After dragging my feet for more than half a decade, I begrudgingly made a clinic appointment for a physical this year. Checking in and talking with a nurse, I then waited alone in the doctor’s examination room, daring to pull down my mandated mask.
But then the doctor entered—wearing a pin listing her pronouns—and she asked me to pull that mask right back up. However, she later asked me to remove it to check my throat and mouth, leaving me to wonder if she could see the ridiculousness of the situation.
My experience in that examination room didn’t do much to boost the already slim trust I have in the medical system. That trust has been eroded over the past several years, and these days, a broken bone, cancer, or something immediately life-threatening are the only ailments I would turn to a hospital with for treatment. For any non-emergency medical problem, I fully expect to receive a misdiagnosis—if any diagnosis—and a bottle of pills on the way out of the doctor’s office.
I’m not alone in my cynical perceptions. In 2022, only 38 percent of Americans had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the medical system, according to a Gallup poll. Another 38 percent of Americans had “some” confidence in the medical system, and nearly one quarter of the population had “very little” confidence in the medical system.
Why is it that 62 percent of Americans have only some or little confidence in the medical system? One possible reason is misdiagnosis. Around 12 million patients are misdiagnosed in the U.S. every year, based on a 2014 estimate. And even if a misdiagnosis is not deadly, it wastes both the patient’s and hospital’s time and resources.
Another potential reason is that the first solution to every medical ailment is to prescribe some variety of drug. Forty-two percent of 65-year-olds and older in America are on at least five medications, according to a 2019 report.
But older Americans aren’t the only ones on more drugs than they need. Do you remember the days when kids were told to run around outside to burn off energy? Truly, it’s not reasonable to think that children can sit still behind a desk for hours each day. But rather than address the feminization of education, we diagnose rowdy children with ADHD and drug them into submission.
A similar example can be found with depression. The decades-old chemical imbalance explanation of depression was recently debunked, yet 1 in every 10 Americans continue taking antidepressants based on this misunderstanding of where depression comes from.
My clinic visit signals another reason why Americans may mistrust the medical system: politics. The pronoun pin on my doctor’s lanyard announced her political ideology. “Look at me!” it essentially said. “I think the right think.” I don’t need politics in my doctor’s office. Conveniently, many of the women who screamed they didn’t want the government in their wombs are fine with their politics in the doctor’s office.
More than that, the pin signaled that this doctor thought that gender was some sort of social construct and that there’s not a strong psychological element to your sex. Basic biology—and casual observations about reality—show that the differences between men and women are more than their reproductive organs. And if my doctor doesn’t ascribe to basic biology, can I really trust her medical opinion?
These are just a few examples, but the crowning jewel of the medical system’s failure is the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, Anthony Fauci declared, “Attacks on me, quite frankly, are attacks on science.” Science used to refer to the scientific method—a process for studying the world around us—rather than one man or the set of ideas approved by the elite.
Additionally, with big pharma representing 75 percent of television advertising spending in 2020, the mainstream media gave glowing coverage pushing specific drug treatments for COVID (the COVID vaccines). Add in the fact that these treatments were—and are—mandated, despite their experimental status, and it’s no wonder why many are hesitant to trust the medical system.
All of this is very doom and gloom, but there is a silver lining: You as a patient have never had more access to medical information to make informed decisions. We live in a golden age of information when many medical sources and journals are publicly accessible. Many of the sources that doctors are reading are available for you to critically assess.
We can demand better from our doctors. While I don’t doubt there are fantastic doctors out there, they seem to be increasingly few and far between. It’s up to us to be informed participants in our healthcare decisions, ready and willing to advocate for ourselves. And at the end of the day, the best things we all can do are also the simplest: Eat healthy, exercise, and get some fresh air.
Image credit: Flickr-Nenad Stojkovic, CC BY 2.0.18 comments