Monday, October 31, 2011

Data Points

By Shiva Barton, ND, LAc
2011 AANP Physician

A few things happened to me recently that made me very happy to be a naturopathic doctor, and made me wonder about what's up with the rest of medicine. I will present my conclusion first in case you want to cut to the chase:

It is really so evident that by easily employing even the simplest tools of nature and naturopathic medicine you can have a tremendous positive impact on a person's health, either in conjunction with or instead of conventional medicine, depending on the situation. The influences of pharmaceutical marketing and the social glorification of technology have sent our culture looking for health-care saviors in the completely opposite direction to that which will "cure the cure."

The rest of the story, with a common theme....

Data Point 1
I was invited to speak at the Future of Health Wellness Summit sponsored by the Future of Health Technology Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) faculty club. My topic was “Naturopathic Solutions for Minor Childhood Illnesses.” Well I always wanted to go to MIT (not really), and the summit sounded fascinating, so I accepted the invitation. There were about 10 people at the summit and I felt relieved that there wasn't a cast of thousands. But I did feel out of place. I couldn't figure out why they wanted a naturopathic physician to address the summit about advances in health technology. There were representatives there from research and development departments of McNeil, Johnson & Johnson, Children's Hospital, as well as a few affiliated MDs, all looking for the next big App to market, a new way for patients to interact with computers to improve their health or compliance, and of course to make a killing by marketing such App. I gave my talk about how we would treat certain childhood illnesses, and that naturopathic medicine is trying to move medicine back in time, but forward in effectiveness and cost effectiveness. I also told them that the better we did our jobs, the less money they would make. That definitely got a chuckle! The participants were very nice, and even listened a little between checking texts and emails. And I was done, and went off to joust with more windmills.

Data Point 2
Here's a story about a trip to a urologist. I am of the age where I have friends—and me, come to think of it—who are starting to have common aging-related dysfunctions, such as BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia), commonly just referred to as an enlarged prostate. One of my friends told me an interesting experience he had on his first visit to his urologist to discuss his urinary tract issues, which were low force of stream and after dribbling. My friend suspected that his issues were not related to BPH but to scarring and narrowing of the terminal urethra due to recurrent herpes infections. Both of his previous primary care docs confirmed that his prostate was normal in size and firmness, and one of them was the one to suggest the alternate explanation. So after procrastinating for about a year (he's a guy—what did you expect?), my friend decided to finally see the urologist. He gets to the office, fills out the intakes, and hands them back to the receptionist. The receptionist hands him another one-page intake that the doctor requests that he fill out. The questionnaire was provided by Flomax and asked the same or similar questions that the other intake had already asked. However, this one had Flomax written all over it. My friend gets to see the urologist in a timely manner, who is a personable man in his 40s. He looks at the intakes, asks a few questions, does the exam (euphemism), declares that my friend's prostate feels fine, and gives him an Rx for Flomax (SURPRISE!). My friend asks for an explanation since three out of three docs think his prostate is fine, giving his alternate explanation. The doc says that the nodules are probably internal around the urethra, which is why they can't be felt. End of appointment.

Data Point 3
The other thing that happened simultaneously was that my mother came to visit. That isn't really that newsworthy. However within two hours of arriving, she missed two stairs, fell, and fractured her pubic bone and acetabulum. She spent six hours in the Winchester Hospital Emergency room (total cost: $7,000), one week at Mass General Hospital (MGH) (still awaiting that bill), and one and a half weeks at New England Rehab Hospital. Her experience at the local hospital was very good: thorough, friendly, efficient. Did you know that pelvic fractures are trauma or trauma/ortho cases due to the possibility of puncturing other organs, and not straight ortho cases? News to me. WinchHosp doesn't have a trauma department so they shipped her off to MGH.

Photo by wonderferret via Flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.
My mom's review of MGH was pretty good. The nurses were TERRIFIC. Mostly young nurses. Very caring and attentive. On the downside: the medical staff. MGH is a teaching hospital, so there is a cast of thousands coming around to care for each patient. There are med students, interns, residents, fellows and attendings all making rounds from each department: trauma, internal med, ortho, etc. Interestingly, not one of the MD teams ever examined my mother! (Bizarre, really...) Just asked her a bunch of questions. And they would start rounds at 5am. They would ask my mom how she was feeling and her standard reply was “I don't know. I was sleeping.” I guess the therapeutic benefits of sleep have not penetrated to the hospital staff.

No surgery was needed, so my mom went off to rehab. (My 11-year-old son was a little perplexed, since his only info about rehab was from the Amy Winehouse song.) She and her roommate immediately got a gastrointestinal bug. First stop: Rx for Flagyl, even without a culture. The doc suspected C. diff (Clostridium difficile), even though my mom had no antibiotic use and her neighbor had the same thing after the same meal. Declined Flagyl. Don't they know about probiotics? In this day and age? It should be routine for all in-patients. So I brought her some probiotics. (The culture turned out negative.) By the way, the food they served was like from the 1950s or '60s. Not a fresh fruit or veggie in sight. Soda, white bread, etc, etc. How did they expect people to heal? I thought I was in a Twilight Zone rerun. (Do you young 'uns know what that is?)


So don't take the simple things that you learned for granted. Not all health-care practices are paying attention. The non-technological “interventions” that are the basis for good medicine, such as sleep, compassion, listening, healthy food, simple preventive supplementation—nothing fancy—can have a tremendous impact on a person's health. And they ARE NOT STANDARDS OF CARE IN MANY ARENAS. These are the simple and powerful tools that SHOULD BE our starting points and should not be ignored or minimized as to their contributions towards health. Laying a fertile field grows healthy plants!

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