Yes, there are definitely many cases in which surgery is a justifiable and helpful measure. But there are also many cases in which surgery is unnecessary – and given the complications associated with surgical risks, making the call on unnecessary surgery is something that needs to be addressed, regardless of who is at fault.

But first, let’s set some misconceptions straight. No, the problem isn’t just a big conspiracy in the modern health care system to eek as much money out of patients as possible. There is just as much a problem on the patient side: patients who refuse to provide full medical records that may be necessary to make a sound decision, patients who keep insisting that they have a particular condition and go about from doctor to doctor until they find someone who agrees with their opinion, and patients who believe that by having a treatment, they will be better off than having no treatment.

Appropriate health care requires a stable, two-way trust relationship between doctors and patients: if this trust is broken, then the accusations in both directions take off. Unfortunately, with the overwork and stress commonplace in medical professions, mistakes happen more than they should – and this has resulted in increased mistrust in the health care system, as indicated by the rise in demand for alternative medicine.

Personally, I think we need to strike a balance: if you approach a medical professional and actually care about your long-term health, you should inform yourself about the risks and chances associated with the treatment you are recommended, as well as the circumstances in which that treatment actually helps. If you have a preconception that a particular treatment is going to help, then do your homework and inform yourself about the circumstances under which that treatment actually works, as well as whether your preconception is valid, and keep your tin foil cap on!

Granted, the subject is riddled with biases and any study on how necessary surgery may be is bound to be inaccurate – and despite that, I think that this is an issue that needs to be looked at more closely, and not just surgery, but medicine in general.

/via +Lerato Majikfaerie


More information:
Confessions of a Sydney surgeon: why your operation may not work
Commonly performed operations can be found to be useless, according to a practising Sydney surgeon.

8 Replies to “Surgery and the placebo effect”

  1. Agree with your commentary completely.
    I'm really not sure why people took me to be saying that all surgeries are unnecessary or unstudied or no better than a placebo, or that all doctors are evil and in on a conspiracy.
    I wasn't saying that at all. Just that we do need to do more research and question things more thoroughly, and that there are some treatments being performed that aren't needed and that haven't been subjected to rigorous trials with control groups.

  2. This is one of the problems with encouraging patient satisfaction as a determinant of medical success, which is one of the things that the ACA ("Obamacare") did in the USA. Where patient satisfaction is important (and especially when it's tied to income), doctors are more likely to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics (and painkillers), and more likely to authorize ineffective procedures.

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