Updated: Jul 25, 2018
New medical research is being published all the time.
For example, In 2016, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended regular, low-dose Aspirin use for people between the ages of 50 and 69 as a way to prevent heart attacks, strokes, and some types of cancer. But just a few days ago, a study published in The Lancet altered that recommendation.
The new study revealed that the effects of the daily Aspirin use varied significantly depending on the person’s body weight. Only people who weighed 154 pounds or less actually received the heart-related benefits of the Aspirin dose (the strokes and cancer aspects were inconclusive), and people above that weight were unaffected unless they took a higher dosage.
The solution may not be as simple as just increasing the dosage, however. Aspirin is only distributed in three pills - 81, 325, and 500 mg - and a higher dose could increase the risk of bleeding. More research, therefore, needs to be done to discover the safest way for heavier people to use Aspirin preventatively.
I bring this up to illustrate a point:
If your doctor didn’t learn this during their residency, they may not be keeping up to date now. And that’s not for lack of trying.
Doctors today are struggling with burn-out en-masse. I spoke in my last post about how physicians and other healthcare professionals are being forced to limit their time with their patients due to assembly-line systems and increasing bureaucratic demands from insurance companies. This has made it nearly impossible for illnesses to be properly diagnosed and chronic illness has reached an all-time high.
“As a paramedic I ran what we call ‘repeat customers' or 'frequent flyers’ more times than I can count,” says Stacy Hatcher, now a Clinical Research Coordinator at UCSF Department of Surgery. “Because so many people don't have access to healthcare, EMS (Emergency Medical Services) is their first line of treatment. Many people are forced to wait so long to see their primary that they show up with 15 different problems, many of them chronic illnesses that haven't been addressed in years. It's not realistic to cover five years worth of medical issues in five minutes.”
But another deeply unfortunate result of these practices is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for doctors to keep up with the latest research. Again, this is not the fault of medical professionals. This is a systemic problem.
“I will say that the physicians I worked with at UCSF are all academic and also do research so they do an excellent job of keeping up with the latest therapies and are working hard to progress their fields,” says Stacy. “It’s a lot harder for physicians, though, when they’re not working in an academic environment and aren’t PIs (Principal Investigators) of their own labs. Doctors are working longer hours, sometimes 36 in a row with no sleep, for lower pay. The physician suicide rate is 3x that of the general population. Part of that is due to the fact that most physicians go into medicine to help people, and when you feel like you're stuck in a bureaucratic mess of paperwork instead of treating patients, doing what you spent nearly a decade (and half a million dollars) training for, and your patients are angry with you, plus running on little sleep, little self care and little time spent with family and friends, life can start to look pretty bleak.”
“It takes about ten years for research to work its way into standard medical practice,” says Dr. Bruce Roberts of LightHearted Medicine, who pointed me in the direction of a study by BMJ. The study found that, over a 30-day period, the mortality rate of patients who were treated at a hospital increased based on the age of the doctor treating them. The older the doctor, the higher the risk. “The older doctors have just had more time between now and their residency,” Dr. Bruce clarifies. “But it’s the same for a lot of traditional medical doctors, no matter their age. People tend to practice what they learned in school. Unless there is a concerted effort to keep up with the latest research, they may stop learning after that.”
There's a vicious cycle here. Patients wait until they are in crisis to get help and doctors are overrun with emergencies. This leads to patients not actually getting the help they need which leads to more health problems and less money to see a doctor, which leads to patients waiting until they're in crisis to get help…. it’s sick. So how do we overhaul this system?
Here at LightHearted Medicine, we believe that Functional and Integrative practices are a major key. Functional Medicine focuses on patients as whole human beings, with their own individual genes, stresses, nutrition and environments. It seeks to treat the source of the illness as opposed to just finding a medication to bury the symptoms. Integrative Medicine is similarly holistic in nature. It recognizes that we are not only physical beings, but emotional, mental, and spiritual as well- and that each of these aspects of a person must be addressed in order to find true and lasting health.
How does this allow for doctors to keep up with the latest research? Believe it or not, when doctors have more time with patients to get to the root of their problems, to help them to heal on every level, and to provide them with the tools they need to maintain their health and prevent disease… patients get better. The cycle breaks.
“I’m very clear with my patients that the way I practice medicine today is not the way I practiced 5 years ago,” says Dr. Molly Roberts of LightHearted Medicine. “And that the way I practice 5 years from now will be different from the way I practice today."
Dr. Molly is forthcoming with her patients in order to grow a relationship with them that is based on mutual respect and trust.
"I do my absolute best to keep up with the latest research, but I can only do the best that I can with the knowledge that is available to me at the time. That knowledge base will continue to grow as more research comes out to fill in the gaps of our collective understanding about how our bodies work, but I think it’s both humanizing and important to admit that I don’t “know it all.” I’ve never had a single patient misunderstand my intensions with this statement. In fact, it creates more of a partnership between us, and a shared curiosity about what the research will unveil next about this miracle of biochemistry that is our bodies."
Dr. Molly says that patients will often bring her research articles that add to her own knowledge base, and she likes that. "It means that we are working together to try to understand the problem from as many angles as we possibly can. Keeping up with the latest research helps me do the detective work I need to do to find the source of the health problem and it helps in coming up with treatment plans. After that comes a responsibility that is just as important - taking the time to educate people about their body and about the options that are available to them so that they're empowered to make informed decisions about their own health."
If you or anyone you know is currently stuck in an ongoing cycle of chronic illness, specialists, and hospital visits, LightHearted Medicine may be exactly what you need to break out and find a more healing path. Find out how at www.LightHeartedMedicine.com.
- Katlyn Roberts, Community Manager at LightHearted Medicine