Too Much of a Good Thing?

Adorable ten month old baby wearing a graduation mortar board.There was an interesting article recently in the New York Times entitled “Big Baby, Smart Kid.” The article notes that about half of all births in the United States are hastened by either drugs or surgery which is approximately double the amount in 1990.

The article goes on to note that a huge new set of data based on every child born in Florida over an 11 year span is calling into question some of the most basic assumptions of our “ medicalized”  approach to childbirth. The authors note that the results also play into a larger issue. There is a growing sense among many doctors and other health experts that Americans would actually be healthier if our healthcare system were sometimes less aggressive.

Everyone from CBS News, to Kaiser Health News and Harvard have published articles about the dangers of excessive testing.  Excessive testing can result in invasive procedures which can carry a greater risk than the original condition and there is also in some cases risk from the test itself.  Think about this though – the expense and risks of testing are a statistical thing that experts say apply to the population as a whole.   When it comes to ourselves — we want to know more and fix anything that could hurt us.  We want to know exactly all of our diagnoses.  We want to be able to do something about our diagnosis – even if that is not always the best course of action.

What about common surgical procedures?   I see in my practice people who have a bunion and even if it is causing minimal or even no pain they want to have it fixed.  Why, because we are Americans and we see a problem we address it and solve it!

The bias towards medical intervention is not just seen in practice, it is also in the medical journals.  When people who have undergone surgery are asked if they would do it again, invariably almost all of them say yes.  To my mind this is one of the most bogus statistics ever used.  Think about it.  If you go through a painful and expensive procedure which may require long recovery — are you ever going to say that it was not worth it?  Besides after a person has recovered from surgery they often don’t exactly remember the level of pain they had before the surgery.  Now, of course, most people that have surgery derive great benefit and great relief of pain from surgical procedures.  What I’m saying is that sometimes these procedures are overused and even if a person does not get a great benefit from these procedures they will not usually admit to it.

The takeaway is that sometimes it is best to not test everything or medically intervene in every biological process.  Sometimes babies do better if left to mature as nature intended and not everything on a foot or anywhere else should be corrected.