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Y. Mark Hong, MD

Back to the Future - What is Today's Snake Oil?

By markhongmd on August 18, 2014

What's the Edsel of our times?

The Edsel was supposed to the greatest car of its time, the car to take Ford past GM.  The year was 1958 and a lot of really smart people at Ford had staked their careers on this car.  Turns out, they were wrong and the Edsel went down as one of the biggest product flops of all time.  Ever wonder what today's Edsel will be when we look back in 50 years?  It's entirely possible that the things we do, and the pills we take, today will be laughed at by our grandchildren.  Here's five of those Edsels:

  1. Pills.  Well, we'll probably still take pills in 50 years, but the idea that one pill and one dose is the right one for all Americans is pretty ludicrous.  Our bodies absorb medications vastly different person-to-person, so why should we all be taking the same dose of Ibuprofen?  And why are we even taking ibuprofen when we really need to target just our knee, not our entire body?  The pill of the future will be customized to your body and health state.
  2. Mental care.   It's no secret in the medical profession that mental health care research lags decades behind medical research.  We all know our minds and bodies are connected.  So why do we spend so much time on our bodies and not our minds?  Not to mention the stigma of seeking mental health care?  Definite Edsel.
  3. Child mental care.  Is it really safe to be giving kids Ritalin and all manner of other drugs?  Pediatric mental illness does exist, and it is serious.  But is the answer to give medications that cross the blood-brain barrier to a developing child?  I'm not a psychiatrist but it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. 
  4. Chronic pain.  We know it exists.  We just have no idea how to handle it.  One day we'll look back in horror at all the narcotics we've pumped into patients and think, why didn't anyone try to figure out the root cause of pain instead of creating numb zombies?  
  5. Placebo.  It happens in every clinical trial.  We take a fake "sugar" pill, and 33% of the people who didn't get the actual medicine behave as though they got the real medicine.  It's a nuisance, because it isn't "real" and we have to discount the effect of placebo when interpreting clinical trials.  Hello?  Isn't it a miracle that 33% of people can have a positive response just from their hope of getting a "real" pill?  Instead of maligning the Placebo Response, one day we'll be celebrating it and figuring out how to harness it in measurable and beneficial ways.

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