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Old habits die hard in the medical field

Serious problems often inspire people to seek expert opinions. If an issue is complex, technical or otherwise confusing, we are often left at the mercy of people who have made it their business to address those issues. Doctors are the experts when it comes to medical care. Unfortunately, too many patients assume that their doctor is an expert on whatever is ailing them at the time.

If you want good medical care, you will almost certainly have to take the time to educate yourself about the treatment options and risks associated with your condition. It is sometimes necessary to speak to three or more doctors to an honest assessment of the best way for you to proceed. In fact, some common treatment regimens have survived for years, even decades, despite substantial research proving them to be ineffective. Patients die having undergone needless tests or useless procedures that never had a hope of improving their condition. We like to believe that doctors are weighing evidence and keeping abreast of the latest developments, but that is all too often not the case. 

Greed and neglect keep bad practices alive

Once a procedure has been approved by insurance companies and Medicare as a treatment for a particular problem, medical professionals are reluctant to abandon that treatment. Some doctors make a living entirely on one or a handful of procedures. If new research shows those procedures to be a poor approach, the doctor faces a dilemma: find an entirely new way in medicine or keep doing what made you successful in the first place.

A large-scale problem

A few years back, a study compared existing medical practices to the research findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study identified 363 medical practices that were the subject of research articles. The study revealed that less than half of the existing practices were supported by research. Nearly half were found to be useless or less effective than the old practices they replaced. Basically, there is a profound disconnect between medical research and medical care in this country. That gap is the cause of too many needless injuries, infections, misdiagnoses and other problems to name. Patients pay the price for doctors who can't or won't alter their practices to fit the accumulated knowledge of medical research.

Source: The Atlantic, "When Evidence Says No, but Doctors Say Yes," by David Epstein and Propublica, 22 February 2017 

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