5 Terrifying Things Nobody Tells You About Health Care

If you're reading this, congratulations! You're probably not currently unconscious in an intensive care unit, surrounded by a gaggle of improbably sexy doctors who use your humorously gained pelvic injuries as a metaphor for their relationship issues. However, as a Cracked reader, there's a pretty good chance that someday you will be (we know our audience).

Still, there is no need to go unprepared! Here is a handy manual for the unexpected shocks and nasty surprises you are likely to encounter during your time on the health care carousel.

#5. Doctors Can't Read the Test Results

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Ever had an X-ray taken? Or one of those fancy scans or lab tests? Did the process strike you as professional and trustworthy? Sure it did -- it's science.

In reality, though, all those scans and tests and results are basically Rorschach tests for doctors. For instance, a study done on one type of test (coronary angiograms) discovered that if you give two different doctors a copy of the same test, they'll disagree up to half of the time. In fact, if you give the same doctor the same angiogram twice, he will disagree with himself up to one-third of the time.

"Still a better rate than my marriage choices ... "

Yet another study found that a group of physicians simply couldn't agree on whether any given patient was showing physical signs of goddamn heart failure. Man, we're not medical professionals, but we've always assumed that the bare minimum qualification is knowing if the patient's heart is working.

What's Going on Here?

As high tech as hospital equipment is, they have no Star Trek scanners that pop out easy diagnoses when swiped over patients. All scans, tests, and even standard lists of symptoms must be interpreted by humans. That means you're always relying on one part accurate science, one part unpredictable humanity, and the results can be seriously affected by that particular doctor's training, his knowledge, and how hard he is thinking about the taco he's going to have for lunch. Hell, he could have just smoked a bunch of meth, we don't know your doctor.

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Like what's with all those weird black light posters all the time?

But new techniques are surely fixing the situation, even if slowly, right? Nope! These days, many hospitals use teleradiology, a fancy term for outsourcing the interpretation of your scans and tests to workers (who may or may not have medical training) outside the hospital, anywhere from the next state over to India. This is especially popular in emergency medicine, because smaller hospitals don't want to keep a radiologist in their payroll just for the times Cousin Ronnie stumbles in with a cow-tipping injury.

This trend chips heavily at the doctors' diagnosis skills; in the old days, resident radiologists and ER doctors could consult each other on the fly about your symptoms and history as they relate to test results. Now, that X-ray of your butt is nothing but a context-free image on a screen in Pakistan, with no crucial patient information included. You don't need to be a doctor to realize that this leaves you wide open for a very unfortunate variation of Broken Phone.

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"Based off your X-rays, they'd like us to check you for possible ovarian bleeding."

#4. Hospital Staffs Suck at Hygiene

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Every year, about 1.7 million people in America alone wind up with an infection they got at the hospital. That means you have a 5 to 10 percent chance of getting one every goddamn time you stay in one. And, since these are infections that continuously hang around antibiotics and other medications, their resistance is getting stronger, and the situation is only going to get worse.

But how is it possible that a place dedicated to keeping germs at bay has become such a festering disease hole?

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Doctors aren't that different from us. They also have a limited capacity for giving a shit.

What's Going on Here?

You know that time you ate at a taco joint and spent the remainder of the night hate-pooping your guts out because the guy behind the counter doesn't wash his hands? Well, it turns out your doctor doesn't, either.

Preventing most of the hospital-induced illnesses would be stupidly easy: Doctors and other staff just need to wash their hands between patients so that germs can't spread from one to another. The bad news is that they rarely bother doing this. It's estimated that only around 40 percent of hospital staff complies with hand-washing standards, despite the obvious, proven risk of transferring disease. Carefully placed disinfectant gel dispensers and washing sinks fill the hallways, and awareness projects in the vein of "January Is Let's Try to Kill Fewer Patients With Our Filth Month" are frequent. Alas, the medical professionals maintain a bullheaded "not gonna" attitude, which is fine for a 5-year-old but rather less amusing when displayed by the doctor who has your life in his dirt-encrusted hands.

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"That's not dirt."

The problem is so bad that there are special doctor wristbands that'll let people know whether the wearers have washed their hands sufficiently. Seriously. We're assuming the next step will be making non-complying doctors wear "I have poop on my hands!" badges.

It turns brown.

#3. Lots of Doctors Are Shockingly Behind the Times

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The medical profession is one of those rare paths of employment where the word "old" isn't immediately followed with "fart." A lot of us prefer our authority figures with a little mileage -- just summon the mental image of an accomplished, white-haired senior doctor and one of a pimply, overworked intern and see which one you'd prefer as an emergency appendectomist.

You chose the old guy, didn't you? Bad move.

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Sorry, but the correct choice was "Contact-High Condoleezza Rice" in the back.

While the interns may sometimes mess up because they're inexperienced and overworked, the older doctors can be at least as dangerous because they don't keep their skills up to date. They've been on the job for a long time and know how it's done -- no young whippersnapper of a groundbreaking medical discovery is going to tell them otherwise, goshdarnit. As a result, the amount of time your doctor has been practicing medicine tends to correlate with lower quality care, and people getting complex surgery are more likely to die if older doctors are operating on them.

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"I'm sorry about your son. The leeches simply weren't strong enough."

Hey, did we mention that 20 percent of America's doctors today are over 65, and that percentage keeps rising?

What's Going on Here?

Unlike pilots and various other "people's lives are in my hands" occupations, doctors have no federally mandated retirement age. Not even surgeons. This allows many older doctors to keep going well past their mental prime, to the point where it's estimated that thousands of practicing doctors in America have full-blown dementia.

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"President Obama? It's a honor, sir."

That's not the real problem, though -- it's a telltale sign of trouble when your cardiologist tackles you to the ground and starts screaming that you're a Soviet spy. The real problem is that many older doctors are simply repeating what they learned in medical school back in the day, and obviously medicine, particularly surgery, has improved massively since then. Today, it involves modern humbug such as robots and lasers and decent odds for survival. Still, there's no standardized retraining system in place that makes doctors keep up with it. And while some older surgeons are diving scalpel-first into robot surgery, there are others who are sticking with the tried-and-true method they learned in 1971 from Hacksaw Harrison.

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