Dr. Otis Brawley, Shares with Journalists “How We Do Harm”

Imagine being a physician in the midst of residency training, caring for an elderly patient who is terminally ill.  The family tells you at each consultation to do everything possible to save their father. With the greatest medical technology at your disposal, you do your best to care for your patient and his family.  There are machines to control heart rate and breathing and tubes to bring in food and remove wastes, so your patient lives more than a month longer than any physician would have expected. But were you true to your oath, “first do no harm”?  Otis Brawley, MD chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society lived this dilemma early in his career.  Dramas like this one continue to unfold in hospitals across the country because Americans continue to have difficulty accepting that “death is an imminent part of life”. Although our health care system has the potential for excellence, it “is not failing but rather failure is the system.” While there are three times more MRI and five times more CT scanners in the United States than in Canada, Americans do not enjoy a longer life expectancy.  This is another example why  as Dr. Brawley says, “we need to talk about rational use of medicine and not rationing.” Many of the lessons he shared are in his current book, “How We Do Harm:  A Doctor Breaks Ranks About Being Sick in America” (St. Martin’s Press) co-authored with Paul Goldberg.

In the end, Dr. Brawley challenged and encouraged members of the Association for Health Care Journalist awards luncheon audience to parse fact from myth and reveal the truth in today’s health care stories.  Such information is a vital tool for the public in its search for quality health care. After the luncheon, I had the opportunity to speak with the doctor and he shared his insights with me on camera.

Brawley’s message resounded with the journalists as they rose to a standing ovation and tweeted comments like this one from @garyschwitzer, a journalist who runs the noteworthy website, Health News Review:

In more than a dozen yrs. of AHCJ conferences, I don’t recall a more important talk than @OtisBrawley‘s. #ahcj12


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