Divorce court for the doctor-patient relationship?

The doctor-patient relationship has gone sour.

This probably comes as no surprise to most of you, particularly if you've been following conversations here in The Heart Scan Blog:

Who is your doctor? discussing the emergence of the physician-as-hospital-employee phenomenon that causes your doctor to become the de facto portal (seller?) of hospital services to you, a model fraught with conflicts of interest.

Exploitation of trust, my observation that the enormous gap in heart disease prevention between the woefully ignorant (by necessity) level of sophistication of the primary care physician and the procedure-obsessed cardiologist leads to an exploitation of humans-for-heart-procedures because of the failure to institute genuine preventive efforts.

Bait and switch , a description of how a minor test or symptom can reap a bonanza of medical testing; a $20 "screening" test yields $10's of thousands in hospital procedures. If it were entirely due to the imprecision of medical testing and detection of disease, that might be forgivable. But it often is not: It has become utterly distorted by the profit model.

Lest you think that I am a kook ranting off in some backwoods corner (Milwaukee), here are the comments of New York Times' Health Editor Tara Parker-Pope in a series called Doctor and Patient, Now at Odds:

Lately I've been hearing a lot from patients who are frustrated, angry, and distrustful of doctors. Their feelings speak to a growing disconnect between doctors and patients and worries that drug companies, insurance rules, and hospital cost-cutting are influencing the care and advice that doctors provide.

Research shows that even among patients who like their personal physicians, there is a simmering distrust of the medical system and the doctors who work inside it.

(There's also a series of candid video interviews with people who echo these sentiments.)

There are a number of reasons for this increasing "disconnect," some of them articulated by Ms. Parker-Pope, others detailed in my blog posts.

The solutions, however, will not be found by advancing technology: the newest robotic surgery, a better defibrillator, a new statin drug, the next best chemotherapeutic agent. It will not be found by adding a new wing to the hospital. It will not be found by the reorganization of healthcare delivery achieved by converting primary care and specialty practice into an arm of hospital care. It will not be improved by employing "hospitalists." It will not emerge from legislation controlling insurance company practices. It certainly will not come from increasing marketing dollars spent by drug companies (who make $4 for every $1 spent on direct-to-consumer marketing).

The solutions will come from shifting the idea of care from a paternalistic, "I'm the doctor and I'll tell you what to do" approach, to the doctor-as-advocate-and-supporter of the patient. The physician should act as someone with a particular sort of expertise that can advise a patient.

But a caveat: The patient MUST be informed.

Proper information will not originate with the doctor. It will originate with internet-based information portals and tools that help you understand the issues, often with far greater depth than your doctor could ever provide. The physician needs to accept this role, one of advocate, adviser, but not of being in charge, not of viewing the patient as profit-center, not as an opponent in a power struggle.

Sadly, the last few years in online information portals has been dominated by the drug company-dominated websites like WebMD, nothing more than a deliverer of the conventional wisdom with nothing whatsoever aimed towards empowering patients in a self-directed healthcare model.

Some people call the emerging new empowered and information-armed patient Medicine 2.0. Unfortunately, Medicine 2.0 will first benefit the intellectual upper crust of Americans, the web-savvy and motivated to engage in health issues. But, give it 10 years, and we will witness the effects on an unprecedented broad scale. Part of the Information Age is acceleration of information dissemination. Imagine your children, facile with a computer mouse, posting comments on FaceBook, doing homework with Google and Wikipedia, now turning their attentions to health.

It will be a startling change.

In the meantime, be wary. Be empowered. Think increasingly about self-direction in your health.

In a comment to the Bait and switch post, Jennytoo offered an insightful response:

You are getting to the essence of the problem, and it's not just cardiology that is rife with what is, at bottom, malpractice.

There is little incentive for the profession as a whole to know anything about or promote prevention, and many incentives from hospitals, drug and insurance companies to stick with the status quo or to change it in their corporate favor. The formulaic, conventional statements purporting to be guidelines for prevention that are put out by various interest groups and in such publications as hospital-sponsored newsletters ("eat a 'balanced diet', avoid stress, etc.") are useless sops to the concept of prevention.

It is, and I fear is going to remain, up to motivated individuals, both physicians and patients, to reshape the system, and it's going to be a long frustrating struggle.

It's my personal conviction that if just 4 things were promoted to the public, and people actually practiced them, we could change the health profiles of the majority of people in this country for the better within two years or less. They are:

(1) education on and promotion of a true low-carbohydrate, whole foods, diet,
(2) measurement and supplementation of Vitamin D3,
(3) supplementation with DHA/EPA (found in Fish Oils), and
(4) measurement and supplementation of intracellular magnesium.

I am not a health professional, and others may want to add to this list, but I don't think any strong case can be made against any of the items. The wonderful and hopeful thing is that each of us can implement them ON OUR OWN, and thereby take charge of our own well-being. (The Life Extension Foundation is one organization which provides access to lab tests you can request on your own.)

If you have a physician who is willing and capable of being your partner, you are richly blessed, and that is the ideal we all should hope for. But in the more likely event that you do not have such a physician, and if your physician demonstrates little potential for becoming one, think about firing the one you have and finding another.

Sometimes we are forced by circumstances, particularly urgent ones, to deal with physicians who are not ideal, but the main impetus for change will come from us, the patients, and the expectations we communicate to our individual doctors. In the meantime, we can be self-reliant in our own prevention practices.

Wow. A woman after my own heart.

Comments (4) -

  • Anonymous

    8/12/2008 5:44:00 AM |

    It's Tara Parker-Pope.

  • Dr. William Davis

    8/12/2008 11:43:00 AM |


    Thanks. Corrected.

  • Anonymous

    8/13/2008 3:39:00 AM |

    can somebody expand on the thought of supplementation of intracellular magnesium ?
    Thank you

  • Jenny

    8/14/2008 4:13:00 PM |

    Hopefully, Dr. Davis will correct any misinfo in this reply when he moderates. By "intracellular" I was referring in my comment to MEASUREMENT of Magnesium levels, rather than supplementation.  It's my understanding that serum measurement (a blood draw) may not accurately reflect absolute levels of Magnesium in the body.  That is, if a blood test shows low serum Magnesium levels, you can be assured that Intracellular levels are low--but that Intracellular levels may be low without having it reflected in blood testing.  There are other methods of testing available--one is called ExaTest, and is done by testing a smear of buccal cells.  (Can also reveal intracellular levels of other minerals/electrolytes.)  Supplementation can be accomplished in various ways, and ideally would be done with the help of a physician. Magnesium can be delivered by IV,(obviously must be done in a medical setting), by oral supplementation, which can best be done through supplements such as Magnesium Citrate, Taurate,or Maleate or by making and drinking Magnesium Bicarbonate Water (made by combining proper proportions of Milk of Magnesia and Seltzer--google for details, or see
    Mgwater.com)  Some supplementation can also be accomplished by absorption through the skin, which is best done by soaking in Epsom Salts.  I don't know the relative effectiveness of this method, but it certainly is relaxing and soothing to muscles.  Magnesium taken in the evening is said to help some people sleep better, and it seems from personal experience to be true for me.  There is lots of good, reliable  info about Magnesium at mgwater.com, and also on the TrackYourPlaque site if you are a member.  Hope this clarifies my meaning.  It seems to me that  supplementation, no matter how it is done, should affect all reservoirs of Magnesium in the body, if it is in adequate amounts, but IV supplementation would be the most intensive and quickest form.  I believe it can take a few weeks to months to correct deficiencies orally.  People with normal kidney function can  safely supplement Magnesium, but those with abnormal kidney function should consult their physicians.