From too much healthcare to careless docs, some of these recent news stories are worth review.

First do no harm. Ah, yes. If only American medicine would live by that credo then maybe so many wouldn’t die by its hand. Probably the best description of medical care you shouldn’t get is any kind that is a) unnecessary in the first place; b) does harm even when it’s a success or c) the bad outweighs the good. But when do you know if a medical treatment like surgery, for example, is needed? Isn’t it really a cut and dried reality? Well, it turns out that it isn’t. Whether something as dangerous and invasive as surgery is needed or not apparently is not based on fact. It’s based on what the doctor who looks at you thinks is necessary. That’s the only way to account for some serious research done by Dr. Jack Wennberg of Dartmouth. (Reported in the New York Times.)

Wennberg studied trends of medical treatments in the state of Vermont over a period of time. He found huge disparities in what doctors were doing. For example, in one part of the state, doctors were doing tonsillectomies like there was no tomorrow. Just down the road, even with similar patient demographics, hardly any tonsillectomies were performed. The only difference, he found out, was that doctors in one community were simply far more aggressive in their treatment regimens. So it was really up to the attitude of the doctor whether to perform surgery or not. In the small town of Middlebury only 7% of the children had their tonsils removed. In the small town of Morrisville, 70% were operated on. The children of Morrisville weren’t suffering from an epidemic of tonsillitis. Instead, they happened to live in a place where a small group of doctors — just five of them — had decided to be aggressive about removing tonsils. But check this out: Those who got more aggressive care weren’t healthier. They were just getting more health care. And you know what? Kids die from tonsillectomies.

Overtreatment is not good treatment. We are the most over-treated society in the world and we spend more on healthcare than any other nation. Yet our health outcomes rank near the very bottom of the list of industrialized nations. We’re doing something wrong. Our focus for the election should not be choosing who is going to get more people into the health care system (either by making it free or by improving the economy so we can all afford it — an impossibility, by the way) but we should focus on who might scrap the whole corrupt American healthcare system and look at the problem holistically.

Millions of Americans have their own stories about how the medical system has mucked up their healthcare or even killed or injured them or a loved one. The New York Times did an online study and gathered anecdotes from over 1000. The Institute of Medicine has done evaluations and found that we waste over $210 billion yearly on unneeded overtreatment like tests, scans and such. Not to mention the human toll. Think of all the tons of bullets and bombs we could buy to use overseas with all that money.

Shannon Brownlee author of Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer, was quoted in the Times. “Sometimes the test leads you down a path, a therapeutic cascade, where you start to tumble downstream to more and more testing, and more and more invasive testing, and possibly even treatment for things that should be left well enough alone.”

We’re indoctrinated to believe that “Doctor knows best,” when in fact, the system has ensured that doctor knows very little. And yet, in some cases, courts have prosecuted parents for refusing questionable treatment for their children. It’s a wacky world.

Antibiotics make you fat. Too much medicine is bad medicine. Research reported by the BBC found that giving infants antibiotics causes them to be obese in later years. Scientists estimate that natural intestinal bacteria are adversely affected by the drugs and that corrupts our metabolism.

Ethanol firmly linked to E. Coli A study suggests that the addition of dried distillers’ grain, an ethanol by-product, to cattle feed may contribute to the prevalence of E. coli O157 infection in cattle. The researchers from Kansas State University reported their findings in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. And then there’s the wet distiller’s grain. Microbiologist James Wells and his colleagues at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb., found that in the 608 steers they studied, “the incidence and prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in manure, and the incidence on hides, was significantly higher for cattle whose corn-based feed included 40 percent WDGS than those whose feed did not include WDGS.” On another tack, has anyone ever heard of a lamb or pork recall for E. Coli? Didn’t think so. Kind of narrows down who’s doing things the wrong way, doesn’t it?

Be well.

Heartland Healing is a New Age polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Visit for past articles.

Subscribe to The Reader Newsletter

Our awesome email newsletter briefing tells you everything you need to know about what’s going on in Omaha. Delivered to your inbox every day at 11:00am.

Become a Supporting Member

Subscribe to and become a supporting member to keep locally owned news alive. We need to pay writers, so you can read even more. We won’t waste your time, our news will focus, as it always has, on the stories other media miss and a cultural community — from arts to foods to local independent business — that defines us. Please support your locally-owned news media by becoming a member today.

Leave a comment