Assorted Links

Thanks to Casey Manion.

Joseph Biederman is Still at Harvard

Joseph Biederman is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. It makes a certain sense. According to Wikipedia, in 2007 he was

the second highest producer of high-impact papers in psychiatry overall throughout the world with 235 papers cited a total of 7048 times over the past 10 years as determined by the Institute for Scientific Information.

And he has won several awards:

Biederman was the recipient of the 1998 NAMI Exemplary Psychiatrist award. He was also selected by the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society Awards committee as the recipient of the 2007 Outstanding Psychiatrist Award for Research. In 2007, Biederman received the Excellence in Research Award from the New England Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He was also awarded the Mentorship Award from the Department of Psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

But there’s also this:

Biederman had pioneered the diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children and adolescents, a disorder previously thought to affect only adults. One of the world’s most influential child psychiatrists, Biederman’s work led to a 40-fold increase in pediatric bipolar disorder diagnoses and an accompanying expansion in the use of antipsychotic drugs – developed to treat schizophrenia and not originally approved for use in children – to treat the condition. However, Biederman and his colleagues Spencer and Wilens failed to accurately disclose the large consultancy fees they were receiving from pharmaceutical companies that make antipsychotics whilst conducting this research.

For which Biederman received a slap on the wrist from Harvard.

And there’s this:

Dr. Biederman pushed [Johnson & Johnson] to finance a research center at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, with a goal to “move forward the commercial goals of J.& J” [said Biederman in an email]

In other words, he felt no shame in admitting that he considered the commercial goals of Johnson & Johnson more important than the health of children with severe problems. One of the few people who can really help these children — by doing good research — he preferred to help Johnson & Johnson.

ADHD Experts Have a Bad Case of Gatekeeper Syndrome

Gatekeeper syndrome afflicts many many healthcare professionals. People with gatekeeper syndrome dismiss or ignore any solution that does not involve them (or someone like them) being a gatekeeper and charging “toll”, i.e., making money. When I was a teenager, I had acne. None of the dermatologists I saw showed any interest in what caused it or even seemed to understand it was possible to learn the cause. All of them prescribed drugs (antibiotics) so powerful I had to see them again and again to get the prescription refilled. That’s garden-variety gatekeeper syndrome.

A recent New York Times article about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) illustrates gatekeeper syndrome among professionals from whom you might expect better. The article describes ADHD experts at various universities wringing their hands: Did we overemphasize drugs at the expense of “skills training”?

Some authors of the [1999] study — widely considered the most influential study ever on A.D.H.D. — worry that the results oversold the benefits of drugs, discouraging important home- and school-focused therapy and ultimately distorting the debate over the most effective (and cost-effective) treatments.

What about finding the cause(s) of ADHD? And getting rid of it/them? Maybe that would be a good idea? None of the experts quoted in the article even seems aware this is possible.

When an ordinary psychotherapist or doctor has gatekeeper syndrome, I think they’re just a foot soldier. The experts in the Times article are not foot soldiers. They’re generals. They are professors at world-famous universities, such as UC Berkeley and McGill, with enormous influence.  (One is a former colleague of mine, Stephen Hinshaw.) They don’t need to see patients and dispense treatments to make a living. They have assured income (tenure) and prestige. They enjoy freedom of thought.

Too bad they don’t use their freedom and prestige to better help the children they study and the tens of millions of children who will be diagnosed with ADHD until someone (not them, apparently) figures out what causes it. Instead, they study who should get the revenue stream that each new diagnosis provides.

Thanks to Alex Chernavsky.

Dark Picture of Doctors

A New York Times article about error in a risk calculator paints an unflattering picture of doctors:

1. The risk calculator supposedly tells you your risk of a heart attack, to help you decide if you should take statins. It overestimates risk by about 100%. The doctors in charge of it were told about the error a year ago. They failed to fix the problem.

2. The doctors in charge of the risk calculator are having trouble figuring out how to respond. The possibility of a simple retraction seems to not have occurred to them. As one commenter said, “That the researchers, once confronted with the evidence it was faulty, struggled with how to handle the issue is quite telling.”

3. In the comments, a retired doctor thinks the problem of causation of heart disease is very simple:

Statins . . . are only one component in the prevention and treatment of coronary artery disease. Item number one is to have a normal weight. Item two is never smoke. Item three is exercise. Four is to eat an intelligent diet. Five is to remove stress from your life as much as practical. If everybody did these five things (all of which are free), the incidence of coronary artery disease would plummet and many fewer would need statins.

This reminds me of a doctor who told me she knew why people are fat: They eat too much and exercise too little. She was sure.

4. In the comments, a former medical writer writes:

Several years ago, I wrote up, as internal reports, about two dozen transcripts recorded at meetings with local doctors that a major drug company held all around the country. The meetings concerned its statin. Two ideas presented at these meetings by the marketing team, and agreed with by the physician attendees, were: 1) the muscle pain reported by patients was almost never caused by the statin but was the result of excessive gardening, golfing, etc; 2) many children should be prescribed a statin and told that they would have to take the drug for life.

5. Another doctor, in the comments, says something perfectly reasonable, but even her comment makes doctors look bad:

I am a physician and I took statins for 2 years. Within the first 6 months, I developed five new serious medical problems, resulting in thousands of dollars spent on treatments, diagnostic tests, more prescription medications, and lost work. Neither I nor any of my 6 or 7 different specialists thought to suspect the statin as the source of my problems. I finally figured it out on my own. It took 3 more years for me to get back to my baseline state of health. I had been poisoned. I see this all the time now in my practice of dermatology. Elderly patients are on statins and feel lousy, some of whom are also on Alzheimer’s drugs, antidepressants, Neurontin for chronic pain, steroids for fibromyalgia. These poor people have their symptoms written off as “getting older” by their primary physicians, most of whom I imagine are harried but well intentioned, trying to follow guidelines such as these, and so focused on treating the numbers that they fail to see the person sitting in front of them. The new guidelines, with their de-emphasis on cholesterol targets, seem to tacitly acknowledge that cholesterol lowering has little to do with the beneficial actions of statins. The cholesterol hypothesis is dying. If statins “work” by exerting anti-inflammatory benefits, then perhaps we should seek safer alternative ways to accomplish this, without subjecting patients to metabolic derangement.

6. A patient:

My previous doctor saw an ultrasound of my Carotid Artery with a very small buildup and told me I needed to take crestor to make it go away. That was four years ago and I still suffer from some memory loss episodes as a result. The experience was terrible and he’s toast because he denied it could happen.

7. A bystander:

For the past couple of years my job has involved working with academic physicians at a major medical school. After watching them in action — more concerned with personal reputation, funding and internecine politics than with patients — it’s a wonder any of us are limping along. And their Mickey Mouse labs and admin organizations can barely organize the annual staff holiday potluck without confusion and strife. So these botched-up results don’t surprise me at all.

I am not leaving out stuff that makes doctors look good. Maybe this is a biassed picture, maybe not. What I find curious is the wide range of bad behavior. I cannot explain it. Marty Makary argued that doctors behave badly due to lack of accountability but that doesn’t easily explain ignoring a big error when pointed out (#1), an immature response (#2), a simplistic view of heart disease (#3), extraordinary callousness (#4) and so on.  In her last book (Dark Age Ahead), Jane Jacobs wrote about failure of learned professions (such as doctors) to police themselves. Again, however, I don’t see why better policing would improve the situation.

Thanks to Alex Chernavsky.

Resistance to Fecal Transplants as Treatment for C. diff. Infection

One of the worst infections you can get in a hospital is C. difficile. It is notoriously unpleasant and hard to get rid of. It has recently been discovered that fecal transplants are highly effective against this infection. Here’s what happened next:

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) [decided] to require an Investigational New Drug (IND) application for stool transplants—formally known as “fecal microbiota transplants (FMT)”—for the treatment of C. difficile colitis. “C. diff,” as it is known, is a severe inflammation of the bowel . . .

Over the last 10 years of my practice, I saw a change in the patients I treated for C. diff. More patients were affected, they were generally more severely ill, and the infection became increasingly difficult to treat. . . . often being refractory to therapy. . . . I also began to see patients floridly septic from C. diff, occasionally needing emergency surgery to remove their colon (colectomy). [I began] to wonder whether we shouldn’t be treating severe cases of acute C. diff with stool transplants. I reasoned that it was a better alternative to an emergency colectomy. . . .

There are barriers to doing so, however:

First, there is the “ick” factor. Thus far, resistance to transplants I have recommended has not come from patients or their families, who are desperate for relief. It has come from other health care workers, especially physicians, who seem to find the idea particularly distasteful. [emphasis added. This article supports the idea that doctors are a major source of resistance to this treatment.]

There is cost and time—while the “medicine” is inexpensive and readily available, current recommendations are that the stool donor be tested for a variety of infectious diseases at a cost of $1500-2000. There might be a week’s delay, while the donor is tested for hepatitis and other infections. . . . And now there is the new FDA requirement for an IND, which will be the coup de grace for this treatment. . . . INDs are incredibly burdensome, time-consuming, and expensive for an independent practitioner to obtain. They involve hours of paperwork (my office practice consisted of me and 1-1.5 secretaries; who has time?).

Given the awfulness and danger of this infection, I think it is fair to say that the home-treatment approach (via enema) is very easy. The author of this post, Dr. Judy Stone, complains about home treatment:

Then the sole data will come from some ambitious citizen science group [which is terrible because . . . ? — Seth], and acutely or seriously ill hospitalized patients, too ill to be treated at home, will be deprived of potentially life-saving treatment.

Dr. Stone is serious — deadly serious, you could say. According to this article, “more than 9% of C. diff-related hospitalizations end in death.” Fecal transplants are very effective. Stone predicts that patients will die because “hours of paperwork” are too much trouble, at least for her (“who has time?”). A more persuasive article would have explained why patients who need this treatment cannot be sent to doctors who decide that “hours of paperwork” are doable if that is what it takes to save lives.

Thanks to Paul Nash.

Oral Rehydration Therapy For Diarrhea

Oral rehydration therapy (ORT) is given to people (usually children) suffering from diarrhea, which before ORT was often fatal. It is very simple: The sufferer drinks water with sugar and salt ad libitum (as much as they want). You probably haven’t heard of ORT — at least, I hadn’t. Everyone has heard of antibiotics. Yet “in 10 years [ORT] saved more lives than penicillin had in 40.” Infant diarrhea was once (and may still be) the main cause of death in poor countries.

A history of its discovery supports several things I’ve said on this blog. One is Thorstein Veblen’s point about the disdain among professional scientists for useful research:

ORT might also have been developed long before 1968 but for the attitudes of the dominant medical establishment toward practical experimentation, which the Cholera Research Laboratory and the National Institutes for Health shared. Nalin believes that “the people at the lab … got kudos for the extent to which [their] work was not practical. As soon as it became practical it was discarded like a soiled towel–it was too common, too hands-on… so the prestige went to people who measured trans-intestinal fluxes or electrical currents”.

No one who has attended an elite law school, medical school, or graduate program in education will be surprised by this.

Another is the great resistance among the medical establishment to cheap and effective solutions:

The formidable and persistent ignorance of the Western medical establishment, which continues over twenty-five years after the discovery of ORT, is phenomenal. While its refusal to advocate ORT may be due in part to the notion that ORT is only necessary for people in the developing world, its actions appear to be driven also by financial considerations. Most hospitals do not train physicians in the use of ORT since they have no financial reason to do so. [I think “since” overstates what is known — Seth] The use of intravenous therapy, which often involves keeping a dehydrated child overnight, assures [greater] insurance reimbursement. Sending children home with ORT would [reduce] profits. Furthermore, recent studies show that diarrhoeal illness among the elderly may incur even greater health care costs that could also be reduced by the use of ORT. At a time of heated discussion about cost-containment in health care, it seems all the more ironic and egregious that a superior, cheap, and proven therapy [fails to replace] a far more expensive one. Estimates based on the cost of hospitalizations and physician visits suggest that ORT could save billions of dollars annually.

As an example of the resistance of American doctors to a better therapy, an ORT researcher, who had used it on Apache reservations in America, told this story:

I had an anthropologist friend who adopted an Apache child from the [Arizona] reservation where we were working. He used to be the anthropologist on the reservation. And then he [left the reservation and] went to Arkansas to teach and the Apache child came down with severe diarrhea and he called me up and he said desperately, “Look, my son’s in the hospital and they’re giving him all sorts of intravenous fluids. The diarrhea’s not stopping, he’s losing weight, they’re not feeding him. I know that you did this work in Arizona [on the reservation] and it didn’t look like that. . . . Would you call this professor of pediatrics and just collegiately talk to him?” So I called up the professor and told him that in our experience with Apache children this is what we found and here’s the publication and so on. And he said to me, “Doctor, doctor, our [Arkansas] children are not the same as your [reservation] children”. He was treating an Apache child from the same reservation.

Shades of Downton Abbey (where Lady Sybil died because a London doctor was listened to instead of a rural doctor).

Assorted Links

A Little-Known Problem With Being a Doctor

When she was a little girl, a Korean friend of mine, when asked, said she wanted to be a doctor. She got the idea from her mother — it is what her mother wanted. When she was older, she had a friend whose father was a doctor. The friend told her that when her father was sick, he had to pretend that he wasn’t sick, and that this made her sad. After my friend heard that, she decided she no longer wanted to be a doctor.

End-of-Life Medicine: Enormous Lack of Informed Consent

A few weeks ago I blogged about undisclosed risks of medical treatments. Undisclosed risks are common. They might be the norm. The situation would be even worse — in some sense, much worse — if doctors knew of these risks and failed to tell their patients. It was unclear if doctors knew of the undisclosed risks I wrote about.

Recently Tyler Cowen quoted a newspaper story about Israeli doctors giving birth control injections to Ethiopian women immigrants “without their knowledge or consent.” Every commenter thought this was repugnant.

The latest RadioLab podcast (“The Bitter End”) is about the dramatic difference between how doctors want to be treated when they are near death (they want no CPR, no ventilator, no dialysis, no surgery, no chemotherapy, no feeding tube, no antibiotics, nothing except pain medicine) and how the general public wants to be treated (most people want CPR, ventilator, dialysis, surgery, chemotherapy, feeding tube, antibiotics, and so on).

The RadioLab guys were puzzled by the difference.   Continue reading “End-of-Life Medicine: Enormous Lack of Informed Consent”

Assorted Links

Thanks to Casey Manion.

Radical Thought at Johns Hopkins Medical School

Brent Pottenger, who is a medical student at John Hopkins, writes:

Today, as a required activity for our Hopkins Med endocrinology course, we watched excerpts Supersize Me and Tom Naughton’s Fat Head. Our professor then engaged us in a discussion comparing the two films. Our professor told our class that the lipid hypothesis is incorrect, said that the USDA Food Pyramid is the product of corn and wheat subsidies (and lobbies), and definitely stirred up some uneasy responses from my classmates.

I asked Brent what had made them uneasy.

What the professor said contradicted what they believe. Every professor before this has demonized saturated fat, meats, etc., so this was the first time someone questioned that belief.

How did they express their unease?

They expressed unease by getting up and leaving the lecture hall, by whispering in disgust to their neighbors, etc. — you could see it on their faces. Then, some of the more curious classmates who are always inquisitive followed up with genuine questions, wanting to know more about the validity to the statements made in Tom’s movie about Ancel Keys, the McGovern Report, the USDA, the science of the lipid hypothesis, etc.

Few Doctors Understand Statistics?

A few days ago I wrote about a study that suggested that people who’d had bariatric surgery were at much higher risk of liver poisoning from acetaminophen than everyone else. I learned about the study from an article by Erin Allday in the San Francisco Chronicle. The article included this:

At this time, there is no reason for bariatric surgery patients to be alarmed, and they should continue using acetaminophen if that’s their preferred pain medication or their doctor has prescribed it.

This was nonsense. The evidence for a correlation between bariatric surgery and risk of acetaminophen poisoning was very strong. Liver poisoning is very serious. Anyone who’s had bariatric surgery should reduce their acetaminophen intake.

Who had told Allday this nonsense? The article attributed it to “the researchers” and “weight-loss surgeons”. I wrote Allday to ask.

She replied that everyone she’d spoken to for the article had told her that people with bariatric surgery shouldn’t be alarmed. She did not understand why I considered the statement (“no need for alarm”) puzzling. I replied:

The statement is puzzling because it is absurd. The evidence that acetaminophen is linked to liver damage in people with bariatric surgery is very strong. Perhaps the people you spoke to didn’t understand that. The size of the sample (“small”) is irrelevant. Statisticians have worked hard to be able to measure the strength of the evidence independent of sample size. In this case, their work reveals that the evidence is very strong.

If the experts you spoke to (a) didn’t understand statistics and (b) were being cautious, that would be forgivable. That’s not the case here. They (a) don’t understand statistics and (b) are being reckless. With other people’s health. It’s fascinating, and very disturbing, that all the experts you spoke to were like this.

I have no reason to think that the people Allday talked to were more ignorant than typical doctors. I expect researchers to be better at statistics than average doctors. One possible explanation of what Allday was told is that most doctors, given a test of basic statistical concepts, would flunk. Not only do they fail to understand statistics, they don’t understand that they don’t understand. Another possible explanation is that most doctors have a strong “doctors do everything right” bias, even when it endangers patients. Either way, bad news.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Charles Platt and Adam Clemens.

Doctor Logic: “Acne is Caused by Bacteria”

Presumably Dr. Jenny Kim is a good dermatologist because the author of this NPR piece chose to quote her:

UCLA dermatologist Dr. Jenny Kim says many people don’t realize it’s bacteria that cause acne. “Some people say your face is dirty, you need to clean it more, scrub more, don’t eat chocolate, things like that. But really, it’s caused by bacteria and the oil inside the pore allows the bacteria to overpopulate,” Kim says.

If I were to ask Dr. Kim how she knows that acne is “caused by bacteria” I think she’d say “because when you kill the bacteria [with antibiotics] the acne goes away.”  Suppose I then asked: “Is there evidence that the bacteria of people who get acne differ from the bacteria of people who don’t get acne (before the acne)?” What I assume Dr. Kim would answer: “I don’t know.”

There is no such evidence, I’m sure. It is quite plausible that the bacteria of the two groups (with and without acne) are exactly the same, at least before acne. If it turned out, upon investigation, that the bacteria of people who get acne is the same as the bacteria of people who don’t get acne, that would make it much harder to say that acne is caused by bacteria. As far as I can tell, Dr. Kim and apparently all influential dermatologists have not thought even this deeply about it. To do so would be seriously inconvenient, because if acne isn’t caused by bacteria, it would be harder to justify prescribing antibiotics. Which dermatologists have been doing  for decades.

It isn’t just dermatologists. Many doctors believe that H. pylori causes ulcers — wasn’t a Nobel Prize given for discovering that? The evidence for that assertion consisted of: 1. H. pylori found at ulcers. 2. Doctor swallowed billions of H. pylori and didn”t get an ulcer. (Not a typo.) It was enough that he got indigestion or something. 3. Antibiotics cause ulcers to heal. That was enough for the two doctors who made the H. pylori case and the Nobel Prize committee they convinced. The doctors and the committee failed to know or understand that H. pylori infection is very common and almost no one who is infected gets an ulcer. Psychiatric causal reasoning has been even simpler and even more self-serving. We know that depression — a huge problem — is due to “a chemical imbalance”, according to many psychiatrists, because (a) antidepressants work (not very well) and (b) antidepressants change brain chemistry.

Dr. Kim’s false certainty matters because I’m sure most people with acne don’t know what causes it. I didn’t. Dr. Kim’s false certainty and similar statements from other dermatologists make it harder for them to find out.  I wrote about a woman who figured out what caused her acne. It wasn’t easy or obvious.

Thanks to Bryan Castañeda.

When You’re a Lawyer, Everything Looks Like an Opportunity to Argue

I recently posted about Unaccountable by Mart Makary, a book about the bad behavior of doctors. One of his points is “The when-you’re-a-hammer problem plagues modern medicine at every level.” He illustrated this with a case where transplant surgeons said an otherwise-healthy person with a small liver tumor should get a liver transplant. Which struck Makary as ridiculous.

A lawyer who reads this blog sees the same thing in lawyers. He told me the following story:

One of the sixteen defendants we sued moved to transfer the venue of our case from [Southern California city] to [Northern California city]. Both plaintiffs, all of his doctors (over a dozen), all of the witnesses (again, about a dozen), and all of locations where the incident took place are in or near [N. California city]. When we got the motion I took it to my boss who said, “Huh. We should’ve filed it in [N. California city] to begin with. I don’t know why we didn’t.” It would’ve been inconvenient for us, b/c we’re in [S. California city], but we’ve filed cases up there before, so we could handle it.
So, did we stipulate with the defendant and just transfer the case up north? No. We filed a pathetic, perfunctory opposition. We had an argument, but it was very weak: one of the defendants was located in [S. California city]. That’s basically all we had to hang our hat on.
We filed our opposition, defendant filed their reply. We all trekked down to court to argue our positions in front of the judge. The hearing should’ve taken 30 seconds — “Defendant’s motion granted.” — but the judge actually entertained oral argument. Finally, he granted the motion.
When I got back to the office, I noted to my secretary what a huge waste of time all of this was. The law was clear, virtually all of the facts were on opposing counsel’s side, we should’ve filed up north to begin with, so why fight it? Why not save everyone — us, opposing counsel, the judge and his staff — time and just agree? “Well, you gotta take a shot,” was her reply. Which is what I hear from attorneys all the time. “You gotta try, you gotta make the argument.” In other words, we have hammers so the hammers must be used no matter what.

No, it isn’t quite like a transplant surgeon who says a new liver is needed b/c of a small tumor — no one’s life or health is at risk — but how much time and resources are wasted in the legal system on bullshit like this?

Extremely Disappointing Facts About Doctors

The gist of Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You — and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care (copy sent me by publisher) by Mart Makary, a med school professor at Johns Hopkins, is that doctors have failed to regulate themselves. Nobody else regulates them, so they are unaccountable. In many ways, Makary shows, bad behavior (e.g., unnecessary treatment, understating the risks of treatment) is common. Hospitals hide how bad things are. Makary mostly discusses surgeons — he’s a surgeon — but gives plenty of reasons to think other specialties are no better.

The book is one horror story after another. At one point, Makary quit medical school. He was disgusted and appalled by seeing doctors — his teachers — push an old woman to consent to an operation she didn’t want and didn’t need. She refused, again and again, but the doctors kept pushing. Makary objected. He was ignored. Finally she agreed. The operation killed her. Continue reading “Extremely Disappointing Facts About Doctors”

Unaccountable by Marty Makary

The not-yet-released book Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care by Marty Makary, a professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins, may or may not make good arguments — I haven’t read it — but it certainly begins with a good story:

Harvard surgeon Dr. Luctan Leape at a national surgeon’s conference . . . opened the gathering’s keynote speech by looking out over the audience of thousands and asking the doctors to “raise your hand if you know of a physician that you work with who should not be practicing because he or she is dangerous.”

Every hand went up.

The author, Marty Makary, asked the same question at his talks and got the same response. Both of them — Leape and Makary — should have started asking “What fraction of the surgeons you work with are unfit to practice?”

I wonder how the rest of us can identify those unfit-to-practice surgeons. My experience has taught me not to trust a surgeon who says I need surgery.

“How Ignorant Doctors Kill Patients”

I have already linked to this 2004 article (“How Ignorant Doctors Kill Patients”) by Russell Blaylock, a neurosurgeon, but after rereading think it deserves a second link and extended quotation.

I recently spoke to a large group concerning the harmful effects of glutamate, explaining it is now known that glutamate, as added to foods, significantly accelerates the growth and spread of cancers. I [rhetorically] asked the crowd when was the last time an oncologist told his or her patient to avoid MSG or foods high in glutamate. The answer, I said, was never.

After the talk, a crowd gathered to ask more questions. Suddenly I was interrupted by a young woman who identified herself as a radiation oncologist. She angrily stated, “I really took offense to your comment about oncologists not telling their patients about glutamate.”

I turned to her and asked, “Well, do you tell your patients to avoid glutamate?” She looked puzzled and said, “No one told us to.” I asked her who this person or persons were whose job it was to provide her with this information. I then reminded her that I obtained this information from her oncology journals. Did she not read her own journals?

Yet, this is the attitude of the modern doctor. An elitist group is in charge of disseminating all the information physicians are to know. If they do not tell them, then, in their way of thinking, the information was of no value.

The incentive structure of modern medicine in action. If you do harm, you are not punished — thus the high error rate. If you do good, you are not rewarded — so why bother to think (“no one told us”)? The similarity to pre-1980 Chinese communism, where it didn’t matter if you were a good farmer or a bad farmer, is obvious. It is a big step forward that the rest of us can now search the medical literature and see the evidence for ourselves.

Another Unintentionally Revealing Response From the American Medical Association

A few weeks ago I blogged about the lame response of the American Medical Association to HealthTap, a website that solicits doctors’ answers to medical questions. Their criticism was so weak it amounted to praise.

More recently, the AMA was asked about its position on doctor rating websites. Here’s what happened:

Robert Mills, a spokesman, sent me a statement that he said was from the A.M.A.’s president, Dr. Peter W. Carmel, that read, in part, “Anonymous online opinions of physicians should be taken with grain of salt and should not be a patient’s sole source of information when looking for a new physician.” This, however, is almost exactly the same statement it provided to its own publication, American Medical News, in 2008, when it was attributed to Dr. Nancy H. Nielsen, the president-elect of the A.M.A. at the time.

Such plagiarism is more consistent with what Jane Jacobs in Systems of Survival called guardian values (where honesty is unimportant) than commercial values (where honesty is very important). When you grasp that doctors follow guardian values rather than commercial ones their behavior becomes far more predictable — and plainly in need of control by outsiders. That doctors are allowed to charge for their services resembles allowing policemen to write as many parking tickets as they like and pocket the fines.

Thanks to Bryan Castañeda.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Anne Weiss.