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Doctors are not the enemy

Are doctors only interested in making you sick?

I read an article reposted by Crossfit HQ today that, more or less, described how doctors profit from making you sick. The article is American and so I acknowledge the financial aspects of the health care system are very different. However, the overall message inciting mistrust in doctors benefits nobody. In my opinion, articles like this do more harm than good for the improvement of health care in general. If my elderly neighbour reads this article, she’s going to think, “Well I’m not going to the doctor, because they’re not going to help. They just want money”. So when she’s sick, she might not go to a doctor. She might not get effective treatment for her illness. And that unfounded mistrust could kill her.

This article, like many that claim companies are causing illness, is oversimplified and exaggerated. Decisions and actions by the doctors are explained solely by their intention to profit. I have never seen a health care professional act in a way or express any intention to make anyone sicker. I have never seen an individual expressing joy about the money they will get from an elderly lady with pneumonia. I find it astounding that anybody can have so little confidence in their doctors, people just like them, that they can believe we would jeopardize health for money. We are people too, we get sick, and we get treated in the same hospitals as everybody else. Why would I put myself through a system I knew wouldn’t help me? (On a similar note: does anybody really think infectious disease specialists do not vaccinate their children?)

Nutrition and exercise certainly play a huge role in health. I agree that the ‘corporation’ of health care has yet to fully embrace and support these benefits. Unfortunately, insurance companies don’t cover Crossfit – I wish they did. However, it is not news that change is slow, and even slower when politics is involved. If 25 years from now we are preventing illness in the majority of people with nutrition and exercise that will be fantastic! But honestly, it’s unlikely. There are so many factors relevant to illness, such as environment and genetics. Exercise is only one head of the dragon.

People will get sick. We cannot prevent all illness. At the end of the day, no amount of exercise is going to treat pneumonia. This doesn’t mean exercise is pointless. It has a role as part of modern medicine but so do pharmaceuticals and public health measures. Antibiotics, like many treatments, are not perfect. Every doctor I know would prefer prevention to cure. But that concept is useless if somebody is already sick and so, we do the best we can to treat it.

I suppose it is true that lots of people profit from illness. The doctors and nurses are paid for their time. Companies that supply hospital equipment are making money. Controversially, the pharmaceutical companies are certainly making money. The reason for this is that we live in a capitalistic society – skills and products are rewarded with money. How far we push that capitalistic ideal is a very relevant concern, especially in health care. I agree that the American system is an appalling example that desperately needs fixing. More concerning, is that just last year the Qld government tried to make our system more like their broken one. The loudest voice against these changes was the Qld doctors. Doctors, who would make a lot more money with these changes, chose to quit their jobs because they knew the average person would suffer. This was one reason I have chosen to stay in Australia to practice medicine – in my experience; we have a reasonable heath care system that ensures everybody will receive treatment. We are not America.

So I write this to counter the million articles out there talking about big pharma conspiracies and the doctors making you sick for money. I didn’t spend years studying medicine to learn how to make you sick. I won’t hurt you so I can buy a fancy car. When I’m sick I will get the same treatments that I give to you. I won’t give you something that I wouldn’t give to my family. The doctor’s role is to use their expertise to advise patients. Please believe me when I say they want to help. Regardless of your health care beliefs or your position on capitalism, it is essential for the benefit of everybody, that between doctors and patients there is trust and open communication. When my neighbour is sick, I need her to know that I will be there for her; and that I will help.

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