Tag Archives: alternative medicine

Republican Healthcare – or Lack Thereof

About the only way I know to lower the cost of health insurance for those willing and able to buy it is to let people die on the curb in front of the hospital. Yep, give up your humanity and you too can save on health insurance.

If you opt for humanity and take that person into the hospital, it will cost you, and likely cost you a lot. That person without health insurance will incur costs which the hospital must absorb. The only way a hospital to stay in business if they accept indigent care is to charge paying customers, usually insurers, more to offset the unreimbursed care.

If we are to be humane and provide care for the free riders, is there a better way? If we wait for high blood pressure to cause a heart attack, treatment of that one condition can cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. Alternately, drugs to manage the high blood pressure can cost pennies a day – Penny wise, pound foolish.

The reason the republicans struggle to produce a health plan to replace the ACA, even though they have had several years, is there is no plan that actually works if it doesn’t include everybody. There are two ways to do that – make sure everybody has access to affordable care through private insurers or go to a less costly single payer universal healthcare system like just about every other country in the world.

Government managed systems work well. We currently spend much more per capita for healthcare and with poorer outcomes. There are over 40 countries with lower infant mortality rates, greater life expectancies and lower costs.

The new president said while campaigning that his replacement healthcare plan would cover everybody and cost less. As to the costs we won’t know until after the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scores the new bill. I can predict immediately however that it won’t cover everybody because the first line of conservative talking points is repealing the mandate to purchase insurance, guaranteeing free riders. Another promise is to lower ACA spending, which means that subsidies for the poor will be lowered or eliminated, further reducing the pool of insured.

For those middle income folks there may be cheaper insurance policies available, but only because substandard policies will again become available. Lower costs mean lower coverage. The ACA policies required a minimum standard of coverage which included preventive care. Cheap policies will be available which only cover catastrophic costs. Ironically, avoiding the costs of preventive care leads to greater catastrophic costs.

The real winners with the proposed healthcare law are the rich, no surprise there. Taxes will go down while at the same time subsides not previously available to the rich will go up.

Conservatives continue to try to view healthcare as subject to the same market forces as buying unessential commodities, but it just doesn’t work that way. We are alone in the world with our failure to make that recognition.

Homeopaths Without Borders

Homeopaths without borders

There are a number of international organizations with the title “ … without borders,” most notably Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières.) It is a humanitarian organization, founded in Paris France in 1971. This Nobel laureate organization has been sending doctors and their staffs around the world to provide health care where none is available. They go to treat extremely dangerous diseases such a Ebola and in extremely dangerous places such as active war zones.

Contrast that with Homeopaths Without Borders, who describe themselves as a humanitarian organization who travel to treat a relatively innocuous disease with sham treatments. Understanding just how preposterous Homeopathy is requires a little background. Before the time of modern medicine, treatments and drugs frequently were more dangerous than the illness itself. As just one example of many, George Washington died from bleeding to death – on purpose. He wasn’t supposed to die but he was being bled as a cure for what ailed him. You take out the bad blood and you get better, right?

Homeopathy was created by Samuel Hahnemann in 1796 (Washington died in 1799.) This medical modality was based on his idea of the law of similars. Substances that cause symptoms in “normal doses” can cure those same symptoms when given in infinitesimally small doses. One “drug” in the homeopathic pharmacopoeia is Nux vomica. A normal dose will make your stomach hurt (and then kill you) as this stuff is strychnine. A tiny dose however is supposed to be a cure for stomach aches.

A classic example of a homeopathic treatment is Oscillococcinum. This flu remedy is made from the liver of a duck. It is ground, dissolved in water, and then that water is diluted with ten times as much water. Take this water and dilute it ten fold. Do this 400 times.

For all practical purposes there is nothing left of the original preparation, only water. The water can be used directly or is added to chalk and evaporated. There is absolutely no chemical or biological reason that these treatments would have any effect at all.

Because there is nothing in these remedies, they can do no direct harm. Before modern medicine this alone could be beneficial to replace the use of dangerous things like blood letting. In this day and age however the substitution of magical thinking for real, efficacious treatments is not only unethical, but also dangerous.



Homeopaths Without Borders is currently working in Haiti to “treat” a disease known as Chikungunya, a viral infection spread by mosquitoes. The symptoms of infection are mild and flu-like with a moderate fever. Many of those infected have no symptoms at all. The condition usually resolves itself in a matter of days. Homeopaths treat this disease with another extremely diluted nostrum. The homeopathic treatment does nothing good, bad, or otherwise and the disease resolves itself.

One may ask what’s the harm? The harm is that unsuspecting individuals see that a disease exists, a treatment is employed and the disease goes away. The conclusion is homeopathy works. It doesn’t. One may in the future be led to the idea that substitution of cheap homeopathic treatments can replace more expensive drugs that actually do have an effect. They can’t.

Homeopathy falls in the realm of what some call alternative medicine. Why alternative medicine? Because it it worked it would be called medicine.


Energy Medicine

The word energy may have a simple definition but when coupled with medicine, it gets more complicated. Energy to a physical scientist or engineer means the capacity to do work. It is measured in Joules or BTUs or any number of other terms. It comes in the form of potential or kinetic energy. There is chemical, electrical, vibrational, energy and more; nevertheless, all these ways of defining and measuring energy are real.

Then there is the use of the term energy medicine. It is a term frequently used (abused) by practitioners of alternative medicine. It encompasses a range of biologically implausible and clinically unproven practices such as therapeutic touch, acupuncture, and much of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

At the heart of energy medicine and especially TCM is the mystical Qi. It is said to be a “vital force” which is said to flow through various meridians in the body. Acupuncture is supposed to work by interfering with or enhancing the flow of Qi, when the needles are placed in the appropriate meridians. Because Qi is so ill defined and unproven, any therapy that relies on its existence is questionable at best. Just because there are claims of ancient use of a given therapy doesn’t mean it is real – just ask a rhinoceros without a horn, a bear without a gallbladder, or a tiger without a penis.

Rhino Horns

Rhino Horns

In the world of real medicine, energy is used in a number of imaging techniques. There are a number of imaging techniques. Some procedures such as MRI and ultrasound are essentially harmless, while PET and CT scans, involve some risk due to exposure to ionizing radiation.

Ultrasound, like the sound we can hear, is a pressure wave. Echo location in bats and sonar in submarines utilize the same concept. A transducer creates a sound wave which reflects off of structures in the body. The echo is collected by a computer which turns it into an image. At the frequency and intensity utilized in medical imaging called sonography, it is harmless.
MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging and is another relatively harmless imaging technique. It has been in use by chemists for determining the structure of molecules for over 50 years. It involves electromagnetic radiation in the form of radio waves, combined with a strong magnetic field. The only contraindication for MRI is the presence of metallic objects in the body. Metal staples, pins, and devices like pacemakers could be moved due to the magnetic field or heated via induction.

A medical imaging tool that presents a risk is CT scanning. CT stands for Computerized Tomography. This is essentially a way to get three dimensional images via the collection of multiple X-rays from different angles. A computer then collects these individual 2-D images and creates a 3-D image. This diagnostic technique has a slight but real risk, due to the exposure of the patient to X-rays, a known risk for cancer. The more scans, the greater exposure to ionizing radiation, and the greater risk of cancer.

abdominal CT scan

abdominal CT scan

The aforementioned imaging techniques all use some sort of sound wave or electromagnetic radiation generated outside the body. PET scans have the radiation originate inside the body. In Positron Emission Tomography, a substance called a radiopharmaceutical is injected into the body. The radioactive emission from the injected chemical is detected by sensors outside the body.

With any imaging technique or medical procedure for that matter, risks must be weighed against benefits. The only other limitation to the application of an imaging technique is economic.