthcare practices as "faith-healing"....ha! using the term "faith-healing" as a form of attack!... isn't likely go away at all.

What do I suggest we do? Celebrate. We have obviously been effective. Keep going. Keep helping. Keep telling your patients how much they can do for themselves with and without using standard medical care. I'm not against using pharmaceuticals and standard medical practices when it's the most effective and cost-effective plan of action but a lot of the time it isn't. Especially for the millions of us without adequate health insurance -- and by that statement I include the supposedly "insured." There's a good reason why the American public lost faith in conventional medical care. It's expensive! It's short-sighted. And it's bankrupting us one and all.

I once believed every neighborhood in town should have a community herb garden and that simple methods of self-care should be taught in the public schools. Remember home economics? What's more important? Learning how to bake a cake or sew a dress? Not when it's cheaper and easier to buy one in a store. No! I want kids to learn first aid, how to treat a cold, how to tell when something is serious enough to see a doctor about, and when it would be a simple enough thing to treat yourself. And I want them to learn about the power of belief, the power of positive thinking, and the importance of keeping the faith—faith in themselves and in their ability to heal themselves, if nothing else—as if their lives and the future of our planet depended on it.

Because think about it. Does corporate greed and professional healthcare really make a good combination? I wouldn't want to stake my future on it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Right on!