Does Your Healthcare Heal Or Harm? – Psych Centra

Elizabeth Bewley, like most people, has experienced various health issues in her life. Also, like many of us, she’s sought medical advice and found that while there were well-intentioned professionals out there, much of the time the medical advice and care she received was confusing, concerning or even downright negligent.

That’s why she wrote a book about it.

Ms. Bewley is an MBA and a Six Sigma black belt who worked for twenty years for Johnson and Johnson. After nearly dying in a bike crash, she began to identify serious flaws in the health care she was receiving.

Since then, she’s become a patient advocate.

In her book, “Killer Cure,” Bewley quotes Rahul Parikh, who describes the doctor-patient relationship in terms that are reminiscent of a dysfunctional marriage: “The physician-patient compact basically states that a doctor will care for the patient in exchange for compensation and that the patient will heed the doctor’s advice. Patients who disagree with their physicians…are free to go elsewhere.”

The author asks, “Does that sound like a relationship that would encourage you to engage, ask questions, and explore the pros and cons of different choices?”

C.R. and I have actually been blessed with very caring and professional medical professionals and excellent treatment outcomes. But, like Bewley, we had to navigate our way around some seriously flawed situations in order to find good care (and we don’t let our “guard” down for a moment).

A few years ago, C.R. had surgery devised by a New York-based specialist that was so cutting-edge our insurance wouldn’t pay for it. We weighed the pros and cons and decided that we had no choice but to pay for the surgery (and we’re still paying for it!) But what’s so amazing is that in order to get to the point where we finally found an option that we could consider, we had to go through a lot of grief.

Doctor after doctor gave C.R. varying diagnoses and different possible treatments which ranged from unhelpful at best to downright frightening. Overall, there was a sense of vulnerability and frustration. Fortunately, between our active advocacy and some outright Providential intervention, we found the best possible outcome that minimized the life-changing effects treatment demanded.

Still, after the operation, which was performed at a renowned and highly-rated hospital in NYC, a night nurse forgot about doing a post-operative procedure, the results of which were to cause C.R. to spend an additional six months in recovery. Still, we know we’ve been fortunate.

In “Killer Cure,” Ms. Bewley explains why health care in America accidentally kills 12,000 people each week. She also explains the state of the health care system and suggests that the reader become CEO of their own health care treatment. (I recommend that you also ask informed and committed family members to advocate for you/with you.)

In fact, the author untangles and demystifies the process of advocating for yourself and gives you the information you need to do so. She illustrates everything with very clear statistical analyses (if you can count to ten, you can understand what she’s talking about), and explains how ineffective drugs end up being prescribed, why risks and outcomes aren’t always clearly presented to the patient, and how to avoid being a “mushroom” patient (one who’s kept in the dark).

With crystal-clear charts and graphs, she motivates the reader to understand the process of health care and their place in the process. She also helps us formulate the questions we need to ask anyone involved in delivering our medical care, including ourselves!

In one case, Ms. Bewley describes a convoluted process she went through in order to get tested for cancer with a pap smear, which is a ubiquitous procedure. But her experience did not go smoothly due to misinformation and inefficient medical employees. After an emotionally draining round of phone calls and in-person visits, where test after test was done, and weeks in which she was waiting and waiting for results and advice about what to do next, Bewley was definitely in a Catch-22.

She asks: “If the tests [I had taken] weren’t going to clarify the next step needed, why did I spend four weeks having them and waiting for the results?”

The doctor involved (who obviously had a poorly managed office), at one point advised Bewley to keep a record of who she spoke to at the office so the doctor could find out who’d been essentially lying to the patient. If you’ve ever dealt with poor medical care, just reading it is enough to trigger flashbacks.

But Bewley doesn’t let the reader hang; she gives you the tools you need to understand your central role to getting the health care you deserve. We loved this book, perhaps in part, because it does for medical treatment what we hopefully do for mental health treatment in “Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On, Without Wasting Time or Money.”

We recommend “Killer Cures” specifically to PsychCentral readers because those with mental illness and/or addiction might find it challenging to advocate for themselves. This book shows you how.

Some of Bewley’s tips:

Are you being treated by a medical professional?

  1. Make sure your doctor has a list of all the medicines you are taking. (Believe it or not, it is very common that doctors are unaware of what prescriptions you have!)
  2. Make sure your doctor has a complete list of symptoms and an accurate medical history. (Remember how we stress a therapy patient evaluation? This goes for physical health care, too.)
  3. Be aware that failure to respond to a treatment can sometimes mean that the diagnosis is wrong. It can also mean that the treatment chosen is not effective for you and you need another treatment. (In medical care, if something’s not working, just as in therapy, you have a right to review the care you’re getting and seek new solutions.)

We give “Killer Cure5 Cups of Soup.

Elizabeth Bewley founded the Pario Health Institute (PHI) in 2008. She’s currently working on a other books about how to get better results from your healthcare and has written columns about mental health care, too. PHI promotes change so that health care’s purpose becomes to enable people to lead the lives they want. Too often today, health care acts as if its purpose is simply to deliver tests and treatments.


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Last reviewed: 7 Jun 2012

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