To Medicate Or Not To Medicate

If a patient shows up in a physician’s practice and they have an upper respiratory tract infection, it is most often viral and will resolve itself in a few days...(The Physician) tells the patient to go home, rest, and it will be OK, but generally the expectation of a patient is that you will do something more than that.
— Dr. Amir Qaseem, MD

Patients are turning to the internet and other resources to find solutions for their symptoms these days.  So instead of walking into a doctor's office to present symptoms, patients are now suggesting what care the doctor should deliver based on what they have read online.  And if it's not the internet that is the trusted source for healthcare info, it is healthcare advertisements or insurance allowances (that also get advertised).  Healthcare consumers are being constantly bombarded with ads on television and other media platforms that are often pushing the agendas of the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical industry since they are the biggest beneficiaries.  Different marketing strategies take advantage of loose regulations and prey on health vulnerabilities to influence potential 'customers' with catchy call-to-action phrases like, "Ask your doctor about...", or with disguised subject matter in an unassuming forum.  Naturally, patients have started to approach their own care with pre-conceived notions of how treatment is supposed to go.  And many healthcare providers are noticing that patients are not satisfied if things do not go according to plan. Orlando Health actually did a piece on this phenomenon just recently (see below).

If the real goal is to educate, they wouldn’t look like this. The goal is to persuade. These ads educate people as much as the ads for the GAP or ads for makeup educate. It is educating you to tell you that this product exists and that it’s great.
— Diana Zuckerman, President, National Center for Health Research

 Being an informed consumer is always important, especially when it comes to healthcare, but there is also such thing as relying too heavily in on internet resources or sponsored content.  WebMD, for instance, is great for quick info and for accessing an evolving algorithm that can streamline symptoms to produce a general diagnosis,  but it is important to remember that healthcare is individualized and that an experienced physician, with years of medical training, understands the nuances of how to deliver the actual care for that diagnosis. Similarly, a pharmaceutical ad can provide generic information on the results of a clinical trial, but not everyone's condition is precisely the same, and there are numerous unique genetic and environmental variables that factor into the effects of a drug as well.  Not to mention, it is always important to identify the source that is funding that 'trusted clinical trial'.  Quite simply, it is impossible to treat a particular ailment the same way every time, and this is why healthcare providers are growing frustrated with consumers pressuring 'cookie cutter care' due to misinformation or flat out false information.  

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Dr. Kaplan, a local physician at Orlando Health, finds fault with these drivers of care.  He agrees that many doctors aim to satisfy their patients' expectations instead of their needs, and this effort is inadvertently comes at the patient's expense in his opinion.  This is supported by a study involving 5,000 physicians showed that, "more than a quarter of doctors admit to prescribing medication that likely won't have any therapeutic benefits for patients".  So we can see that consumers being influenced is resulting in some serious problems that are unfortunately putting a huge burden on the U.S. healthcare system.

Consumer Reports has long held that drug ads should be banned...For one, they encourage patients and doctors to turn to medication when non-drug options might work. And when drugs are needed, ads often promote more expensive options, not the best or safest.
— Consumer Reports, Can You Trust Drug Ads on TV?
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So pressures on the doctor are influencing the volume of prescription drugs being used (20% increase between 2010 and 2014), and then the costs associated with these drugs are skyrocketing at the same time.  And given that prescription drug use has grown exponentially now since 2014, it remains to be seen what kind of impact this ever-growing pricing inflation will have.  Not only are there serious financial implications at stake, but we are witnessing a diminishing quality of life when it comes to things like chronic illness and addiction in recent years.  Correlation does not ensure causation, but this could all be a direct result of how consumers are being influenced (online info, advertisements, health insurance stipulations) and are then trying to direct their own care.  

So when it comes to modern-day healthcare...Buyer Beware! 

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Sources:


Kaplin, B. (2017, January 31). Doctors sometimes prescribe drugs patients don’t need. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from Orlando Health, http://www.orlandohealth.com/blog/doctors-sometimes-prescribe-drugs-patients-dont-need

Robbins, R. (2016, March 9). Drug makers now spend $5 billion a year on advertising. Here's what that buys. Retrieved February 2, 2017, from STAT, https://www.statnews.com/2016/03/09/drug-industry-advertising/  

Walker, J. (2015, October 6). For prescription drug makers, price increases drive revenue. Retrieved February 2, 2017, from Wall Street Journal, https://www.wsj.com/articles/for-presciprtion-drug-makers-price-increases-drive-revenue-1444096750

Global Risks 2013. (2016). Retrieved January 31, 2017, from World Economic Forum, http://reports.weforum.org/global-risks-2013/risk-case-1/the-dangers-of-hubris-on-human-health/

Prescription drug plans push more costs to employees. (2016, August 17). Retrieved January 31, 2017, from Lowest Med, https://www.lowestmed.com/prescription-drug-plans/

Selling side effects: Big Pharma’s marketing machine. (2016, December 7). Retrieved February 2, 2017, from drugwatch, https://www.drugwatch.com/featured/big-pharma-marketing/