Once upon a time, the tobacco industry was guilty of conducting a widespread, systematic, highly organized campaign to deliver their product to as much of the unsuspecting public as possible.
As clinical data mounted linking smoking and health problems like cancer and heart disease, tobacco producers labored fiercely to counter these claims despite darkening public sentiment. When individual company executives were questioned on why they continued to perpetuate the industry’s scandalous practices, the invariable justification offered was “Well, I had to pay my mortgage.” That tidy ends-justifies-the-means rationalization has a familiar ring when you examine the behavior of those in the heart “industry.”
Things are not what they seem. The hospital, once an institution to serve the sick, a place for clergy, volunteers, and other altruists, has evolved into a business serving a thriving bottom line. You are the “product” they seek. The cardiologist, ostensibly in the service of alleviating heart disease, instead seeks to grow his checkbook by performing procedures that have nothing to do with lessening the burden of heart disease. He dives into the water to save drowning victim after drowning victim, but fails to simply toss in the life preserver that has been close at hand all along.
The woeful family practitioner, who is expected to bear undue responsibility for the broad spectrum of health, ignorantly permits heart disease to grow under his or her nose and, by default, allows heart disease to become the exclusive province of the proceduralist. Worse, the family practitioner or internist in the employ of the hospital (a situation that has quietly grown to encompass 80% of all primary care physicians) labors to fatten hospital business by directing patients into hospital services. The comparative lowly incomes of the primary care physician are substantially supplemented by participating in this huge revenue-generating machine called heart care.
The astounding grasp of the system has caused one of every 10 adults in the U.S. to have undergone a heart procedure. The lemming-like procession to the hospital creates a crowd mentality among some sectors of the frightened public. “My friends and neighbors have all had bypass operations. Sooner or later I guess it’s going to be my turn.”
Tragically, the system has grown through the exploitation of trust. The faith we have in doctors, hospitals, and the institutions and people associated with healthcare has been subverted into the service of profit. Many practitioners and institutions choose to operate under the guise of doing good, but instead capitalize on the public’s willingness to accept as fact the need for major heart procedures and all its associated costly trappings.
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