This blog post is a departure from the previous informational posts I have written. It is intended as a reflection on the state of medicine today in this great country of ours. Please consider this post an opinion of one provider who has been in the trenches of medicine now for thirty years and has been a witness, a victim, and, unfortunately in the past, a part of the amazing decline in the quality and personalization of medicine.
It is not hyperbole that we are currently living in a country where medical care is no longer first in the world—in fact, it is not even close.
According to the Legatum Prosperity Index (LPI) 2020 ranking for medical care, the US places 18th out of 167 countries, with Denmark taking first place and South Sudan taking last. This embarrassing ranking is not what our government would like you to believe, still shouting from every street corner that we are number one.
Just in the past 15 years, I have witnessed a disturbing trend—more a downward spiral, really—in the quality of our primary care. Long gone are the days of a primary care physician being the wise gatekeeper, quarterbacking a patient’s care, and accurately referring care to specialists only when needed. That primary care physician, as the main and focal healthcare provider, would then guide those specialists in how to help their patient and improve their patient’s condition. The primary care office now has been reduced to a triage room, where the patient spends more time in the waiting room than in the exam room.
The patient now rarely gets to see his or her doctor and many times instead sees a nurse practitioner with only two years of rudimentary medical education. Sometimes, the patient never even meets the physician. Wellness visits have become brief encounters, at best. No patients ever get undressed, and fortunate are the ones who have their heart and lungs listened to. The overall message of such visits is predominantly, “Come back when you’re broken; otherwise, you’re on your own.” Prevention and wellness are rarely discussed.
The experience in the medical specialist’s office is even more disturbing. Time allocated for an appointment with a specialist appears to be continuously shrinking, with appointments often lasting as little as five minutes. This is especially true in surgical specialties. Even worse, many times MRIs and X-rays are administered instead of the physician conducting a direct physical examination after reviewing accurate and comprehensive medical histories.
All too often fear tactics and focused discussion around surgery alone, rather than less invasive alternatives drive patients down the path toward a surgery that may not improve their quality of life or one that they often do not need.
So, what’s behind this steady decay of our practice of medicine? From where I sit, I see big business as the driving force of this decline.
Dominating insurance and giant pharmaceutical companies have been gaining power steadily over the past 30 years, inflating the prices of drugs, increasing insurance premiums, and lowering physician reimbursements. During my stint as a partner in a busy sports medicine clinic, I witnessed a 10-percent reduction in reimbursements from insurance companies practically every year! This occurred while the cost of owning a business—and yes, running a medical practice is very much a business—has been skyrocketing.
As a matter of fact, private medicine is one of the few businesses I can think of that is both forbidden and unable to increase the costs of its services as the cost of overhead goes up. It is no wonder then, that to survive, medical practices have been forced to slash their appointment times and replace physicians with the cheaper labor of physician assistants and nurse practitioners.
To add insult to injury, the big businesses that dominate pharmaceutical and medical insurance companies appear to control government policy and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both are contributing to—and are often actively involved in—interfering with the ability of physician healthcare providers to offer quality, personalized medical care. In my opinion, pharmaceutical and insurance companies are actively contributing to the decline of healthcare in our country.
In the past several years, the FDA has been busy intimidating and harassing medical establishments that have refused to toe the line. Fortunately, we still have medical mavericks, physicians thinking and practicing outside the box, finding innovative and safe solutions for difficult-to-treat chronic medical problems. These medical establishments include concierge and regenerative medical offices, and compounding pharmacies.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, I witnessed such physicians’ clinics being shut down just for offering intravenous vitamin C infusions to healthcare workers in the hospitals taking care of COVID patients. I also saw compounding pharmacies that were supplying safe and effective compounds, used all over the world to boost people’s immunity, harassed by the FDA.
All of this was done on the grounds that the FDA considered these practices unsafe and to be based on unfounded principles. However, the FDA has supplied zero evidence to back up either of those claims and has ignored numerous articles published in other countries to the contrary.
Could it be that these innovative, inexpensive, and safe interventions are in direct conflict with big pharma and the insurance companies’ financial goals? Are they concerned that the growth of effective preventative medical care that produces less disease overall might reduce patients’ needs for medications and insurance coverage?
Now that I have outlined the sad state of our medical system, I can briefly describe a more specific case of this governmental interference, directly in the realm of regenerative therapy.
Regenerative therapy is a growing field of medicine that offers natural healing solutions to a multitude of chronic medical issues, from arthritis to autoimmune disease. It employs the body’s own potential for healing, and the results are often nothing but miraculous. However, it appears miraculous to us only because we have been bamboozled to believe that if a physician doesn’t prescribe the latest, most expensive drug or a surgeon doesn’t intervene to nail or screw us back in place, we won’t heal.
Sadly, we have been convinced to give up faith in the miracle of our own body’s healing capabilities. The word regenerative very accurately describes the body’s own process of repair and replacement of diseased tissue with healthy tissue.
Regenerative medicine employs natural body derivatives such as concentrated blood platelets, bone marrow, and fat stem cells, and stem cells derived from harvested and donated placenta components. These products safely and effectively direct and initiate a natural healing response, with no complications and very little downtime.
Recently, the FDA has issued an edict that the word regenerative is deceptive and is therefore no longer to be used. The FDA is also now forbidding medical practices from using the words stem cell therapy to describe the process of extracting one’s own bone marrow and fat stem cells and injecting them into injured regions of the body.
Six months ago, my office received an email from our credit card merchant company, stating that it was acting on the directives from the FDA and informing us that if we didn’t remove these words from our website, our credit card processing would be terminated.
It goes deeper than just banning words, of course. The intent seems to be to stop the practice of regenerative medicine altogether. So, in response to these demands, we are no longer practicing regenerative medicine but rather tissue support therapy. We are no longer using stem cell extraction but instead are providing tissue support matrix therapy to help our patients achieve optimal healing without harsh drugs and surgical interventions.
Could it be that our field is exploding and is successfully returning patients to function, often without the need for pharmaceuticals or additional insurance coverage for medical specialists? Could it be that these natural healing methods have no lucrative patents associated with them and offer long-term health benefits that drive down the need for comprehensive health insurance coverage?
I will let you decide.