The frustrating perplexity of medical science is exemplified in four news stories published today, each of them demonstrating that what researchers think is true one day may not be the next. And where that leaves patients is dazed, confused and possibly dead.
• The “watchful waiting” prescribed for many older men diagnosed with prostate cancer may not be the right thing to do after all.
• Stents for heart attack survivors – drug-coated or not – don’t save that many lives and are unnecessarily costing the health care system billions of dollars.
• Hospitals that carefully follow certain procedures and keep track of their quality standards theoretically should produce better outcomes But they don’t.
These findings come from reputable peer-reviewed journals and are comforting in the sense only that they reinforce the important notion that science does not reveal precise permanent answers or produce killer discoveries like Newton’s apple or Archimedes’ bathtub.
Less perplexing is that there is an easy solution for dealing with one problem: recurring spates of serial murders in hospitals by rogue doctors and nurses. If hospitals would undertake the kind of background checks and performance monitoring required of, say, your average trucker, the only unnatural deaths in hospitals would be by physician error. It would be a small step, but a comforting one, nonetheless, to know you weren’t actually going to be murdered in bed.