Body count

Imagine the following headline:

War in Iraq a growing success: 20,000 Americans now dead!

If a newspaper ran that headline, we would all be outraged, and rightly so. Deaths in war are a tragedy. They are not something we celebrate.

Then why do we hear hospitals boasting about the number of bypass operations performed every year, number of heart catheterizations performed, number of heart attacks treated?

"_______ Hospital breaks 1000-heart bypass per year milestone"

"We treat more heart attacks than other other hospital in the state!"

"More people come to ________ Hospital than any other in the region!"

I hear this stuff on the radio, on TV, see it in newspapers and magazines, even on highway billboards every single day in Milwaukee.

Heart procedures, like deaths in war, are casualties of health.

They are not successes (though, of course, you can have a "successful" bypass). I see most procedures as a failure of prevention.

Death from heart attack is a failure of prevention. Tim Russert's death was a (unnecessary) failure of prevention. But so are bypass surgery, stents, and the like.

Such is the perverse state of affairs in hospitals and health: They celebrate illness. They glamorize it with ads displaying high-tech equipment, efficient staff in scrubs, "caring and friendly staff." But it is illness they are celebrating. Why? Because it has become a business necessity, a necessary strategy to remain competitive and profitable in the business called "healthcare" that makes money from treating people. The biggest return is from major procedures like bypass operations.

Every success in prevention denies the hospital an $80,000+ opportunity. You'll never hear that advertised.

Comments (7) -

  • baldsue

    6/28/2008 2:27:00 PM |

    After having been through two unnecessary brain surgeries, minor though they were, I find it refreshing to hear that not all  doctors are out to slice into my body.  Thank you!

    And the hospital and surgeon who performed the surgeries on me probably added them to the counts they tout.  Never mind that I consider both surgeries to be unsuccessful.

    I'm living the kind of life that I hope prevents me from ever needing to go under the knife.

  • brian

    6/28/2008 2:52:00 PM |

    This commentary reminded me of the Beth Israel mess and their diabetes prevention program. What a shame!

  • Anonymous

    6/28/2008 4:01:00 PM |

    Excellent points. We celebrate sick days every time we get them. 'Health Insurance' companies actually make more money if you are sick - they can charge our employers more and more money each year. What is wrong with this picture?

  • Anna

    6/28/2008 4:51:00 PM |

    I've been thinking a lot about our system of "sickcare" lately.  I have a hard time calling it "healthcare" any more.  I don't see "the system" doing much to support and preserve health, mostly it just looks for signs of illness to treat after illness develops, at least in those with access to the system.  

    Thinking about the national dialog about CVD that has begun since Tim Russert's tragic and shocking passing, I was reminded of a similar situation closer to home.  Late last December my 9 yo son's pediatrician, only 55 yoa, died suddenly and unexpectedly of CVD.  My son and I went to a well attended public memorial service at the beach, where everyone was more or less in shock, from the family and friends, to his co-workers and patients, as well as many now-grown patients.  Of course, this occasion was a celebration of his life, so little was said about his death other than that it was sudden and unexpected.   But I remember thinking, if a doctor can drop dead without warning, despite daily access to a pretty good medical system, what chance do the rest of us have?  

    The more I thought about it, the more I wonder how out of the blue it was, though.  I had noticed during my son's more recent doctor office visits that the good doctor had suddenly aged a bit in the past couple of years, and his tall, lean stature had thickened in the middle in recent years, too, and he appeared a bit stooped.  But it's so easy to attribute that to ordinary aging.
    But I've been thinking more about that lately.  I remember being one place ahead of the pediatrician in the cashier line at Trader Joe's about a month or two before the doctor's death, and sneaking a peak in his cart while we chatted in line.  Skimmed milk, high fiber cold breakfast cereal, egg substitute product, soy ice cream substitute, and red wine are the items I remember distinctly, though I think there was also some produce and a package of boneless chicken breasts or something similar (very lean and "nutritionally correct".  I remember thinking, "how unsurprisingly conventional".  

    Thinking back on it now, it isn't so surprising that our pediatrician could die so unexpectedly, because he probably was checked with all the conventional test measures and doing all the conventional "right" lifestyle things (at least his grocery cart indicated that), which don't reveal/improve what is really going on, undetected, in the CV system.  

    The irony is that I had been wrestling with the idea of looking for a new pediatrician for the last year or two -  someone a little less conventional, but not "way out there".  But no one in our insurance plan fit my "ideal", nor was I able to find someone outside our plan that seemed right, either.   So I "coasted" on the decision.    We really did like our doctor as a person, and I appreciated his somewhat laid-back approach to child development and growth.  But my own ideas about what we want/need from medicine has changed a lot since I chose this doctor in the final months of my pregnancy nearly a decade ago.  And after my son developed a UTI and possible kidney infection while camping with some relatives two summers ago, and the conventional treatment of a year of antibiotics were prescribed as a prophylactic measure (without any mention of what that would do to his gut flora) because an imaging test showed a bit of kidney reflux on one side (we suggested monthly urinalysis to ensure sterile urine rather than the antibiotics, which the doctor agreed to), I guess I was at the point where I thought we needed to look for a pediatrician with more of an "outside the conventional box" vision (not exactly "alternative", but one who sees the body and enhancing health more holistically, not simply dysfunctional plumbing and germs to wipe out.  However, this of course, was not how I wanted to go looking for a new pediatrician.  No, I haven't found a new pediatrician yet, so if my son develops anything requiring medical attention, he'll be seen by one of the other partners in "the conventional system" for the time time being.  But I'm keeping my eyes open.

  • Stan

    6/29/2008 11:06:00 AM |

    That is bad news.  Good news is that Nature has a way of imposing a positive feedback through natural selection. The profession will clean itself up over time, through their own medicine. I wonder if Darwin Award can be applied to entire professional group or only to individuals?

    Stan (Heretic)

    "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." - M. Planck

  • Anonymous

    6/29/2008 12:14:00 PM |

    I enjoy mailing out your blog postings to friends.  some friends are conservative while others are liberal in thought.  From the feed back that I receive it amazes me sometimes at how extreme our nation can be.  The two sides of the political spectrum all to often seem little different than gangs.

    Doing my best to take as many money making opportunities away from hospitals.

  • MedPathGroup

    9/8/2008 1:19:00 AM |

    I definitely agree with you, Healthcare has somehow indeed turned into a business. This is the reason why sometimes I don't anymore feel so compliant when i go visit a doctor and receives a lot of requests to go on various medical procedures. I feel like they are just unnecessary.