The dark secrets your doctor won't tell you
Which medicines claim more lives than they save? How is a disease invented? What criteria is used to decide who receives a donor organ? Worldof Knowledge explores the dark secrets of medicine…
The contract does not require a signature, a spoken agreement or even a handshake to be valid. It automatically comes into force every time you set foot in the doctor’s surgery. The ‘contract’ between doctor and patient states that every doctor is obliged to provide their patient with clear information, to treat them to the best of their ability and to keep them out of harm’s way. But what many people don’t realise is that doctors break this contract every single day. Often unwittingly, but sometimes deliberately. There are three main reasons for this: 1. IGNORANCE: Even the most groundbreaking of medical findings can take several years to filter through to frontline doctors. An example: for three decades, studies have found that the sedative diazepam (Valium) is as addictive as heroin – yet it is still being prescribed to millions today. 2. DISHONESTY: “What would you do if you were in my shoes?” Many doctors dread this question and fail to give an honest answer or offer patients their true personal opinions. An example: a survey carried out at Duke University in North Carolina asked doctors whether they would recommend their patients undergo the same bowel cancer treatment that they would choose. The findings alarmed even the experts: of the 500 physicians surveyed, a staggering 40% advised their patients to have an operation that they would personally reject because of the many negative side effects. 3. MISINFORMATION: In reality, more than 50% of funded drug studies are influenced in favour of the pharmaceutical firms that finance them. Joel Lexchin of York University, Toronto, analysed 30 reports on research funded by drug companies and found that they were four times more likely to be positive than independently funded studies. “We found that in almost all cases there was a rather heavy bias in favour [of a drug] when the study was industry funded,” he said. That means doctors often rely on biased research, but this is rarely communicated to those being treated. Sometimes doctors don’t realise this themselves. Now one organisation has declared war on this issue. The Cochrane Collaboration is a network of physicians and scientists that has been operating for the last 20 years. During that time it has developed into an unofficial quality control institute for medical products and trials. The group’s name and ethos are inspired by Dr Archie Cochrane, one of the founding fathers of ‘evidence-based medicine’. The researchers’ aim is to filter the unbiased and diagnostically conclusive results from studies commissioned by pharmaceutical companies eager to get their medicines to market. To prevent this, systematic checking and comparing of different studies aims to control the efficacy and risks of a drug – and the health of patients as a result. Today, 37,000 scientists in 100 countries contribute to the Cochrane Collaboration as unpaid volunteers. Their goal: making sure medicines actually benefit patients. “Some of the treatments I had been taught to give at medical school were actually harming, and sometimes killing, my patients,” says the organisation’s founder, Sir Iain Chalmers. “With the best of intentions, doctors and other health professionals can do harm. Everything starts from that.”
On the following pages World of Knowledge, aided by leading independent medical experts, reveals how medical trials can be influenced, which information doctors would rather keep secret and how some doctors put at risk the most important commodity a human being possesses – their health.