Monday, June 24, 2013

There Has Never Been Product Transparency in Medicine

One of my grandfathers lived from 1900 to 1969 on a farm in rural Illinois. Many of his generation and his initial descendants went to a general physician, Dr. S.

I was young, and Dr. S was elderly when I met him, but he was locally famous. He seemed at home in “farm country” and he never held any pretensions of grandeur.

Patients had no clue about the Science of Medicine behind any of Dr. S’s prescribed medical practices, because no other sources of information were available to them other than Dr. S himself. There was a monopoly on medical information. There was no “product transparency.”

You only have true product transparency when you know everything you need to know and want to know about a product before you buy it. Take food for example. There is pretty good product transparency for a hamburger. Everybody knows what a hamburger is and everybody pretty much knows what a hamburger tastes like. It’s easy for the consumer to compare a hamburger from one restaurant to a hamburger at another restaurant.

Or take the computer. Nowadays, you can get an extensive list of all the specifications of a computer before you buy one. Not so with medical treatments.

This monopoly on the "inside medical information" has continued throughout my father’s generation. There is no true “product transparency” when it comes to medical treatments. The exact specifications of medical treatments, the really important information, the inside medical information that you really need to know, is still a secret. The advent of the Internet has helped, but it has not solved the problem.

Patients and healthcare providers need to be empowered with better medical information. They need near perfect “product transparency.” They need to know exactly how well medical treatments work without spending months sorting through the existing 20 million medical studies,[1] and without visiting doctor after doctor.

For many years now, I’ve been working how to solve the product transparency problem in medicine, which could also be called the “treatment transparency” problem. Actually, I also like to say that we need “medical practice transparency.” A medical practice can be a treatment, or it can be any other medical action such as ordering a blood test, or ordering an x-ray.         

[1] Fraser AG, Dunstan FD. “On the impossibility of being expert.” BMJ. 2010 Dec 14;341:c6815. doi: 10.1136/bmj.c6815.