In 2001, the health system was the third leading cause of death in the US. By 2004, it was the leading cause of death with an estimated 733, 936 unnecessary deaths directly attributable to medical care. (This is more than those dying from heart disease or cancer} These figure do not include situations in which a patient was harmed, but did not die, so underestimate the size of the problem.
Harm as a result of medical care is known as iatrogenesis. Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine, who lived in the fifth century BC, wrote the following about the practice of medicine. “I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.” however, the practice of medicine has become much more complex since Hippocrates’ day and it has become more difficult to “never do harm” anyone.
A look at the statistics in the 2004 study by Gary Null et al, can help you identify the ways in which you can avoid becoming a victim of iatrogenesis. Two causes of death by the medical system are given below, together with precautions you can take to prevent these happening to you.
Adverse Drug Reaction: There were 160,000 US deaths in this category in 2004
Any drug can have adverse effects. Your goal should be to take as few drugs as possible, which means only those required to keep you in good health or to relieve very distressing symptoms.
For me, the following question helps. “Is this symptom so disabling or distressing that in order to get rid of it I would risk something worse happening.” When I had severe chronic pain, the answer was “Yes,” so I took a medication to relieve pain. Now I am free from pain I only take drugs, when I have a bacterial infection or on the rare occasion I have an asthma attack.
Adverse drug reactions are more likely to arise in newer drugs, because relatively few people are enrolled in the testing phases, and reporting unexpected effects is not mandatory but voluntary. Apparently only 20% of adverse drug effects are ever reported to the US Food and Drug Administration.. Thus, in the US at least, adverse reactions may take several years to come to light. So to protect yourself it is best to take drugs that have been on the market for five years or longer.
Always ask what the drug is and why it is being prescribed. What is the intended effect? What would happen if you did not have it?
You should always let your physician and pharmacist know of previous drug reactions or allergies, or of any food allergies you may have, and any supplements or other substances you are taking. Also, because some drugs may have possible side effect of hearing loss, let your physician know if you already are hearing-impaired, since added impairment would have serious repercussions for you.
Always use the same pharmacy or pharmacists to dispense your drugs. That way, errors, such as having two medications that have the same effect , will be more likely to be picked up. A pharmacist who knows your medication use, can be helpful if you have questions about possible symptoms you are experiencing, and is generally easier to see than any physician.
Keep a list in your wallet of all medications you are taking, and of any allergies you may have.. That way if you are admitted to hospital or are in an accident, the medications you require will be known. When in-hospital, ask to see a list of the medications they have prescribed for you, to check that no vital medication has been omitted. Also, when the nurse gives you a medication., ask “what is the name of this medication, and what is it supposed to do.”
Unnecessary Procedures: in 2004 there were 37,136 unnecessary procedures performed on US patients
Safe medical care requires that the benefits from care are greater than the risks. All medical procedures have some risk. By definition, an unnecessary procedure involves a risk that is greater than the benefit, since there is no benefit from an unnecessary procedure.
You can protect yourself from unnecessary procedures by specifically asking about risks and benefits, and by asking what alternatives there are to the procedure. Ask too what alternatives there are to produce the same benefit.
Making responsible decisions about your body is part of creating health. While the health care system can enhance your health, it can also destroy it. So use the health system wisely.