For nearly 20 years, I served as a physician broadcaster and medical reporter on television. I did regular reporting for our ABC and CBS stations in Seattle, and also for ABC Network News. I also hosted a weekly program for physicians on Lifetime Medical Television. Even as a physician and a scientist, it was often hard for me to know exactly what to tell people about many of the latest, so-called medical breakthroughs or how to summarize the findings of some new medical studies. I also discovered over the course of my career that what was once taken as absolute fact in medicine would often change as the years rolled by. Probably the best example of that was when doctors were advising all women to get hormone replacement therapy to battle the side effects of menopause and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Today we know that sustained hormone replacement therapy isn’t such a good idea after all because of the increased risk for cancer and stroke.
Today the internet is buzzing after the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force took a swipe a PSA screening for the early detection of prostate cancer. Basically, they are saying PSA screening adds no value in terms of saving lives. This is the same group that told women in their 40’s that they don’t need screening mammograms for breast cancer. Although these recommendations are controversial, they are based on much scientific, medical and economic evidence.
I’m not going to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t get screened. I also won’t tell you whether you should or shouldn’t take vitamin C to fight off a cold. Even though I know sound scientific evidence argues against there being any benefit of taking C for a cold, I’ll bet lots of doctors and scientists still pop a few pills at the first sign of the sniffles.
I guess the bottom line is that each of us needs to listen to all of the evidence and form our own opinions based on what we think is right for us and the way we want to live. You can’t always rely that someone on television (or the Internet) is telling you the truth, or that the so-called truth won’t change down the line when yet another breakthrough medical study is published. Coffee is good for you. Coffee is bad for you. Coffee is good for you. You know the drill.
Maybe Steve Jobs summed it up best in his 2005 commencement address to graduating students at Stanford. Although I’m sure he was talking more about life choices in career and business than he was advising on health, I think his words resonate with great wisdom in either category.
“Death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is as it should be because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you. But someday not too long from now you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Your time is limited. So don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.”
If more people had the wisdom of Steve Jobs, maybe we wouldn’t need so many doctors telling us what to do. Maybe an apple a day really does keep the doctor away.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft