Recent research highlights the hazards of modern medicine

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Although I have a particular interest in nutrition and other self-help approaches to health, I’m not of the mind that all of conventional medicine is useless. I do, for instance, have a healthy respect for many aspects of surgery which can often seem to do things that no amount of healthy living can. I’m also a fan of emergency medicine, which can quite-often prove to be a life-saver. However, there’s many aspects of medicine that are generally quite ineffective (much chronic disease management is like this, I think). Plus, medicine is not without risk.

I was interested to read yesterday about some research in which hazards associated with in-hospital care were assessed [1]. Adverse events in hospital include infections acquired while in hospital, and mistakes related to either the administration or medicine, or surgery or a procedure. Previous attempts to quantify such hazards have generally found quite low hazard rates. In this study, researchers compared more traditional data-gathering methods with what is called the ’Global Trigger Tool’ – believed to be a more sensitive tool for detecting problems that have occurred as a result of someone’s stay in hospital.

According to this tool, adverse events were 10 times higher than previously thought. Overall, adverse events were found to occur in one in three hospital in-patients.

We can’t draw too many conclusions from this one study, but what it does highlight, I think, is that fact that medical care is inherently hazardous. It can do some brilliant things, but it’s not without risk, and those risks are real and, for some, can have catastrophic consequences.

Reading about this latest study reminded me of a piece I read in the British Medical Journal in the year 2000 which reported on the fact that a strike by Israeli doctors had less to a falling in death rates [2] (see image of BMJ piece below). The same thing happened in 1983.

Some years ago I was doing some work in the US and ventured into a bookstore. I bought a copy of a book entitled How to Get Out of Hospital Alive. I don’t know where the book is now, but I do remember thinking at the time that a lot of the information it contains would be good for people to know (even though it’s quite scary in places).


1. Classen DC, et al. ‘Global Trigger Tool’ Shows That Adverse Events In Hospitals May Be Ten Times Greater Than Previously Measured. Health Aff (Millwood). 2011;30(4):581-9

2. Siegel-Itzkovich J. Doctors’ strike in Israel may be good for health BMJ 2000;320:1561

Doctors stop work, and less people die, apparently

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