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Kissick, his Law and his daughter

I’ll Loan You My Daughter If This Doesn’t Worry You!

 By Dr. Gifford Jones  Thursday, October 7, 2010

What can we learn from history as we start 2005? Thirty years ago I filed away an article and forgot about it. An editorial in The Ontario Medical Review claimed that people were becoming obsessed with health. It suggested that if the U.S Declaration of Independence were written today it would declare that it was the pursuit of health, rather than the pursuit of happiness, that would be the third inalienable right of Americans. Another old clipping reminded me of Kissick, his Law and his daughter.

The OMR article written by Dr. Samuel Vaisrub claimed that years ago people tended to disregard symptoms, fight off problems themselves, were lackadaisical about disease prevention, and doctors had to prod people to look after their health. Now, Dr.Vaisrub wrote, people were obsessed with their health. And he was writing 30 years ago. Today this obsession has reached epidemic proportions.

It’s obvious what has triggered this paranoia. We are bombarded daily with health data by the media. There’s a staggering list of over-the-counter pills, health food, vitamins and an ever-expanding list of prescription drugs. And we are warned to ignore them at your peril.

Nothing seems to be normal these days. For instance, a recent report from Tufts University warns that even “normal” blood pressure may be too high. And physicians are constantly being told to reduce their patients’ blood cholesterol levels lower and lower.

All this is having a profound effect on our psyches and also on health care in North America. Which brings us to Kissick’s Law. Thirty years ago Kissick, a professor at the distinguished U.S. Wharton School of Business, stunned Canadians with a show-stopping speech about the economic laws of health-care funding. Obviously, considering the huge health-care mess today, Kissick’s message was soon forgotten.

Kissick warned that no society in the world has sufficient money to provide all the health services its population is capable of using. And if the current trend of spending more and more of the nation’s finances on health care continues, it would soon consume the nation’s entire budget.

He added that even if 100 percent of the nation’s gross national product were spent on health care it would still be unable to meet the population’s voracious appetite for medical treatment. He said the problem was similar to giving his American Express Card to his daughter and saying “darling, go out and buy anything you want and I will pay all your bills”. And if this did not alarm anyone in the audience, he said, he would loan them his daughter!

As I looked at these two old, dusty articles, I concluded that we are indeed approaching the time when we will be forced to accept a basic fact. That man cannot live for health care alone. If our collective psyche refuses to accept that conclusion then blunt economics will finally decide it for us. After all, we have to leave some money for roads, sewers, education and numerous other necessities of modern living. We also have to leave enough money to keep our economic system competitive in an increasingly competitive world.

I often ask patients if they know the definition of a “well patient”. I get a variety of answers. The definition I give them is, “It’s a patient who has not seen enough doctors or had enough tests done.” They know I’m being facetious but I want to drive home a point. Today so many tests are available that if enough are done they’ll be sure to find something amiss.

So as we enter 2005 let’s try to be less obsessive about health. The human body is an amazing organism and superbly designed to last for many years. But only if it’s not abused with cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, both legal and illegal that many patients don’t need, lack of exercise and excessive pounds.

If we remain obsessive what will happen? Another imaginative doctor writing 30 years ago also made a prediction. He concluded that “In the end we will all become doctors spending our time screening each other for disease!”

My best wishes for a happy, healthy, and not too obsessive, 2005.

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Dr. Gifford Jones  Bio
Dr. Gifford Jones Most recent columns

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of The Harvard Medical School. He’s been a ship’s surgeon, hotel physician and family doctor and later trained in surgery at McGill in Montreal, University of Rochester N.Y. and Harvard. His medical column is published by 60 Canadian newspapers and several in the U.S. He is the author of seven books. Dr. Walker has a medical practice in Toronto. His Web site is: http://www.mydoctor.ca/gifford-jones

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