Modern Medicine? (Part 1)

This past weekend was an Air Force weekend for me. I typically fly to Houston on Thursday, see patients Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning, and return Sunday afternoon. It is usually only a few days away from home at a time and I enjoy being able to help those serving our country.

Military aviation medicine is quite a bit different from other medical practices in that it is mainly an occupational medicine specialty. We focus on keeping our pilots and support staff healthy so they can perform the mission. I get to talk to patients after they add a few pounds over the holidays but before they are 30 to 50 pounds overweight. I can discuss lifestyle modification strategies to help lose the weight and hopefully prevent future additions. I can emphasize that continued carelessness will not only put them at higher risk for heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes, but may terminate their military careers.

“Modern” civilian medicine? Not so! The main focus in modern medicine seems to revolve around adding medicines to help palliate health problems. Does your cholesterol medicine give you muscle aches? Here’s another pill to help control the side effects! While lifestyle changes may not be the perfect solution to all medical problems (Vytorin’s commercial illustrating contributions from both food and family/genes) they certainly go a long way.

Why do we focus so much on treating diseases caused by poor patient education? I see overweight or obese patients that are taking two medications for blood pressure control and one medication for cholesterol that haven’t tried anything to drop the weight that caused the high blood pressure and cholesterol in the first place. Why aren’t we doing a better job on educating patients about portion control and calorie counting? Some would say it’s a conspiracy!

Pharmaceutical companies profit from the pills they sell. Insurance companies rely on health risks like heart attack and stroke to ensure patients are willing to pay the premiums. If patients take better care of their bodies, the pharmaceutical and insurance companies stand to lose in a big way. Physicians are only now starting to get organized with PACs and lobbyists. Big pharma and medical insurers have successfully lobbied for years.

Is this a true conspiracy with cloaks, daggers, and blacked-out boardrooms? The likelihood is that these companies are only working to protect their investments. The burden is placed on us as American citizens to take care of ourselves. The only problem is that we haven’t been appropriately educated on our care and feeding.

The advances in modern medicine have extended the average American lifespan. Unfortunately, the obesity epidemic is threatening to take back the advantage. Most physicians are under such pressure from diminishing returns that the easy fix is to rely on pills instead of patient counseling. We have allowed the pharmaceutical and insurance companies to dictate how we practice medicine long enough. We need to move beyond “modern” medicine.

P.S. If you don’t see my column next week, please ask for an investigation as to my disappearance. Maybe it is a real conspiracy…

Disclaimer: Dr Stephen Rath, MD, DABA is a board certified anesthesiologist as well as the owner and medical director of Fusion Medical Spa located in Ruidoso, NM. The opinions given above are not necessarily endorsed by the U.S. Air Force, Lincoln County Medical Center, or even his wife. Comments or questions? His email address is: