A generation ago, in the bad old days, physicians were thought of as unquestioned experts who dispensed orders rather than advice, and expected dutiful compliance from their patients. Fortunately those days are long gone, and today the patient and the physician see each other as partners in the patient’s healthcare, with the patient able to question and even challenge the doctor’s recommendations. This keeps doctors smart and honest and keeps patients ultimately in control of their health. But with the loss of our perceived infallibility of a generation ago, physicians also seem to have lost the ability to loudly and with confidence distinguish between good medicine and quackery. Myriad ineffective supplements and health-related gizmos are advertised and sold to our patients constantly, but we mostly say nothing, afraid that we’ll offend our patients, or be thought of as narrow minded. We end up thinking something like “Our patients want magnetic bracelets (or Echinacea, or vitamins) so who are we to stand in their way?” Even the word “quackery” has fallen into disuse, replaced now by less judgmental terms like “alternative medicine” or “homeopathic” (a word that used to mean something specific, but no longer does). In a culture in which “judgmental” is a pejorative adjective, how can we continue to dispense sound judgment?
So I was delighted to read in this week’s LA Times health section an article warning us of the many shady, useless, and even potentially hazardous health products being sold to us every day: Step right up, folks! (The LA Times site requires registration, but it’s free.) If you have a few minutes, please read it.
Another valuable resource that I found recently is Quackwatch, a website dedicated to exposing quackery and health fraud.
Please, help me revive the word “quackery”. Use it the next time you’re driving and hear an ad for a weight loss product, or your neighbor tells you about the herbs he takes for his cold. The next generation of physicians will thank you.
I wish all my Jewish patients and readers a bright and joyous Chanukah!