A thousand years ago, consulting a doctor about abdominal pains would have earned you a week in bed, covered with leeches, while a shaman sprayed chicken blood all over your torso. These days it seems to most of us that medical science has advanced a little since then.
Well, we hate to break it to you, but many of the common procedures in use today are about as useful, if not more dangerous, than that bucket of leeches from ages past.
CT scans are what doctors describe to stupid people as "super X-rays." Prior to the CT scan, if you thought something funky was going on inside you and nothing showed up on an X-ray, your only option was to pretty much let a doctor slice you open and poke around in there. With the magic of CT scans, all sorts of things became much easier to see, including brain hemorrhages, heart disease and dinosaur fossils.
"Ma'am, it appears your arteries are clogged with Velociraptors. There's nothing we can do."
So what's the problem?
In addition to providing a window into your body, CT scans deal a superhero-inducing dose of radiation. But rather than letting you shoot webs or adamantium claws out of your hands, the ability it gives you is the power of cancer.
See, each CT scan shoots you with hundreds of times the level of radiation that you get from an X-ray, and some experts now think that one in 50 cases of future cancer will have been caused by all these CT scans.
Like this, if it was followed by months of chemo and a broken family instead of super-powered high jinks.
Of course, these days, we also have the MRI scan, which is not only superior in every diagnostic sense but has the added benefit of being completely harmless and radiation-free. So hospitals are rapidly switching over, right? Oh no, wait -- CT scans per year in America have shot up to around 62 million and it's estimated that 30 percent of them are completely unnecessary for making a diagnosis.
Why does this go on? We'll give you one guess.
That's right, money. CT scans are extremely profitable, and it's next to impossible for an insurance company to refuse to pay if the doctor insists he needs the scan to be sure of the diagnosis. Remember, these days the doctor may work for the same hospital profiting from the scan, or the doctor may even buy a CT scanner for the office and use it as a money-printing machine. You've got a mild case of the sniffles? Better order a CT scan, just to be safe.
"Sir, our preliminary tests indicate that you have way too much money."
In fact, there are quite a startling number of expensive/profitable procedures that are not only more dangerous, but also less effective than cheaper alternatives. The hysterectomy is one -- though it's estimated that 40 percent of women over 45 have gotten one, many are unaware that there's a procedure called embolization that cures many of the same problems and doesn't involve ripping out your lady-parts. Unfortunately, it rakes in much less money for the hospital.
To be fair, it's not all about greed. For instance, often patients demand CT scans, not because they know anything about them, but simply because that's what House would do. The doctor then takes a "better safe than sorry" attitude because he faces the risk of a lawsuit in the odd case in which something was in fact wrong and a scan would have caught it. So why not just do the scan?
And why not start a box-a-day cigar habit?
Oh, right. Cancer.