Society values preventative measures to stop bad things from getting worse. Unfortunately, these measures are often executed in the face of vast uncertainty. In the healthcare world, this means that patients are actually suffering. Sometimes no medicine is the best medicine. Here's what you need to know.

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Is the potential of technology getting in our way?
As you are no doubt aware, medical treatment has advanced exponentially in the past century. As a result, quality of life, measured in terms of life expectancy and mortality rates, is the highest it's ever been. But many experts, and netizens, are starting to question whether the prevalence of medication and medical equipment is too much. Is it possible that the things which were designed to help us feel better are actually making us feel worse?
The medical community is very focused on preventative care, and rightly so. Obviously, it's ideal that if options exist to prevent the onset of a disease or condition, we take them. Unfortunately, this behavior has been promoted even when uncertainty surrounding the diagnosis looms. Many health professionals actively encourage preventative measures even when they are unsure of the presence of the condition they are acting against. This leads to many unintended consequences that are often detrimental to the health of the patient.
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Dr. Allen Frances, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and former Chair at Duke University, writes that "with very few exceptions, the early screening and intervention touted by preventive medicine has turned out to be an oversold, dangerous, and expensive flop." Of course, the situation we find ourselves in now was inspired by good intentions: largely, the relentless desire to find disease early through annual checkups and screening. Patients and doctors feel it's better to err on the side of caution than to run the risk of missing something. Psychologically, this makes perfect sense. Physically, this can be bad for our health. Dr. Frances explains, "the technology is out of hand. If we do enough CT scans we can find structural abnormalities in just about everyone." To make matters worse, as technology improves, the tests are increasingly able to find these abnormalities, yet we are still uncertain as to what the abnormalities mean.
As Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Medicine and the Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, writes
"most of these abnormalities will not go on to cause disease. But because clinicians don’t know which will and which will not, we tend to treat everybody... The biggest problem is that overdiagnosis triggers overtreatment, and all of our treatments carry some harm [especially when executed unnecessarily]."
Antibiotics: insight into a dangerously cautious system
The negative consequences of overdiagnosis and overmedication can perhaps best be seen by examining the global state of prescription drugs, in particular antibiotics. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about half of outpatient antibiotic prescriptions in the United States are unnecessary. The overuse of pills, promotes antibiotic resistance. Sadly patients, especially worrying parents, are also to blame for this dilemma. It is critical to understand that antibiotics treat bacterial infections, not viral infections. Most common conditions that people suffer from cannot be treated by a simple antibiotic: this includes, cold, flu, sinus infections, gastroenteritis, most coughs and sore throats, ear infections, and bronchitis. Yet, many people still push their doctors to prescribe them medication. They feel that if they are sick they must take medication to get better. That simply is not the case. 
In Singapore, for example, the Ministry of Health conducted a survey on the state of primary care in Singapore. This 2014 primary care report stated that 65% of all GP visits are for acute, likely self-limiting (i.e. can recover on its own), conditions. Examples of such conditions include upper respiratory tract infections (flu, sore throat, cough etc.), diarrhoeal diseases, and sprains. This means that roughly 32,000 Singaporeans go to a GP every day for conditions that they don't need medicine for. They simply have to rest at home to get healthy again.
One of the main problems with the expectation of treatment is the build-up of resistance to common antibiotics. According to a 2013 report, at least 2 million Americans every year "acquire serious infections with bacteria that are resistant to one or more of the antibiotics designed to treat those infections." And over 23,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant infections. The effects of this are not only bad for the individual, but also for society, as it results in the following:
  • More doctor visits
  • More serious illness or disability
  • More deaths from previously treatable illnesses
  • Less effective or more-invasive treatments
  • More expensive treatments
  • Longer recovery times

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What does this mean for you?

As Dr. Frances describes, "this is a David vs Goliath struggle. The forces that benefit from massive overdiagnosis can martial hundreds of billions of dollars a year to promote and protect it. The forces supporting rational medical decision making have access to just a few million dollars a year." In addition to this blatant power imbalance, doctors are also inclined to overdiagnose due to the legal system. In most countries, doctors are punished for underdiagnosis, but not overdiagnosis.

You can take steps to make sure you don't fall victim to this detrimental spiral, and discourage its existence. When you are dealing with a doctor, don't pressure them to give you medicine. And the next time you're feeling sick with something not too serious, don't rush for treatment. Take a bit of time before going to see the doctor. If you're sick you probably just need to take some time to rest at home. Talk to a doctor from home on RingMD, right now. Sometimes the best medicine is no medicine. Just because something like an antibiotic is quick and easy, doesn't mean it's best for you in the long run. Sometimes it is, but you should see a doctor and let them decide.

Consult A Doctor Now

We're trying to make healthcare more accessible and convenient for everyone. In some places, like Singapore, this means making your primary care experience more convenient. In other places, such as rural India, this means helping people see doctors for the first time in their lives. We think this is important stuff. We're always looking for ideas that could help more people. If you have any cool ideas, we'd love to hear from you! And when you're sick and need a doctor, remember that RingMD is here for you, wherever you are. 

We're also focusing on increasing access to mental healthcare. If you're thinking "I need a therapist near me" but don't know where to start, try the RingMD therapist directory. We will help you find the right therapist for YOU!

Lastly, if you're a doctor or wellness expert considering offering virtual care services, here are some arguments to consider. Thousands of people a month, in Singapore alone, search for things like "doctors near me" or "gp near me", if you're looking to grow your practice this is a great way to do it.