A healthy mind in a healthy body
Dealing with physical problems
Fixing what’s wrong, without creating new problems
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Even people who tend to neglect their health go to the doctor when they have an accident, a serious illness, or the onset of some chronically disabling or painful condition.
For most of us, there is a family doctor or a primary care physician who has seen us before – or if not, we find a doctor at the last minute, or we go to a walk-in clinic or an emergency room. These choices are mostly easy and automatic, and then we tend to rely on the familiar doctor, or on the clinic or ER staff, to recommend specialists (if we need them), followed by tests, medical procedures, and prescriptions.
Simply following this “path of least resistance” is rational enough. Medical professionals have years of difficult training and many have decades of experience. They know far more than we could ever hope to. At the same time, they are human and, on the one hand, are capable of error and bias and carelessness just like anyone else and, on the other hand, are completely incapable of knowing everything there is to know even about their own specialty, let alone all other areas of medicine.
Furthermore, the state of science today, marvelously impressive as it is, still has massive holes in it. What science and medicine do not yet understand about the human body (and the human brain) far outweighs what they do know. And even where there is accurate general knowledge, each of our bodies and brains is different from anyone else’s in important ways, and no doctor can fully understand our own unique differences from other patients. Try to imagine what civilization will know about medicine a thousand years from now, and how primitive today’s knowledge will appear by comparison. Unfortunately, we have to deal today with this “primitive” state.
So while it's a mistake for most of us to feel that we know more than our doctors do, it is equally a mistake to think that doctors have all the answers, or can’t create problems instead of solving them, at times. In light of this reality, just as it's a rational enough strategy to follow the medical professionals wherever they try to lead us, it's also rational enough to question them and to at least consider alternatives. In this section, we look at some of the more prudent times and ways of doing that.
Dealing with Physical Problems relates to other areas of Health:
- Maintaining physical health, because efforts to maintain our health will help prevent problems, and tend to reduce the severity of those that do occur. And because dealing with physical problems promptly and properly will make it easier for us to return to our normal healthy routines.
- Maintaining mental / emotional health, because our brain power and our healthy emotions will help us make good decisions about dealing with medical problems, which tend to be complicated and stressful.
- Dealing with mental / emotional problems, because problems of a psychological nature can induce or aggravate physical problems, and vice versa.
Dealing with Physical Problems relates to other areas besides Health:
- Spirit, because medical crises and chronic illnesses test our beliefs and our spiritual strength and, conversely, a strong sense of belief and value and principle can help us withstand these situations gracefully.
- Purpose, because medical problems can disrupt or even put an end to our work and other purposeful activities.
- Love, because the medical issues of others affect us, as ours affect them.
- Avocation, because chronic medical conditions can limit the ways we enjoy time with others or even alone.
- Security, because medical care costs can quickly drain our savings, while physical disabilities can make it impractical to remain in our homes.
Dealing with Physical Problems Sub-Topics and Resources
We go to doctors and hospitals expecting to be made well, and usually that’s what happens, but sometimes things go terribly wrong. Doctors make mistakes, hospitals harbor infectious germs that are hard to kill, prescription drugs cause bad reactions or interact with one another in damaging ways.
Medical problems caused by doctors are termed “iatrogenic.” In the U.S., it is estimated that well over 100,000 deaths a year are iatrogenic in nature, and no one knows how many other non-fatal problems fall into the same category. How do you learn more about the dangers, and find the best available medical care options for yourself and your family?
- Free resources:
- For an introduction and overview for iatrogenic problems, see the Wikipedia article on “Iatrogenesis,” which has a solid summary and numerous references (rating = A). And if you are interested in seeing why iatrogenic deaths in the U.S. could amount to as many as one million a year, see the “Table of Iatrogenic Deaths in the United States” (not rated), although even if that astonishing number is true, it is dwarfed by the number of patients who are cured or otherwise benefited by medical care.
- It is hard to find authoritative free information about the quality and history of individual physicians. “RateMDs.com” and “Vitals.com” provide patient rankings and comments on doctors around the country (and you can add your own, too – ratings = A-); also “DoctorScorecard” and “DrScore” (ratings = B+). “Book of Doctors” doesn’t let you look up individual doctors easily, but does allow you to search by specialty, state, and rating level, which helps you find a good doctor (rating = A-). If you check all these sites, you will probably get a good overall view of how other patients feel about your doctor. Still, take a look at the USA Today article “Be Wary of Doctor-Rating Sites” before putting all your eggs in that basket (rating = A).
- “HealthGrades” may be the best all-around free source of consumer ratings of doctors (and dentists), and they also rate hospitals and nursing homes (rating = A). You might also check “HealthcareReviews.com,” which likewise includes institutional as well as individual providers, though not as thoroughly (rating = B+).
- For free “official” ratings of hospitals and other medical providers, use “Hospital Compare” (or “VA Hospital Compare” for veterans) from the U.S. government Medicare agency, which includes both objective measures and results from formal surveys of patients (rating = A). “U.S. News Best Hospitals” ranks some 5,000 U.S. hospitals for 16 adult specialties, using death rates, patient safety, and ratings by about 9.500 specialists (rating = A).
- According to the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (RID), the best source of general information on the topic (one that also provides good advice on avoiding hospital infections), hospital infections kill more Americans than AIDS, breast cancer, and auto accidents combined. A majority of states now require that hospital infection rates be reported, and most of this information is available to the public. See the RID site for more information about hospital infections and how to avoid them (rating = A). See the Consumer Reports “Hospital Infection Rates” page for a list of hospitals with no reported infections (as of 2011), and other information on this subject (rating = A).
- For detailed information about drugs you are taking or that are recommended to you, go to “RxList.com” or “WebMD.com” (ratings = A+). To learn more about possible interactions among drugs, use the “Drug Interactions Checker” at Drugs.com (registration required, rating = A).
- A "Second Opinion" is usually a good idea when surgery is recommended, when a serious illness (such as cancer) is diagnosed, or when you have any doubts about the original diagnosis or treatment recommendations (rating = A).
- “Why Sue Your Doctor,” from Lawfirms.com, provides the basic rationale for suing a doctor or hospital for malpractice (rating = A-). For another point of view, see “Medical Malpractice - 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Sue Your Doctor”, by Gerry Oginski (rating = A).
- Other resources:
We are not recommending books about rating doctors and hospitals, because these can fall out of date very quickly, but you often can find such books in bookstores and libraries. Meanwhile, you might also want to check out:
- “Consumer Reports Rates Hospitals,” but only for subscribers (not rated, because we’re not subscribers!).
- Wall of Silence: The Untold Story of the Medical Mistakes That Kill and Injure Millions of Americans, by Rosemary Gibson and Janardan Prasad Singh (rating = A-, because it is no longer uo-to-date). The Treatment Trap: How the Overuse of Medical Care is Wrecking Your Health and What You Can Do to Prevent It, by the same authors, is more current (rating = A)
- Critical Conditions: The Essential Hospital Guide to Get Your Loved One Out Alive, by Martine Ehrenclou (rating = A+).
- Complete Guide to Prescription & Nonprescription Drugs, by H. Winter Griffith and Stephen W. Moore, is updated almost every year, so you might be best off finding a copy in a nearby library (rating = A+).
- See also:
- Free resources:
- “Alternative medicine” has its fringe elements, but it is already mainstream. Visit the “National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine” website, offered by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, for health information and for recent research on what “alternative” approaches seem to be really helping people, and in some cases which ones aren’t (rating = A).
- “The Alternative Medicine Foundation” home page can connect you to all kinds of information concerning different forms of alternative medicine and different diseases and conditions that it addresses, whether you are a consumer or a professional (rating = A+).
- “Alternative Medicine News” from ScienceDaily.com can keep you abreast of the latest developments in this field (rating = A).
- For skeptical views of some alternative medicine concepts, see the links at “The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine,” from the Council for Scientific Medicine (rating = A+), and the QuackWatch website ("Your Guide to Quackery, Health Fraud, and Intelligent Decisions") by Dr. Stephen Barrett (rating = A).
- The internet is crammed with purveyors of information on natural or home remedies who also want to sell you products. One of the more objective and helpful sites is “Home Remedies for You,” which includes ads, but is not trying to sell you products of their own (rating = A).
- Other resources:
- Mayo Clinic Book of Alternative Medicine, 2nd Edition: Integrating the Best of Natural Therapies with Conventional Medicine, an informative book written for consumers (rating = A).
- Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine, by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst, for the skeptic’s point of view on some of the common non-traditional medicine techniques, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic therapy, and holistic medicine (rating = A-). Also, Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine, by R. Barker Bausell (rating = A).
- “Natural Solutions” (also available on the same site: Alternative Medicine), each can be subscribed to as either a print magazine and an eNewsletter, both oriented mainly to women (rating = A-).
- Prescription for Nutritional Healing, by Phyllis A. Balch (ratings = A).
- Prescription for Drug Alternatives: All-Natural Options for Better Health without the Side Effects, by James F. Balch, Mark Stengler, and Robin Young-Balch, and 801 Prescription Drugs - Good Effects, Side Effects and Natural Healing Alternatives, by the editors of FC&A (ratings = A).
- See also:
If your needs for drugs, medical supplies and equipment are not covered by insurance, here are some places you can go to find what you need at good prices.
- Free resources:
- For helpful warnings about buying drugs and other medical items online, see the U.S. Food and Drug Administration page on “Buying Medicines over the Internet,” which links to other related pages (rating = A-).
- “PharmacyChecker.com” is the largest and most widely accepted online pharmacy price comparison site, which actually verifies the licensing of the sources it refers you to (rating = A).
- Consult the “Orange Book” from the FDA, which lists generic equivalents to FDA-approved drugs, and which you may be able to get a lot cheaper than the name-brand versions (rating = A).
- Online medical supply and equipment sources thrive like weeds on the internet (eHow.com actually has a page on how to start your own medical supply business!). ResellerRatings.com’s “Health” page can link you to price comparisons on medical supplies and home medical equipment, and also offers customer reviews of the product sellers (rating = A; note that they also include vitamins, dietary, and other nutrition products, as well as all manner of other consumer products).
- The Consumer Reports “Home Medical Supplies” page links you to their reviews of certain kinds of home medical supplies and equipment (among other things), rather than to the suppliers (rating= A-).
- For more direct sources of discounts, check out “NeedyMeds.org” (rating= A).
- Other resources:
- See also:
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