The Institute of Medicine stands outside the government, offering independent advice to both the decision-makers in government and the public. As a nonprofit, its mission is to improve the quality of the healthcare services by providing detailed policy suggestions based on the best available evidence. This July, it published a highly critical report on the continuing refusal of the medical profession to accept comparative effectiveness research. This is work to discover which treatments are the most effective. At present, we are left to guess which treatments offer the best outcomes for each illness or disorder with little effort made to collect evidence on safety and quality. Hence, at one end of the scale, we can go years without knowing a particular drug or surgical procedure is ineffective. Or we can find ourselves participating in unofficial trials where doctors talk patients into off-label experiments with drugs.
Unfortunately, this is all part of the general lack of accountability within the healthcare services. The present culture allows the pharmaceutical industry and the doctors to dictate the treatment standards based on what generates the most profit for them. The idea such people would actively seek evidence to show whether their cherished treatments were medically effective is a nonstarter. There’s no willingness to engineer a learning environment where everyone tries to improve. Rather everyone wants to avoid any liability for errors of judgement and mistakes. Imagine the litigation if it emerged that doctors had for years been advising we agree to ineffective treatments.
Until there’s a major change in the culture, we will have to look with envy at the approach of the Europeans in the pain management field. As a symptom of our problems, the words “pain management clinic” in Florida and certain other states usually indicates a borderline illegal operation to sell pills. We should modify all aspects of the current service. The first reforms should affect the health insurance industry and the public bodies like Medicaid and Medicare. At present, these administrators and business people simply pay out on the bills submitted by the hospitals, clinics and doctors. Since the taxpayers fund the entitlement systems and the rest of us with money pay ever higher premiums, there’s no pressure on insurers to demand value for money. They are not there to guarantee good quality care for their insured. All they do is pay out on the bills and pocket the rest as profit.
At present, it suits everyone concerned with pain management to do as little as possible. That means the shortest possible consultations followed by the prescription of one of the standard drugs, the most effective being Tramadol. This gives everyone in the healthcare services industry the maximum possible profit with the least possible effort. If they were to adopt the European model of one-to-one treatment by physical therapists, cognitive behavioral therapists, and so on, the labor costs would rocket and profit would decline. So there’s no chance of a team-based, patient-centric approach in our great nation. Further, any evidence that might show the European approach to be more effective in medical terms must be suppressed. Everything possible must be done to reinforce the current practice standards. That means you take another Tramadol and accept second best.