Obviously: yes. Circumstances where the question “Is there a doctor in the house?” is appropriate suggest a situation characterized by the unexpected appearance, in the presence of a restricted group of people, of events or symptoms that are clearly hinting towards an medical emergency. Of course a medically trained professional is then by far the best option for succesfully solving the problem (and hopefully save a life, or reassure the crowd that is was a false alert, or reprimand anyone whose sense of humor is sick enough to include faking a medical emergency).
The real question I want to raise is this: “Should you consult a physician for all health-related problems – even (and especially) those without events or symptons that are clearly hinting towards an medical emergency?” In the 17th century, the French playwright Molière wrote: “Doctors pour drugs of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, into patients of whom they know nothing.”* In a number of cases most of this is still valid.
To be very clear, though, I am by no means claiming that medical science and pharmaceutics are rubbish and that consulting a doctor or taking drugs is always useless. It is thanks to medical science and pharmaceutics that in little over a century the world population has increased from 1 to 7 billion people, especially because of wonderful inventions such as antibiotics and vaccinations. But I do want to point out that we should not overestimate the degree of certainty of the medically trained in a lot of instances, and neither underestimate the capability for self-regulation of the processes and substances at work in your own body. Often the reasoning behind a drug or method prescribed as a cure for a complaint is much closer to “let’s try this and see how it works out” and not “I am fully confident that this will solve the patient’s problem”. There is simply a gigantic amount of information about the human body still to be discovered. Plus: it’s not always easy to find independent sources of information about the parts that have been discovered already (Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre is an excellent book on this topic).
It’s also simply impossible for a doctor to keep up with all the medical knowledge that is being published. The result is that the information most doctors receive after their initial training is often filtered or seen trough a lens controlled by parties that might have other interests than the public interest (sadly, this is even true for some of the articles in reputable peer reviewed medical magazines – read Goldacre’s book to find out more). A good source of reliable information is always the Cochrane Collaboration, but their website is unfortunately quite complex due to the multitude of information.
As for the capability for self-regulation of your own body: I’m a strong adherent of this. Take fever: in case of a mild fever (let’s say 1 or 1,5°C higher than your normal temperature level) I see no reason whatsoever to use any kind of medication. Fever is a reaction of your body to attack whatever is attacking you, so taking drugs to conquer the fever is clearly not the best option in my view. Once again: I’m not saying you should not resort to drugs at all in case of fever. If it’s severe and persistent, drugs to get the fever down are obviously the route to follow. It’s really an appeal to common sense (as is in fact the case with a lot of posts on this blog).
Think also of the result we are now facing of overconsumption of antibiotics (where there are at least strong indications that the prescription was not needed in a lot of cases). This overconsumption has led to an enormous increase of resistance that microorganisms have developed against antibiotics, rendering a lot of them useless. International health organizations and the medical community are quite concerned about this evolution.
But the future need not be gloomy. More and more discoveries are pointing in the direction of a new, ultimate wonder cure for a variety of health problems: physical activity.* Not only as a means to cure, but even more as a way to prevent getting ill in the first place. We don’t understand yet why exactly this is the case, but the evidence is increasingly undeniable. Which happens to be quite helpful as well in another insight that has been growing, especially in the Western world, as the poplulation there is amongst the most affected, due to its lack of physical activity: sitting is the new smoking.*
* I have been able to update some of my earlier insights – and find some clever wordings for them – by recently having read the book “Nooit meer ziek” (which means “Never ill again”, published in Dutch in early 2014 by the Belgian Prof. Dr. Koen Kas). The picture used in this post also refers to a fact that I learned from the book: IBM’s supercomputer Watson (yes, the one that won the TV game show Jeopardy in 2011) is now being used in medical research.
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