It’s inherently hard to trust doctors in America. In the land of the free, healthcare is privatised and opened up to the free market, which brings with it the ugliness of capitalism. I’m by no means anti-capitalist: it does a lot of good and has even enabled me to start and run my own business. However, my health is one of the few things that I do not want subject to the many faces of capitalism.
In case you weren’t aware, I hail from the wonderful rolling hills of England. I am proud to be British, but don’t shove it in other people’s faces (a la “America is the best country in the world”). The British way is still very ingrained in British culture and the way we do things, regardless of the influence that America has had on our society.
One of the vastly different ways that things are done in the UK is healthcare. Established in 1948, The National Health Service (NHS) brought freely accessible healthcare to all, regardless of one’s ability to pay. Funded by taxes, the NHS is still almost universally where all Britons’ healthcare is conducted, unless you happen to be quite rich and decide to opt for private healthcare.
Of the many benefits of the NHS, aside from free and equal access to healthcare and receiving only medically-necessary tests and procedures, is that doctors have no side business in referring patients to other facilities or prescribing them any given drug for their own personal gain by receiving referral fees or payouts. You can trust your doctor because you know that the only entity that they serve is you.
Back to America, things aren’t quite the same. It is widely known and accepted that doctors receive payouts, gifts and preferential treatment from pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare providers for dishing out a specific course of treatment. Where there is financial or personal incentive to take a course of action, it can sway one’s decision and I daren’t guess how many prescriptions are issued, or procedures ordered, unnecessarily because of a kickback paid to the prescribing doctor.
This is part of the reason that Dr Leana Wen started the “Who’s My Doctor?” initiative, inviting doctors to voluntarily disclose not only their financial ties but their points of view on such topics as alternative medicine and end of life care, so that patients can find like-minded healthcare professionals who will serve their needs and not ignore them, or bully them into an alternative form of treatment.
I came to know about this movement through Dr Wen’s TED talk, and I invite you to watch and consider whether the spirit of fear has overwhelmed healthcare in America to its own detriment and whether you’d be interested in knowing your doctor before you select them.
Currently, Dr Wen has not assembled a public database where doctors can submit their details so that others can search for it, but I hope that this idea will gain enough traction that one day, I’ll be able to search for local doctors that are open to alternative lifestyles and medicine, like veganism, which almost always gets a sneer when I mention it to a doctor.