This had to be done... There aren't enough cynics around

Touching Lives

“One of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine.”
Sir William Osler (1849-1919)

One of my first memories of clinical posting as a medical student was a question asked by the then chief of internal medicine. He asked us what constituted modern medicine was. We gave answers that ranged from robotic surgery to all the recent investigations to catch the diseases earlier. He didn’t say a word until we were done. After the entire hullabaloo died, he gave the next question.

“Who is known as the father of modern medicine?”

This was a sitter, even for a second year guy who was fresh out of the formalin scented anatomy dissection halls and the terrifying viva corridors of the physiology department.

“Sir William Osler”

We answered in unison. Now we realized what he had meant. Sir Osler was a man who belonged to the previous century. That was a moment of realisation-Carr, Mansfield and Lauterber-the brains behind the MRI were not even born when Sir Osler breathed his last. Modern medicine is not entirely about the new age sophisticated machinery that has made diagnosing a lot more accurate and a little less tough, it is about the marriage of science and art. The art being listening to the patient and the science was putting together the pieces of the puzzle to get the complete picture.

Sir Osler and his peers lived in an age where doctors were revered and were not seen merely as ‘sue-able’ sources of big money. And here we are, in the internet age where modern technology has made things just as difficult as easy. The patient sees the physician as a service provider and nothing more while the physician is so pressed for time that building a rapport takes the backseat. This is a stark contrast from the ideologies of Sir Osler who believed listening was more important than ordering a battery of investigations.

True, recent advancements have made lives longer and better, but it comes with a cost (pun intended). For starters, the trust factor has taken a beating. We find that every other citizen and every netizen is an expert when it comes to medicine (and of course cricket). This jeopardizes the essence of healthcare. Every individual is unique and so is his disease and hence the treatment. Despite all the Web MD knowledge, we still find people that choose a neighbour, a quack and a priest before getting to an actual doctor.

While marvelling at all the available investigations that have caught so many killer diseases before they killed, and magic bullets that take the predator before it preys on the victim, we still find that the off putting price tag and allegations of an unholy nexus between healers and dealers have all brought their share of controversies. A normal MRI scan is seen as a scam (although one wonders if a 10 cm inoperable lesion would make the 'consumer' happy as a 'positive' result for the money spent). A normal ECG is seen as extortion. A doctor that prescribes minimal drugs is shunned. With all these challenges, and the growing burden of chronic illnesses that can be controlled but not cured, we are at crossroads.

To sum up, recent developments in modern healthcare have cured billions and made cynics out of millions. While there is no denying that it has had a positive healing touch on everyone, it is important to regain the honour associated with the profession. That can happen when we start listening a bit longer and make machines complementary. And as my professor always said, there is more to a physician than the prefix; after all we live in a world with Dr Kermit-the frog.

P.S This entry is supposed to be a submission for "How does Modern Healthcare touch lives?" contest,