How Effective are Alternatives to Traditional Medical Practice?


This is the second of the ten perspectives I am going to discuss about medical care in the United States in the 21st Century.  My caveat this week is that if you truly think witch doctors, fortune tellers, bizarre untested treatments, herbal cures, doctors in foreign countries, prayers and numerous kinds of quack medical treatments can cure your sainted mother’s cancer or your father’s heart condition, then by all means “go for it.”  Much of what passes for medicine in the USA is not based on science but is based on hopes and wishes and dreams.  Far be it for me to destroy your last hope.

On the other hand, if you want to be rationale and logical about it, then evidence based medicine with a feedback loop based upon open scientific investigation and testing is the best way to truly establish cause and effect in medical practice.  Let me tell you an often heard story.

Mary Jane was 31 years old and was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  After ongoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy, she continued to decline physically.  There appeared to be no other options for her.  However, her 39-year-old brother Bill had heard of a treatment being used by some people in a village in the Alps which they claimed could cure cancer.  A doctor Kowalski had written a book extolling the virtues of this treatment and Bill had bought the book.  Bill convinced Mary Jane to give it a try.  She stopped her chemo and radiation treatments and started following the treatment regimen.  Within four weeks Mary Jane was looking a lot better and feeling better as well.  After two months on the regimen, she visited her oncologist.  He took some tests and “would you believe it?”  There was no sign of the cancer any more.  This treatment regimen (unknown to modern science) had totally cured Mary Jane. 

Wow, what a story!  Is that fantastic!  Makes you want to kick all those mainstream traditional doctors right in the butt. 


Three months later, Mary Jane became quite ill.  Further tests showed her cancer had returned or perhaps never left.  Mary Jane died in another six weeks.

Raise your hands please, if you have heard this story or a similar story before.  I am sure most of you have.  Hope springs eternal in the human breast.  I can’t blame anyone for that.  I can blame those who promote untested and unscientific treatments and get poor suffering people to buy into their schemes.  It is one thing to find a new cure that perhaps may be proven to have medicinal value.  That kind of discovery happens all the time.  It is quite another thing to put down traditional medical science as useless.  Furthermore, there are indeed negative consequences of many alternative medical practices.

Dr. Paul A. Offit, a noted medical researcher and pediatrician (Wiki) has proposed four ways in which alternative medicine “becomes quackery”:

  1. By recommending against conventional therapies that are helpful.
  2. By promoting potentially harmful therapies without adequate warning.
  3. By draining patients’ bank accounts.
  4. By promoting magical thinking.

What is a Quack? 

Quacks are often well meaning but “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  We have people who believe vaccines are harmful.  We have people who believe poisonous snakes can be handled safely if you only believe in Jesus.  We have people who believe that disease is caused by negative thinking.  We sometimes confuse these people with the old “snake oil” salesman.  The distinction between the quack and the “snake oil” salesman is quite important.

quackery takes your money

The “snake oil” salesman is probably a fraud, a cheat and a con-artist.  The friend who is trying to convince you that you should not go to a regular doctor is probably well intended.  This makes them even more dangerous than the “snake oil” salesman.  You may instinctively distrust the salesman but you trust your friend.  Such unfounded trust can kill you.  Your friend is pedaling an idea which may be dangerous and have no scientific merit.

“But wait,” you say.  “Why does everything have to be approved by the FDA or the AMA or some other authorized group?  What makes them superior to my witchdoctor or acupuncturist?”  The answer to this question if very difficult to explain.  Studies show that less than 30 percent of Americans are scientifically literate.  Trying to explain why science is more trustworthy than hope and intuition is very difficult to people lacking scientific literacy.  It is even more difficult since the search for empirical evidence is a journey and not a destination.  No one can say that science is 100 percent accurate or 100 percent certain.  Furthermore, we can find many anomalies wherein science was at first wrong or where the scientific evidence was premature.  This leads many who are intimated by science to be even more skeptical of its results and processes.

[For an excellent article on understanding scientific medicine and avoiding quacks, read: Tooth Fairy Science and Other Pitfalls: Applying Rigorous Science to Messy Medicine, — by Dr. Harriet Hall]

Homeopathy, Acupuncture and Pseudo Science

Homeopathy, acupuncture as well as creation theory, alchemy, parapsychology and many occult practices are labeled as pseudosciences.  The definition of pseudoscience is:

“Pseudoscience consists of claims, beliefs, or practices presented as being plausible scientifically, but which are not justifiable by the scientific method.   A topic, practice, or body of knowledge can reasonably be considered pseudoscientific when it is presented as consistent with the norms of scientific research, but it demonstrably fails to meet these norms.” — Pseudoscience, Wikipedia

I had intended to start this section off as a critique of homeopathic remedies but I decided to extend it to include the broader issue of pseudoscientific remedies.  I was going to discuss the fact that homeopathy no doubt relies on the well-known phenomenon of the “placebo effect.”  A placebo is a “fake” pill or medical treatment to which no known curative properties can be attached.  Nevertheless, people given such treatments often report “miraculous” cures.  I have even known people to get drunk while drinking colored water that they thought was wine or liquor.

“In many conditions, placebo effect is a big part of the effect of the drug,” said study researcher, Ted Kaptchuk, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.  In the new study, 50 percent of the drug’s effect could be attributed to the placebo effect, he said. — Live Science, 2014

When it comes down to the efficacy of homeopathic pills, the evidence is just as damming.   Homeopathic treatments simple do not work any better than a placebo.

Homeopathic preparations are not effective for treating any condition; large-scale studies have found homeopathy to be no more effective than a placebo, suggesting that any positive effects that follow treatment are only due to the placebo effect and normal recovery from illness. —  Ernst, E. (2002). “A systematic review of systematic reviews of homeopathy”. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 54 (6): 577–82. —- Wikipedia, Homeopathy

A little earlier in this paper, I briefly gave a testament to the scientific method over methods of pseudo-science that we have been discussing.  But, you may well ask, “What is the difference between science and pseudoscience?”   A second question might be “Well, how much faith can I put into the scientific method?”  Let’s take the first question.

What is the difference between science and pseudoscience?

A simple answer to this question is that science is based on objective repetition of results.  It uses evidence based analysis to determine the strength of the relationship between cause and effect variables.  Science must be transparent and the process used to determine cause and effect must be readily available to other scientists.  Numerous examples can be cited wherein faulty scientific research led to erroneous conclusions.  However, unlike pseudoscience, where there are no checks on the process, scientific faults will eventually be discovered and admitted.  This is often to the chagrin of the scientists who were either foolish or biased in their calculations.

In science, you have theories or hypothesis which are open to testing and ultimately being found either true or false.  There is a great range in the power of a hypothesis which renders some more important than others.  For instance, anyone can predict it will snow in Minnesota but the ability to predict exactly when and how much it will snow on any given day would be evidence of a very strong theory.

In pseudoscience, hypothesis and theories are either untestable or often non-existent.  For example, if I gave you a homeopathic pill of aconite (also known as wolf’s bane) as a remedy for your cold and you got better, does this mean the aconite cured you?  Without some type of controlled study, there is no way to know.  Perhaps, you would have gotten better without it anyway.  Many homeopathic practitioners recommend this substance as a means of alleviating cold symptoms.

(Click here for an excellent analysis of some of the many treatments recommended as cold remedies)

There are literally dozens if not hundreds of such substances that you can find recommended by alternative medicine practitioners.  The problem is not that they do not work, since for some people, some of the time, some of these substances might be very effective.  The problem is that often little is known about their effectiveness, their method of working or potential side effects that might be harmful.  Furthermore, as opposed to the scientific method, pseudoscience will make extravagant claims without more than anecdotal evidence that some treatment regimen was indeed effective.

Forbes (2014) published this list of the top five cold remedies to avoid since there is no evidence to support their effectiveness:

  1. Zicamcontains zinc as its active ingredient. There has been some evidence to suggest that taking zinc right at the onset of a cold might shorten its duration a little bit, from 7 days to 6. But as Dr. Terence Davidson from UC San Diego explained, if you look at the more rigorous studies, the effect vanishes. Zinc turns out to have some worrisome side effects, too.
  1. Airborne. You can find this in the cold remedy section many pharmacies but Airborne doesn’t cure anything. It’s a cleverly marketed vitamin supplement with no scientific support for any health benefits.
  1. Coldcalmis a homeopathic preparation sold by Boiron, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of homeopathic remedies (including Oscillococcinum, an almost laughably ineffective flu remedy). It claims on the package to relieve cold symptoms. What’s in it? A dog’s breakfast of homeopathic ingredients, including belladonna, about which NIH says: Belladonna is UNSAFE when taken by mouth. It contains chemicals that can be toxic.
  2. Umckais another homeopathic preparation that claims to “shorten the duration of common cold” and “reduce severity of cold symptoms.” Sounds pretty good—if only it were true. Umcka’s active ingredient is a plant extract called pelargonium sidoides, an African geranium. Interestingly, there have been a few experiments on this extract, some of which showed a small positive effect.
  1. Antibiotics. Even if you cannot buy them, many people take them to treat a cold.  The problem is that antibiotics do not work for colds.

It would be interesting to see how much Americans spend each year on medicinal preparations that have little or no value.  There is so much superstition out there based on anomalies and anecdotes that people put their faith in.  Which brings us to the next question.

How much faith can I put into the scientific method?

The easy answer is that it depends.  What makes a good theory is the question we need to answer before we can know how much faith we should put into science.  Here is one answer as to what makes a good theory:

  1. A good theory should explain the observations or results of an experiment or phenomena.
  2. A good theory should allow for testing. 
  3. A good theory can be tested against an independent objective criteria.
  4. A good theory should be frugal in its nature so others can test it.
  5. A good theory should be predictive.

Thus, if you are looking for the truth and you get a truth, be it from a scientist or from a witchdoctor, you can ask yourself how well the “truth” meets the four criteria above.  Let’s take some hypothetical examples.

  • My good friend Dick says that Fords are better than Chevies? Do any of the above criteria apply to his belief?  I think not.  If so, I cannot see how.  Thus, I would call this a weak theory or more accurately, an opinion.
  • Another friend of mine says it will be very cold next week. This assertion can be validated. Criteria 2, 3, 4 and 5 might all apply.  If he turns out to be right, he would only have to satisfy criteria number 1 to have a very strong theory.  In other words, he would have to provide some logic or rationale for his theory.  Subsequently, we could continue to test his theory and see if he can continue to accurately predict the weather.  The more his predictions come true and can be validated against some external criteria, the stronger his theory is. (We will assume he is not just reporting from the local weather station.)

So, we are now back to the issue of how much faith can be put into the scientific method.  I hope you will see from the above discussion that this will depend on whether the outcomes of the method are indeed subject to some rigorous external validation and criteria.  Without these factors, I would not trust my local scientist any more than my local witch doctor.

Time for Questions:

Why do you think people go to quacks?   Have you ever been to someone you thought might be a quack?  What results did you get?  What can people do when they are not helped by medical practitioners?  What other recourse do they have?

Life is just beginning.

The claim of alternative practitioners to not treat disease labels but the whole patient…allows alternative practitioners to live in a fool’s paradise of quackery where they believe themselves to be protected from any challenges and demands for evidence.”  — Edzard Ernst













Should We Be Cautious When Seeing Our Family Doctor?

can you trust your doctor

This is the first of the ten perspectives I am going to discuss about medical care in the United States in the 21st Century.  Before I begin, I have already warned you that if you regard physicians as gods or if you love your MD for saving your life and cannot bear to hear anything wrong about the medical profession, you should probably not read what I am going to say.  One of my friends on Facebook sent me this message or caveat:

“I practiced medicine for 30 years. Be careful about generalizing. I got burned out, I cared. I saw the whole person. I’m not unusual. Medicine is hard. You are always looking over your shoulder. Afraid to be sued. We go into this not for money but to help. Really. Believe it.”

I am quite sure that what she says is true.  True for some.  Not true for others.  Is it the majority?  I don’t know.  But there are a lot for whom the medical system is not working and even more importantly for whom it is dangerous and harmful.  Let’s start with some specifics.

After writing and publishing this blog, a good friend of mine reviewed it.  He had a very different perspective on things than I present.  Together, we are like the Yin and Yang. I see the negative side of things and he sees the positive side of things in the medical profession.  It is my belief that we need to see more of the problems with our medical practices and bring them out so that they are more transparent.  Nevertheless, I realize that there are thousands of medical people who work hard and try to do their best to help their patients.  Thus, I am going to print Fred’s letter to me following my comments.  I hope this will “balance” out my negativity somewhat and create a more balanced view of American medical practice in the 21st century.  (Thank You Fred for taking the time to send us your thoughts.)

  1. Number of Needless Surgeries that are Done

There are many people who are enamored with surgery.  There are an equal number of doctors who are enamored with surgery.  When anyone in the first group goes to anyone in the second group, you can bet that surgery will be the answer to all their problems.  AbracadabraAnd like magic, their hip pains, knee pains and back pains will go away.  The patients are joyous, (unless they die on the operating table like my friend did last summer after going in for a hip replacement).  The doctors are joyous since they are thousands of dollars richer and of course the hospitals are also joyous since they too are also thousands of dollars richer.

signs-that-you-should-see-a-doctor-physical-therapyHave you ever heard of a doctor turning anyone down for back surgery, knee surgery or hip surgery by telling them that they are overweight and would be better served by an exercise program or by physical therapy?  If so, I can guarantee they are not typical of most medical practitioners.  How many doctors look at the major cause of back, knee and hip problems and try to deal with that?  Impossible, because doctors do not treat you over a lifetime.  You don’t see a doctor until you have a problem and by then it may be too late.  Surgery is the fastest solution because exercise, dieting and physical therapy take discipline and time.  Doctors do not want to tell you the truth because it is an inconvenient truth but many problems should not be treated by surgery until it is a last resort.  Too often, it is the first resort.

  • Data show that 10% to 20% of some common surgeries are done unnecessarily – USA Today – June 20th, 2013
  • “I think there’s a higher percentage who are not well trained or not competent to determine when surgery is necessary, Santa says. ‘Then you have a big group who are more businessmen than medical professionals — doctors who look at those gray cases and say, ‘Well, I have enough here to justify surgery, so I’m going to do it.” — USA Today

Here per the study reported by USA Today are the six leading surgeries that often performed and just as often not needed:

  • Cardiac Angioplasty, Stents
  • Cardiac Pacemakers

Pacemakers are used to correct heartbeat irregularities, but research shows that more than 22 percent of these implants may be unnecessary.

  • Spinal Fusion Back Surgery

lumbar-spine-surgeryIf you have low back pain and see different specialists you will get different tests: rheumatologists will order blood tests, neurologists will order nerve impulse tests, and surgeons will order MRIs and CT scans. But no matter what tests you get, you’ll probably end up with a spinal fusion because it’s one of the “more lucrative procedures in medicine,” author Shannon Brownlee says – even though the best success rate for spinal fusions is only 25 percent!

  • Hysterectomy
  • Knee and Hip Replacement, and Arthroscopic Knee Surgery

Patients who were informed about joint replacements and alternative treatments had 26 percent fewer hip replacements and 38 percent fewer knee replacements than those who did not. Arthroscopic knee surgery for osteoarthritis is also one of the most unnecessary surgeries performed today, as it works no better than a placebo surgery.

Proof of this is a double-blind placebo-controlled multi-center (including Harvard’s Mass General Hospital) study published in one of the most well-respected medical journals on the planet, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) over 10 years ago.

knee surgeryRecent research has also shown arthroscopic knee surgery works no better than placebo surgery, and when comparing treatments for knee pain, physical therapy was found to be just as effective as surgery, but at significantly reduced cost and risk. And yet another study showed exercise is just as effective as surgery for people with chronic pain in the front part of their knee, known as chronic patellofemoral syndrome (PFPS), which is also frequently treated unnecessarily with arthroscopic surgery.

  • Cesarean Section

According to the World Health Organization, no country is justified in having a cesarean rate greater than 10 percent to 15 percent. The US rate, at nearly 32 percent, is the highest rate ever reported in the US and is higher than in most other developed countries.

The USA Today article went on to talk about many diagnoses that were based on limited medical knowledge and that doctors often lacked the expertise to explore alternative treatment modes.  This is an issue of incompetence and it seems to be a major problem in the medical field with many doctors getting their information from their pharmaceutical representatives.

I have not even touched on the issue of malpractice.  But I will say a few words about this.  No one is perfect.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Medical treatment and diagnosis is a very difficult process.  I will not blame any doctor for an honest error committed with good intentions and not simply out of ignorance or greed.  This is one area where I sympathize with the doctors and hospitals more than I do the lawyers.  Nevertheless, there are some egregious examples of medical practice and a lawsuit might be the only recourse for such cases.

I use the information from the USA Today article, but none of it surprises me.  I have had many friends who have undergone surgery for the situations noted above. I have often tried to counsel them as to other solutions but it is generally a waste of time.  I have had two notable successes though and they have both expressed their gratitude to me for sharing my opinions and thoughts with them and preventing them from getting surgery.


  1. Pills, Pills and more Pills

If life were fair, many doctors would be in jail right alongside of other drug dealers.  Doctors do not have the violence associated with illegal drugs because they have a license to prescribe drugs.  However, doctors prescribe drugs that are no more needed than heroin or cocaine and at much greater rates than your street drug pusher.

The size of the illicit drug trade (2012 data) in the USA including Marijuana, Heroin, Cocaine and Methamphetamines was estimated to be about 100 billion dollars a year.  —- How Big is the U.S. Market for Illegal Drugs?  We can assume that street dealers and drug pushers are responsible for most of these drugs.  So how much do doctors push?

If we look at the following fact, we can extrapolate from it the total amount of prescription drugs sold each year in the USA.

“In 2013, per capita spending on prescription drugs was $858 compared with an average of $400 for 19 other industrialized nations. In the United States, prescription medications now comprise an estimated 17% of overall personal health care services. —  The High Cost of Prescription Drugs in the United States (2016). 

deaths from over druggingSo if we assume roughly 326,000,000 (USA Population in 2016) people and we multiply that by $858 dollars per capita, the total amount should equal the total amount spent on prescription drugs.  This amount equals = $279,708,000,000.  This is almost three times what is being spent on illegal drugs.  I am not even going to talk about caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other “legal” drugs.  Given that doctors love to prescribe pills and many patients love to take them, is there any wonder that we have or are currently experiencing an opioid epidemic in the US.

“Americans are in more pain than any other population around the world. At least, that’s the conclusion that can be drawn from one startling number from recent years: Approximately 80 percent of the global opioid supply is consumed in the United States…. The 300 million pain prescriptions equal a $24 billion market.”  — Americans consume vast majority of the world’s opioids (2016).

I say again that if life were fair, many doctors would be called drug pushers or DP’s rather than MD.’s   They would also be in jail.  Who should be responsible for the opiate epidemic if not doctors.  When and where do they stand their ground.  Even if people are stupid or lazy enough to want surgeries to cure problems of obesity and diet or if they want pain killers to mask the problems from their obesity and lack of exercise, who is the expert here?  Do parents give their children everything they ask for?  You go to an expert on medicine to get help and not to have them take advantage of you for their own benefit or pander to you because they are afraid to tell you the inconvenient truth.  What is this inconvenient truth?  I will talk more about this truth later in this series but to be quite direct and blunt it is this:

“British businesswoman and columnist Katie Hopkins has a controversial view on the obesity epidemic: that the solution is simply to eat less and exercise more — and that fat people have no one to blame for their weight issues but themselves.” — I gained 43 pounds to prove obese people are lazy

I had a friend that I used to ride motorcycles with.  He died in a motorcycle crash a few years back.  He was a great guy.  He always had a smile and something nice to say to someone.  His name was Gary.  He was also obese and exercised little.  He had chicken legs and bad knees.  Well, what would you expect if you weighed 100 lbs. more than you should and you let your leg muscles go to hell.  Of course, he went in to see his doctor with knee pains.  The doctor was more than happy to suggest Gary should lose some weight but in the meantime, he would schedule the surgery for knee replacement.  To my mind, this is criminal, irresponsible and ignorant behavior on the part of his doctor.  Gary got the surgery.  Never lost much weight and died not too long after from other causes.

Doctors pushing pills, pushing surgery.  It is like the Yin-Yang of American medical practice.  Throw into the mix a lot of lazy people who do not exercise or take care of themselves and you have a health care system spending tons of money on acute care when preventive care would be a much more sensible solution.

  1. Me Doctor, Me Busy.  Who are You?

Some of you might remember the skit on Saturday Night Live with Martin Short playing a doctor.  When asked what his badge that said MD meant, he would reply somewhat superciliously “Me Doctor, You Patient.”  When I was working as a consultant to some hospitals, it was not uncommon to hear nurses complain that doctors were like gods whose every word should be obeyed.  They seldom came to team meetings because “their time was too valuable.”

I will stay away from the subject of how much money doctors rake in since they often ascribe their high incomes to the length of time it takes to finish medical school and all of the attendant costs.  This sounds like a reasonable explanation but an alternative theory might mention the strangle hold that the AMA had on medical admissions and the role that restricting the supply of doctors has had on the cost of their services.  The law of supply and demand says that if you have fewer doctors, the cost per care will be higher.  For years, the AMA did all they could to help keep the supply of doctors down.

  • But the entities that will be most injurious to the nation’s health are not so much in the evil-mongers’ group but the first group, including the American Medical Association–a doctors’ cartel that has controlled the medical labor market in the U.S. like its personal fiefdom for a century. — The Evil-Mongering Of The American Medical Association (2012)

So, doctors come to regard themselves as the elite who know more than you do and who must be smarter than you since they make a great deal more money than most of their patients.  Doctors used to do house calls many years ago; back then, a doctor might have known something about your family and you personally.   My wife Karen told me the following story about her family doctor.   It generated the following conversation:

Karen —

“When I was married, and raising four children, my ex-husband Ron and I became good friends with a local White Bear doctor.  He became a family friend as well as our family doctor.  We knew him for over thirty years and he knew me and my family personally and really cared about us.” 

John —

“Okay, so now you have been seeing a doctor in Frederic for about seven years.  How much does she know about you personally or really care about you?”

Karen —

“I think she really cares about me.”

John —

“But how much does she know about you personally.  Your goals.  Your dreams.  What you did this past winter?”

Karen —

“Well, at first, she used to take more time to talk to me but the past few years she has seemed much busier and anxious to keep our meetings short.  I suppose the clinic has a quota for how much time she can spend with a patient.” 

Again, there are numerous anecdotes and articles describing the lack of time doctors have to spend today with patients.   Here is an excerpt from one:

“Joan Eisenstodt didn’t have a stopwatch when she went to see an ear, nose and throat specialist recently, but she is certain the physician was not in the exam room with her for more than three or four minutes.

‘He looked up my nose, said it was inflamed, told me to see the nurse for a prescription and was gone,’ said the 66-year-old Washington, D.C., consultant, who was suffering from an acute sinus infection.

When she started protesting the doctor’s choice of medication, “He just cut me off totally,” she said. “I’ve never been in and out from a visit faster.” — You’re on the clock.  Doctors rush patients out the door (2014)

I can guarantee you that if your doctor only takes a few minutes with you, once or twice per year, there is not much they can know about you personally regardless of how caring and concerned they are.  You might ask “well, why is this important.”   Here is the reason stated very well I think in Wikipedia:

“The quality of the patient–physician relationship is important to both parties. The better the relationship in terms of mutual respect, knowledge, trust, shared values and perspectives about disease and life, and time available, the better will be the amount and quality of information about the patient’s disease transferred in both directions, enhancing accuracy of diagnosis and increasing the patient’s knowledge about the disease. Where such a relationship is poor the physician’s ability to make a full assessment is compromised and the patient is more likely to distrust the diagnosis and proposed treatment, causing decreased compliance to actually follow the medical advice.”  — Wikipedia


I promised some solutions to each truth that I am telling you.  Here are some that might help you to deal with this first truth.

  1. Get a second opinion for any surgery.
  2. Use the Internet to search for alternative treatment modes. Get advice if you are not Internet savvy. Remember, there are many opinions and not all are right.
  3. Exercise and have a health care plan. Follow it.
  4. Don’t take any pills unless you must. Try to unwean or get off them as soon as possible.
  5. Beware side effects from pills. Every pill has a side effect.  Make sure you are aware of any that might affect you and be cognizant of any changes in your life while taking these pills.
  6. Take a friend with you whenever you go in for an appointment or treatment. Talk to your friends to get their insights and opinions.
  7. Don’t assume your doctor is God and knows what is best for you. Be a skeptic but be realistic.  Modern medicine is better than sorcery but not always much better.
  8. Don’t assume that your doctor is your friend or has your best interests at heart. They might not have enough time to care.

Fred’s letter to me:

I read your blog on medical practice and it was indeed thought provoking.

I’ve had good results with doctors over my lifetime. Not always perfect but usually satisfactory and in some cases, it was excellent.

Medical care is a process and requires the same attention as any process. It seems especially complex today because of how rapidly technology and all the stakeholder’s needs and expectations are changing.

Overall, it’s greatly improved in its capabilities. My main concern for medicine is the same as I’ve had for years in business. My business life became more and more controlled by the bean counters and the lawyers. The same is true of medicine. Blaming doctors is blaming people, which is always a red flag to me as one who has a bad habit of judging others without knowing them. Like the driver for quality improvement, expectations always move to higher and higher expectations. And based on what I’ve heard from friends over my life, expectations are often unrealistic.

A friend recently died. He was an old school, oil field production engineer and didn’t trust any of his doctors. He’d get pissed at one and then begin to “doctor hop”; never telling one what the other had done or prescribed. I questioned him many times, always inquiring why he’d not share his history. His reply: “I ain’t telling them anything.  They make good money and are supposed to tell me what’s wrong.”

I see the process much as we viewed our manufacturing and service processes ..with customers, suppliers, inputs and outputs being carefully considered. A critical output is the result when your illness is diagnosed and this is too often a major problem source. My friend tends to expect this to be an exact outcome but in reality it isn’t. It’s only a statistical prediction that too many older doctors failed to point out to naive, uneducated patients.

In recent years, our doctors point out the statistics and involve us in the decisions for corrective action. My wife’s breast cancer surgery was a good example. Years ago, the doctor would have made the decision for which surgery, mastectomy or lumpectomy. Sandra made the decision armed with various study statistics and discussion with the Doctor. The Internet was a source for me to verify the statistics but that isn’t easy because there are often many studies,

The surgeries are complex and the statistics often work out for the worst. Records on lawsuits and doctor reviews are more readily available today. I recall a bad experience with my dad years ago. Our family doctor became a friend from making many house calls as 3 kids were raised. Dad was a merchant seaman and would provide Porte Rico rum for our good doctor. They were the best of buddies and talked about the old days during visits. Dad visited him yearly but when dad’s tobacco tarred lungs became late stage cancerous it was too late. Doctor “Tom” as an individual practitioner didn’t have the computer technology that red flags today’s doctors. Doctor Tom was as heartbroken as my dad. He and his wife nurse apologized that they’d not x rayed dad 6 months earlier. We probably could have sued but dad would never have agreed to such.

The body of knowledge has expanded too much for any one doctor to master it all, so now we have multiple knowledge based “Specialists” having to deal with the directives from medical organization bean counters and their lawyers.

I consider our medical providers to be leading edge. They seem to focus on continuously improving to meet customer expectations. I’m hoping, but doubt the doctors and staff will be given additional support. They track customer satisfaction inputs so I should be more confident.

I can email any of my doctors and I can access historical results. I especially like being able to take a picture of a physical observation and sent it in.  A couple of years ago, I tore a muscle on the back of my leg and a huge blue area surfaced overnight.  It scared the heck out of me. I emailed a picture and he emailed back telling me what it probably was, how to treat it and to see a doctor if it didn’t heal. My expectations are now at an even higher level which puts more load on the doctor. He not only has to live up to corporate standards on office visits but he must respond to patient emails. Just yesterday I received a corporate email announcing that they have decided to do “Face Time” appointments for $25!

Overall, I have concerns for the profession but I think problems are “process” related. To think otherwise would go against what I’ve believed for a long time.


Time for Questions:

How satisfied are you with your medical care?  Why or why not?  Have you ever had a loved one die?  How were they treated by the medical profession?  What do you think could be done to improve medical care for you and your family?  What would you like to change in the American medical care system?

Life is just beginning.

“We have really good data that show when you take patients and you really inform them about their choices, patients make more frugal choices. They pick more efficient choices than the health care system does.” — Donald Berwick





Startling Facts You Need to Know about Medical Treatment that Might Save your Life!

In the following weeks, I am going to cover some facts about the medical profession and medical treatment that you might not want to hear.  Many of you reading this will object to my opinions and many medical professionals will no doubt take umbrage at my assertions.  Nevertheless, if my truths do not set you free, they might at least keep you healthier.

What are my qualifications for making these claims?  Seventy years or more of dealing with medical professionals.  Personal treatments for broken bones, sprains, cuts, lacerations, infections, pneumonia, measles, whooping cough, bursitis, plantar fasciitis, prostate cancer, hernia, a deviated septum, Morton’s neuroma, knee and hip pains.  I have watched and known many relatives and friends who have died either because of the medical profession or because of the false beliefs that afflict so much of the general population regarding medical treatment.  I have a BS in Health Education and a MS in Psychology.  I also have a wife who has been a nurse for over 50 years and who still works in the medical field.

20170308_084015My disclaimer is that this does not make me an expert.  In fact, I would maintain that expertise in medicine is like the five blind men who were trying to describe an elephant.  Each man had a different perspective on what an elephant looked like.  Individually, no one perspective was a very adequate description of an elephant.  It would take a synthesis of all perspectives and even more to truly describe an elephant.  That is the problem with medicine.  Too often, each professional looks at a problem through the narrow lens of their own discipline. The reality of a medical problem can often only be understood by multiple perspectives because of the interaction of the systems that make up the human body.  This defining perspective of the problem seldom occurs both because of the nature of medical practice and many times because of the egotism of the so-called medical experts we consult.

A few years ago, my wife’s elderly 85-year-old father Ray went into the hospital with a kidney problem.  We knew he had a heart problem, so we were very concerned.  In the hospital, it seems that further complications arose.  He was being treated by several different specialists.  Over the course of the days that he was in, I had the feeling that none of them were talking to each other.

One day both Karen and I went to visit Ray and he seemed very alert and like his old self.  Karen asked him how he felt and he shocked us with the reply that “he was going to die today.”  Since Ray had been somewhat of a hypochondriac, we were wont to dismiss this assertion but we decided to talk to the doctor in charge at the time.  We asked him how Ray was doing.  He replied “Just fine, he will be discharged today.”  Thus, we were both relieved and Karen and I went off to work feeling comfortable that her father was A-OK.

Shortly after noon, I received a call from Karen.  She was crying and wanted me to meet her at the hospital as soon as possible.  She informed me that her father had died sometime after we had left that morning.  I was incredulous.  How could this be?  The lead doctor had said he was going to be discharged this very day.  It was not the first of my many lessons with the medical profession, but it was one of the saddest.  Karen could have been there with her dad, if we had both believed him instead of the MD.  This does not mean that the doctors do not care about you, just that they are too busy to know who you really are or what your problems really are.  They are too busy treating symptoms to give a damn about you as a person.


In the next few weeks, I am going to cover several perspectives about medicine and medical care.  I will discuss one a week for the next ten weeks.  My perspectives will each be explained in more depth and I will provide some “solutions” for dealing with the problems that arise from these perspectives.  I want to warn you.  If you love your doctor and you truly think that the medical profession are heroes and next to gods, you should not read what I am going to write.  You will not like what I must say.  I am not a “true believer” and this is not a selection to applaud the medical establishment.  There are enough people out there already doing that.

My ten perspectives are:

  1. The AMA and its attendant professionals do not give a damn about you as a person
  2. Homeopathic medicine is a placebo
  3. Chiropractic medicine is an art and not a science
  4. Much pain is caused by laziness and ignorance and not aging
  5. Pharmaceuticals can kill you
  6. Setting exercise goals is a recipe for disaster
  7. Most diet programs ignore basic common sense
  8. Yoga and physical therapy may help but they may make things worse
  9. You need an independent advocate  AND you must be your own advocate
  10. Good health is a journey and not a destination

Time for Questions:

Do you have a favorite doctor?  Why do you like him or her?  How have you been served by the medical profession?  What are the high points?  What are the low points?  What do you think we need to do about the high cost of medical treatment?  Who do you go to first when you need medical help or advice?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

“We look for medicine to be an orderly field of knowledge and procedure. But it is not. It is an imperfect science, an enterprise of constantly changing knowledge, uncertain information, fallible individuals, and at the same time lives on the line. There is science in what we do, yes, but also habit, intuition, and sometimes plain old guessing. The gap between what we know and what we aim for persists. And this gap complicates everything we do.”  ― Atul Gawande, Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science


Unbecoming a Victim: Or how to stop complaining and make a difference

Life’s not fair!  I never get any breaks! Other people have all the luck!  The world is crap and there is nothing anyone can do about it!  It’s not my fault. Why did he/she get the job and not me? (Listen to the Power of Responsibility as you read my blog today)  Do-You-Have-a-Victim-Mentality-at-Work

If you have ever made any of the above comments, rest assured, you are probably normal. It is called feeling like a victim or wallowing in self-pity. From time to time, we all engage in victim-hood. However, if your entire life is dominated by feelings of regret, remorse and envy, you are not just engaging in a bout of self-pity, you are embracing full-on victim-hood. We all feel like victims from time to time. That is normal. But if you are thoroughly convinced that you are a victim, you need help. The world has too many too many real victims, it does not need pseudo victim. This blog is about how to avoid embracing a victim mentality and the key factors necessary to overcome such a mentality.

First, let’s look at two key questions:

  1. What is a victim?

As I am describing it here, I am not talking about victims of torture, oppression, starvation, crime, disease, pestilence or any phenomenon that is beyond the ability of an individual to evade. I am talking about a mindset that occurs when we fail to take responsibility for our actions and the consequences of our actions and behaviors on others. You probably know some people who you would describe as having this mentality. My wife Karen says she defines a victim as “someone whose problems are always someone else’s fault. They also seem to need problems and will create them if they don’t have them.”  hero versus victim

“Your complaints, your drama, your victim mentality, your whining, your blaming, and all of your excuses have NEVER gotten you even a single step closer to your goals or dreams. Let go of your nonsense. Let go of the delusion that you DESERVE better and go EARN it! Today is a new day!”  ― Steve Maraboli

We see many people who cannot find any good in the world since they are so busy feeling sorry for themselves that they cannot see the blessings that they have. I find many right-wing Christians to be prime exemplars of this victim mentality. They are so convinced that the world is evil and will end any day. The “anti-Christ” is coming and then the world will be destroyed and all the evil in it. Such people seem to revel in the idea of an apocalypse which will wipe the entire world out and only spare the “good” people. Of course, these right-wing fundamentalist Christians are the “good” people who will be spared.

  1. Why do people choose a victim mentality?

I believe the answer to this question is that it absolves the “victim” of responsibility. They can blame God, the world, other people, nature, the weather or DNA for their failures. Never having to take responsibility is a panacea for those with a victim mentality. It is easier to do nothing when any effort is predestined to fail.

“Life is not compassionate towards victims. The trick is not to see yourself as one. It’s never too late! I know I’ve felt like the victim in various situations in my life, but, it’s never too late for me to realize that it’s my responsibility to stand on victorious ground and know that whatever it is I’m experiencing or going through, those are just the clouds rolling by while I stand here on the top of this mountain! This mountain called Victory!” ― C. JoyBell C.

Overcoming the Victim Mentality:

The antidote to a victim mentality consists of four vaccines. They are as follows:

  • Moral Courage
  • Moral Reasoning
  • Moral Universalism
  • Moral Responsibility

Anyone of these four vaccines can keep you from becoming a whining victim. Taking all four together, will help you to become independent and strong. You will be a winner instead of a victim. We need to give our children these vaccines at an early age, but it is seldom done. It seems as though we must find them on our own later in life or else we flounder through life succumbing to the victim mentality until we find one or more of them.

Moral Courage:

moral courageTo dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to go where no one has gone before is courage. To stand up for what you believe, to right the unrightable wrong, to boldly speak out against injustice. This is courage. There is physical courage as is manifested in a war or sports or extreme athletic challenges. Moral courage is of the heart and soul. Bothe moral courage and physical courage result in action. One of my favorite quotes is as follows:

“The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.”Ralph W. Sockman

Moral courage does not exist by just talking about it or complaining about things. Moral courage is an attempt to make a difference by taking some decisive action. You speak out against prejudice, bigotry, hatred, racism, injustice and stupidity. You do more than read the newspaper and bemoan the sad state of the world. The life of the prophet Mohammed provides many examples of moral courage:

“Before claiming Prophethood, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was well off and had a respected place among his community. However, he had to confront all kinds of hardships and persecutions after Prophethood and spent for his cause whatever he had. His enemies slandered him, mocked him, beat him, expelled him from his homeland and waged war on him. He bore all such cruel treatments and hostilities without complaint and asked God Almighty for the forgiveness of even his enemies.”The Way to Truth 

Moral Reasoning:

devil_angelMoral reasoning occurs when you question right and wrong. Moral reasoning is a cognitive action that takes place when you question standards, conventions, group reasoning, and crowd think. Moral reasoning is the questioning of social and cultural standards. Jesus of Nazereth gave many examples of moral reasoning during his life.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel (Matthew 23:23-24).” 

Jesus is making an important distinction here between convention and morality. We often confuse justice with legality. The inability to understand the difference and its moral relevance is a failure of moral reasoning. Throughout his ministry Jesus gave many examples of moral reasoning.

Moral Universalism:

Hans Kung was a Roman Catholic priest who was stripped of his license to teach theology by the Catholic Church for criticizing the concept of papal infallibility.

“In the early 1990s, Küng initiated a project called Weltethos (Global Ethic), which is an attempt at describing what the world’s religions have in common (rather than what separates them) and at drawing up a minimal code of rules of behavior everyone can accept. His vision of a global ethic was embodied in the document for which he wrote the initial draft:, Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration.”Wikipedia

responsibilityKung’s life demonstrates a strong moral believe in the universal principles that underlie all religions. My religion is not better than your religion and all of the worlds’ great religions have a core of morality and ethics which are admirable and worth following. When we find one religion fighting with another religion or one advocate maintaining the superiority of their religion over another, we have a counter example of moral universality.

Moral universalism is an important element in overcoming victimhood. One cannot believe that their religion is superior to another religion without eventually succumbing to the rampant persecution complex that seems typical of so many religious people. I was taught when I grew up that I would go to hell if I ever stepped in a Synagogue or Temple.   Karen was taught that as a good Lutheran she should never date a Catholic. Baptists denigrate other Protestants while Muslims and Christians act as though they were worshipping different Gods. Jesus and Mohammed had a deep respect for all religions because they were wise enough to perceive the universality of religion.

Moral Responsibility:

moral responsibilityThe famous poet John Donne is perhaps best known for one of his lines that goes: “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”   Donne well understood the idea that we are all interconnected and we all have an incomprehensible interdependency such that anyone’s death affects us all. The same is true with morality. A key tenet of Buddhism is the moral responsibility that everyone on the earth faces for social and political actions.

 “Today we have become so interdependent and so closely connected with each other that without a sense of universal responsibility, irrespective of different ideologies and faiths, our very existence or survival would be difficult” – (Dalai Lama, 1976)

Of the four vaccines that are critical for overcoming a victim mentality, it is my opinion that a sense of moral responsibility is the most important. If I could only receive one vaccine, I would choose to be vaccinated with moral responsibility. A sense of moral responsibility allows us to help others who are in need. Charity, love, compassion and kindness are all nurtured by a sense of moral responsibility. As they say: “what goes around comes around.” When we do “good” for others, we do good for ourselves. By identifying with the pain and injustices that others suffer, we forget our own problems and we understand that we can make a difference in the world. No one who believes in their ability to make a difference in the world can suffer from a victim mentality.

Time for Questions:

Are you a victim or a hero? How often do you feel hopeless? What do you do about your feelings of hopelessness? How do you overcome feeling like a victim? Do you think people have a choice of how they feel? Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“Most things, even the greatest moments on earth, have their beginnings in something small. An earthquake that shatters a city might begin with a tremor, a tremble, a breath. Music begins with a vibration.”  -― Lauren Oliver










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