“Hospitals are dangerous to this degree,” reads a headline in Shukan Gendai (June 8).
The allegations that follow are shocking. If true – and they are presented as facts, not as mere tentative opinions – they require immediate action. If false, medical and pharmaceutical authorities must come forward with convincing reassurance. Because the first reaction of anyone reading the magazine’s article, if not utter disbelief, can only be, “I will never consult a doctor or set foot in a hospital again.” And that, of course, can also be dangerous.
“Enter at your own risk” is a sign that should be on every hospital entrance gate, if Shukan Gendai’s report is fair. Invasive checkups, bungled diagnoses, botched operations and drugs that do more harm than good are the perils a patient is said to court – Japanese patients in particular, if only because Japan’s medical system is so highly developed and advanced.
Japan has more hospitals than any other of the 36 member countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), says Shukan Gendai, citing OECD research – roughly 8000, versus 5000 in the runner-up U.S. This makes for feverish competition among hospitals, which fuels heavy investment in ultra-sophisticated medical technology – CT scanners, for instance, of which Japan’s 13,500 are four times the OECD average.
But let’s begin – as Shukan Gendai does – with the humble x-ray. It is a routine part of the routine medical examination, considered de rigueur in Japan to an extent that other nations might regard as excessive. British research cited by the magazine shows Japanese doctors x-raying more frequently than doctors in any of the other 15 countries surveyed. Niigata University professor emeritus Dr Masahiko Okada figures x-ray radiation causes 3.2 percent of Japan’s cancers – some 32,000 cases a year. That’s heavily ironic, given that so many of those x-rays are taken for the sake of “early detection” of cancer – supposedly a potential lifesaver.
CT scans are, in casual layman’s terms, intensive x-rays. They reveal more, and irradiate more heavily – 20 to 100 times more, says Okada. Never mind, the magazine says; Japanese patients are trusting to a fault. “Headache? Have a CT brain scan. Stomachache? Intestinal camera. Shortness of breath? MRI scan.” And so on. Doctors propose, patients eagerly cooperate – not appreciating, perhaps, the intense pressures hospitals are under to make good their investments in technology that, once purchased, must be used, whether or not use is strictly necessary from the patient’s point of view.
Shukan Gendai tells this story of a young doctor not yet master of his art. The source is an unnamed nurse at the “major Tokyo hospital” in question. The patient, a woman in her 60s, had a growth on her pancreas. Was it cancer? A biopsy would answer that. But extracting the necessary tissue sample is not easy. The young doctor tried once and failed; tried a second time and failed again. This can’t go on forever; hospitals are crowded and busy; people are waiting in line. There was no time for a third try. The operation was performed – and subsequently found to be unnecessary. The growth was not malignant after all.
High blood pressure, diabetes, heart conditions, and some forms of cancer are part of the price we pay for our modern lifestyle – too inactive, too rich in the wrong kinds of food. Fortunately – or unfortunately – there are drugs that address these ailments; fortunately because they may work, unfortunately because they give doctors a profitable alternative to prescribing arguably the most medically effective, certainly the most cost-effective, cure of all: a healthier, more active, less gluttonous lifestyle.
“Your blood pressure is a little high,” the magazine pictures a doctor saying to a patient. “I’ll write you a prescription. Come back in two weeks.” Two weeks later, the prescription is rewritten, another examination scheduled. A month after that, the same. That can go on for life.
“Patients think their doctors are out to cure them,” Shukan Gendai says archly. “That’s not necessarily true. A patient cured, after all, is one customer the less.”
What is a patient to believe?© Japan Today