A Sick Health Care System

By Dr. Ben Kim

One of the main goals that I have is to encourage our readers to learn how to be their own best doctors.

Please don't misunderstand me; I think that there are some wonderfully caring and competent doctors in our world.

But there are also many doctors who don't have each of their patients' best interests at or even near the top of their list of priorities.

Over the years, it's become clear to me that a big part of the problem with our health care system is the system itself; our current health care system doesn't encourage doctors to teach their patients to prevent disease and address health conditions with simple food and lifestyle choices.

Take, for example, the health care system here in Canada. I often hear leaders of other countries, most notably, the United States, tout the universal health care system in Canada as being the ideal system - one in which every man, woman, and child has access to free health care.

While on the surface the Canadian system appears to be an effective one, as far as I can tell, it is just as sick as other health care systems throughout the world.

To be more specific, medical doctors here in Ontario, Canada, are paid an average of $27 Canadian dollars per routine office visit. Initial visits that involve a thorough physical examination are usually billed at $60 Canadian dollars per visit.

Put another way, for routine office visits, medical doctors here in Ontario have no financial motivation to take their time and consider their patients' food and lifestyle choices.

If a patient comes in with a chief complaint of a chronic headache, the doctor could spend an hour gathering critical information on a patient's diet and lifestyle, and then go on to address any changes that could be made to address the chronic headache.

Alternatively, the doctor could spend five minutes going through the motions - pulse, blood pressure, pupillary reflexes, and other quick screening measures to make the patient feel like he or she has been adequately examined by an expert - and then write out a prescription for a pain killer.

Either way, the doctor gets paid $27.

So which route do you think most doctors take?

There's another reason why many doctors have a tendency to deal with most cases with a prescription for a drug: the pharmaceutical industry makes it well worth their while to do so.

Here's how a pharmaceutical sales representative recently summarized his work for me:

"I take the doctor out to dinner at a fancy restaurant, all expenses paid. As dinner winds down, I ask the doctor to recommend my company's brand for certain health conditions among his patients. Sometimes, the doctor will say that his office needs new equipment. I say how much? The doctor says $5,000. I say fine, but only if you write 100 scripts (prescriptions) for a specific drug made by our company each month. The doctor agrees, and we get him his new $5,000 machine."

Out of curiosity, I asked the pharmaceutical sales rep how he and his company can be sure that the doctor will follow through on his word to write out 100 prescriptions of their drug each month. Can't the doctor just take his $5,000 machine and not follow through on his promise?

"No, all pharmaceutical companies pay big money to a huge, global corporation called IMS that tracks this type of data," was the rep's instant reply.

For a fee, IMS can provide date-specific data to pharmaceutical companies that breaks down exactly how many prescriptions of each drug that each licensed doctor has handed out and how many of them have been fulfilled at licensed pharmacies.

In other words, the managers who work for pharmaceutical companies who approve $5,000 gifts have a sure-fire way of verifying that their gifts are properly reciprocated.

And I think that we can all safely assume that this regular exchange of gifts does not amount to a net profit of zero dollars for the pharmaceutical industry. Just in case you don't want to make this assumption, consider that the IMS reports that in 2005, global pharmaceutical sales amounted to 602 billion dollars; mucho dinero, n'est pas?

So let's pretend for a moment that you're a doctor who now has to write 100 prescriptions per month for a specific drug that helps to regulate blood glucose.

When a patient walks into your office and shows a mild to moderately elevated fasting blood glucose level, would you take a half hour to an hour to explain what he or she can do with food and lifestyle choices to have a great shot at lowering blood glucose to a healthy level? Or would you write a quick prescription for a blood glucose-regulating drug to bring your target for the month down to 99 prescriptions?

This is one of the most powerful ways in which big pharmaceutical companies have helped to create a sick health care system; they provide strong financial incentives for doctors to choose drugs over health education for patients.

The bottom line: putting your health entirely in another person's hands, namely, your doctor's, is never as good a choice as learning how to be your own best doctor.

Learn how to choose nutrient-dense foods.

Learn about the critical roles that fresh air, clean water, some exposure to sunlight, physical activity, and proper physical and emotional rest play in determining your health state.

Learn how negative emotions can cause physical damage to your cells.

Most importantly, apply all of this knowledge to your everyday life as soon as possible; be your own best doctor.

Dr. Ben KimImprove Your Health With Our Free E-mail Newsletter

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