A study on drug interactions published in the Christmas issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association actually says more about our attitude toward medicine.
The purpose was to study the interactions among prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs and supplements in older people, for whom interactions can be fatal.
Such interactions are common, the study found. To which you are probably thinking "d'uh." Well, for one in 25 patients studied those interactions were potentially life-threatening. "D'oh!"
The study, from the University of Chicago Medical Center, indicated most of the problems were between prescription and non-prescription medications.
But I think the problem is more basic than that. We willingly give physicians power to control what prescription drugs go into us. We assume we retain the power over all other substances.
This insistance is buttressed by rising prices. I was first given time-release niacin as a drug. I found I could get it for just one-tenth that price as a dietary supplement. So who is in charge of my niacin intake? (These guys, it turns out.)
The same is true for normal aches and pains. You go to the doctor for a fused disk in your back, but then get a headache and pop a couple of IBs. If it's on the shelf it should be perfectly harmless, right?
A second problem. Doctors disagree.
Take that statin-niacin combination I was prescribed. The study claims this can cause muscles to break down. But niacin is taken to raise the level of "good" cholesterol, statins to lower the level of "bad." You folks want to make up your minds?
An honest Personal Health Record, and the intervention of a coach rather than a doctor, can solve this problem. If people learn to put everything they take into the PHR, and if they trust someone to look at it and advise accordingly, we're good.
Building that kind of trust relationship is going to be the key to health reform in the coming years.