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.
They're by far the most common reason people go to the doctor. You turn, you cough, the doctor fondles your balls for a few seconds. Maybe he takes some blood. Then you get out of there with another year of health in front of you. They're probably the most known and accepted staple of Western medicine, with 64 million of them performed per year.
"That bra looks infected. I'll have to remove it."
So what's the problem?
Routine physical examinations first caught on in the 1920s, when it was discovered that people who got yearly exams tended to live longer.
Can you guess who chooses to get a yearly physical?
Unfortunately, this is a classic case of confusing correlation with causation. The kinds of people who like to keep up-to-date with their physical exams are the same kinds of people who focus on keeping a healthier lifestyle in general.
As it turns out, physical exams provide no real benefit if you don't have any actual symptoms of anything, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Most of the time, you'll know that there's something wrong with you long before a doctor can detect it by cupping your balls.
Still, the physical exam is the bread and butter of the medical industry. Depending on your personal level of hypochondria, you can sign up for anything from a $5,000 Executive Special to your regular $120 McCheckup. All secure a steady income for doctors, and all are almost entirely pointless.
"MWA HA HA!"- The American Medical Association.
But just because it doesn't do any good, that doesn't mean it does any harm, right?
Well, first of all, the pricier examinations will usually involve plenty of those cancer-inducing CT scans. But then let's say that they do come back showing something suspicious. This leads to more expensive and invasive tests that often show that there was nothing wrong to begin with. The human body is actually full of things that look like tumors on a scan result, but if none of them are growing tentacles and slithering around your arteries, investigating every one of them just subjects you to unnecessary scalpel-stabbing.
Then again, what if the tests come back negative? Isn't the peace of mind worth it? Again, not so much. Apparently, this lulls people into a false sense of security, and they walk away feeling totally healthy. As we've pointed out, tons of terrible diseases can't be detected until they become symptomatic. But when symptoms of an actual disease do show up, people who get physicals are less likely to get these symptoms checked out, thinking that a "clean bill of health" is synonymous with "Wolverine-like powers of bodily fortitude."
Yet doctors keep doing them, often just to get us to shut the fuck up. They say that it's usually quicker to just run some tests than to take the time to explain why they're not necessary. Insurers, in turn, cover them only because we whine and bitch about wanting them. And all these quick bucks add up to over $7 billion per year. That's enough money to buy 23 McDoubles for every man, woman and child in the USA.
This is what our ignorance costs us, America.