Monday, March 5, 2007

Pharmaceutical Guinea Pigs

You enter your physician’s office… once again you are greeted by a smiling nurse that escorts you quickly into an examination room where moments later the physician enters the room. She nods pleasantly and greets you with a smile. You inform her that you are experiencing abdominal pain. The smile does not leave her face as she begins to write vigorously on a prescription pad. After a few minutes, you are greeted with the product of her efforts…. a prescription for gall bladder surgery. You gulp… “Surgery???” you ask imploring a different response, “… but how do you know?… couldn’t it be something different?” Your physician smiles and unveils the explanation, “We have found that statistically speaking, the highest base rate disorder to account for your somatic distress is a gall bladder problem and the definitive treatment for gall bladder problems is surgery… so we’ll do the surgery first… if you still have the symptoms one month after surgery, then we may consider doing some testing.” Ludicrous?!? I hope you are nodding “yes”.

Unfortunately, many parents who present their children to professionals (physicians, psychologists, etc.) with symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity receive psychostimulant therapy since statistically speaking it is the most common childhood disorder associated with inattention and the definitive treatment for inattention is psychostimulants. The parents are subsequently informed that if the child fails the psychostimulant trial (ie., meaning the child develops insomnia, crying spells, shakiness, emotional lability, tremors, tics, etc.), then an evaluation may be considered. Ludicrous?!?! I hope you are still nodding. Managed care organizations (HMO) and insurance carriers support this approach by encouraging treatment of children but denying or limiting insurance coverage for evaluations. In other words, you (the consumer) are actually paying for and supporting the strategy of using medications to rule out or rule in a diagnosis. While the American Medical Association and its various branches decry this strategy, the reality is that medications, and psychostimulants in particular, are commonly used as a tool in diagnosing attention deficit and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ie. “Let’s give this a try… if its ADD/ADHD, then the medication will work…”). The Solution… ask “…and what will happen if it does not work?… adverse symptoms? delays in treatment? child perceptions of being a guinea pig. Parents need to be empowered to say “no” to medical testing on their children and request evaluations prior to treatment.

Hmmm… let’s open up the skull and see if there is a tumor or just nothing.

No comments: