Letters from Ward 5: Healthcare is Big Business.

I am sure every single one of you has received postings on healthcare issues sometime or other. You know, the ones about Cancer, Cardiac Arrest, Stroke, Pharmaceutical Companies and Private Hospitals.

All I can say is, take in the info, digest it and make your own mind up. While there is lots of useful information on the net, there are also lots of myths flying in cyberspace. Use your common sense. This is easier said than done, since sense is not so common going by how we repeatedly vote in the same thieves who steal from us, but I will leave that for another day.

G.P. or specialist?

The first thing I want to ask is: Why do people go to a “specialist” every time they have a minor complaint.  Ahmad has a runny nose – see ENT, Ah Kow has back pain – Neurologist, Muthu’s heartbeat is fast –Cardiologist.

In the-not-so-old days, we consulted a GP when we are sick. The whole family goes to the same GP who has been treating our father, us and then our children. We trust the GP. We know that if there is something serious, or something he cannot handle, he would refer us to a specialist. He knows the family – not just the medical side; often he has become a family friend. You don’t get whisked in and out of his room in five minutes; he makes time to talk to you.

“Stop staying till all hours under the bush in Coronation Park with your latest. A few early nights and you will be alright, Ahmad. Meanwhile rub some Vicks on your chest, and hers if she also has a runny nose;and keep each other warm; you will be right as rain”

“Ah Kow, at your age you can’t do all the things you did when you were 27. Some positions are impossible at 72; take it from me. Take two weeks good rest. If the problem persists come back to see me.”

“Hey, Muthu, stop watching those type of movies . . . how not to get the heart racing? If the heart does not beat faster after watching those films then there is something wrong with you.”

Only your GP who is also your friend will tell you the above. A specialist does not know you well enough. He will send you for this and that test, scans, and then tell you to stay a week in the hospital for observation. If you have insurance, stay two weeks.

Okay, I am oversimplifying the problem but you know what I mean. Most of our ailments can be treated by a GP. Why waste money on a Specialist? Use your common sense, man!

Business first, Hippocratic Oath second

They don’t spend millions on building a hospital, equipping it and staffing it with Specialists, for fun. Neither is it because they love you – oh they love you alright but not because you are handsome; they want your money. Private Hospitals/Healthcare is BIG BUSINESS!

Because it is Business first, and Hippocratic Oath second, all kinds of unethical practices occur.

Dr Farid Fata was a famous oncologist in the States who owned a chain of clinics linked to reputable (private) hospitals. To cut a long story short, he diagnosed a patient as having cancer and treated her with expensive drugs and unnecessary procedures. He was charged and sentenced.

Stating that Dr Farid Fata “ordered his patients poisoned for money”. The prosecutors contended that Dr Fata “victimized 553 patients and ordered at least 9000 medically unnecessary infusions or injections including chemotherapy for people who did not have cancer”.  Federal Prosecutors asked for life in prison for the oncologist who turned his one clinic into a medical empire with clinics all over the U.S. 

When healthcare becomes a business, greed often overrides ethics – doctors are human, even though we sometimes treat them like gods. Like everyone, they can  be tempted by easy money.

A posting did the rounds not too long ago about someone who was diagnosed as having a heart problem by the private hospital in KL, when it turned out he had none. True or not I don’t know, but I can relate what happened to me: I went to a private hospital in Penang to check on my persistent chest pains. The cardiologist did some tests and declared that I needed a stent because one of my arteries was blocked. I was reluctant to do it because I am a coward, the sight of blood drives me nuts; but nevertheless consented after the specialist convinced me my life was at risk. An appointment was set. When I got out of the clinic I saw a banner advertising the latest hospital acquisition – a state of the art scanner (it could even see into my arteries).  I decided there and then to be scanned. It showed there was nothing wrong with me. I cancelled my appointment with the cardiologist.  That was more than 10 years ago. I guess he would have to wait a little longer to for his Ferrari.

So use your common sense. Don’t take everything the specialist at the private hospital say as Gospel. If you have a problem and it is not critical why not use the public hospital – you have paid for it with your taxes.

The pharmaceutical companies

So much for Specialists, what about the pharmaceutical companies?

Let’s cut to the chase: drug companies do not exist to cure diseases, or help in healing; if they did, then they will be out of business. They are there to provide disease maintenance and symptoms management – not cure. The more you use their drugs the richer they get.

Honest doctors will tell you that exercise is better for dealing with depression than drugs – which often lead to dependency. But do you see any pharmaceutical company publicise this? Sponsor walks, runs or any form of physical exercise -“An Hour’s Walk A Day, Keep the Drug Pushers Away!” No you don’t, because it is a multi-billion dollar business and your health comes a poor second to profits.

Do you know that Vitamin D is produced by your skin in response to exposure to ultraviolet radiation from natural sunlight? Vitamin D is crucial for calcium absorption in your intestines. Without Vitamin D, your body cannot absorb calcium, rendering calcium supplements useless.

But do you hear any pharmaceutical company tell you this? Have you heard any “supplements’ company tell you “No need to buy our Vitamin D, just go in the sun for free Vitamin D”. They sell Calcium fortified everything. And they sell Vitamin D fortified everything too – milk powder for instance. For your child’s health drink our milk.  They are out to make money, so if they tell you Allah has provided Vitamin D free of charge they will make less money.

And these companies work hand in glove with doctors, because without doctors these drugs will not reach the patients. Selling drugs is an additional source of income for private hospitals.

I would like to think most doctors are honest and ethical and the Hippocratic Oath means something to them. Most will give the best medical advice they can, and only prescribe drugs or recommend procedures when necessary. But many are just greedy, they will not hesitate to pad the bills or recommend unnecessary procedures. Do you know that when a doctor asks you to do the whole gamut of tests he is, first, covering his back and, second, it means more money for him and the hospital. What happened to their diagnostic skills that they need tests after tests to tell them you have a simple cold and not caught some incurable virus. I think many doctors now have poor diagnostic skills, that’s why they depend on machines or is it because they depend so much on machines that they have poor diagnostic skills. I am not suggesting that they don’t use modern equipment; but don’t use it to pad the bill unnecessarily.

Private Hospitals are like the Great White Shark

Unethical practices happen because doctors are greedy and private hospitals care for the bottom line more than they care for their patients. A source told me that a private hospital had quotas for their doctors to meet. Private Hospitals are like the Great White Shark, they take you in one bite.   

I am lucky I have a great GP who will not simply ask me to take tests after tests and when I need one he will tell me which is the cheapest place to go to.

It is for us to use our common sense when dealing with our health or that of our loved ones. But this is easier said than done. We want to give the best care to our loved ones and we often think a “specialist” is the best. Faced with a situation, you don’t think clearly and you will do whatever the doctor says because your loved one is suffering. They have got you over a barrel and the next thing is they have their grubby hands in your pocket.

My advice as a layman is find yourself a good GP, if you do not have one. If you have one, trust him!

Secondly, use our public health system. We have an excellent health system (although many may not think so), the doctors are competent – often more experienced than the private specialists because of the number of cases they attend to.  More importantly, they don’t have an axe to grind – no profit margin to maintain, no quota – they will do what is necessary. And best of all it is very affordable.

I had an operation and it required me to stay ten days in the hospital. The bill came to RM188.00. The same done in a private hospital would have cost me an arm and a leg.

The healthcare industry has run amok if you ask me. In the not-so-old days, you ask a kid why he wants to be a doctor and he would probably say he wanted to save lives and help the sick. Kids today will probably say, because they want to be rich!

We need a Medical Ombudsman who can look after the public’s interest. Someone without conflicting interests.To totally trust the private hospitals would be bonkers.

Time for my pink pills. On the other hand, I think I will go for a run instead.

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By Yin

Ward 5, T. R.

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