Three medical experts agree modern medicine isn't living up to expectation

Three medical experts agree modern medicine isn't living up to expectation

The limitations of modern medicine are coming to light now more than ever before as an outdated system means patients are frequently left disappointed by a lack of diagnosis, experts say.

Earlier this year Fairfax Media revealed the story of Courtney Martin, the young Canberra woman suffering from an undiagnosed condition.

University of Canberra and University of Sydney clinical academic Dr Eamon Merrick.

University of Canberra and University of Sydney clinical academic Dr Eamon Merrick.Credit:Kimberley Le Lievre

The 24-year-old has seen more than 30 doctors and none can work out what is causing her chronic pain.

Since then there has been plenty of feedback from others in the same or similar situations.


According to three experts, from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the University of Canberra, and the Australian National University, modern medicine is just not living up to expectation.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Bastian Seidel said people expected too much from medicine.

"We raised expectations in the 19th and 20th century due to the huge improvements we made, and those expectations are being disappointed not infrequently in the 21st century," Dr Seidel said.

"There are limitations of modern medicine."

He said historically, if you had a diagnosis there was a specific treatment. Now, he said "the dogma 'diagnosis leads to treatment' is pretty much outdated".

"Often we do not have a valid diagnosis and even if we were able to stipulate a diagnosis it would not necessarily mean that there would be dedicated treatment available."

However, Dr Seidel said patients knew that, because explaining those limitations was at the core of what they do.

UC clinical academic Eamon Merrick disagreed, saying often a patient thought the medical system would be as simple as a television show.

"Dr House smells the petunias in a room and he diagnoses some disease that happens one in every 600,000 cases," Dr Merrick said.

"That's a total and complete lie."

"The reality is there is no such thing as Doctor House."

He said the medical profession was not doing enough to be honest with patients about limitations of the health system, especially one he described as outdated, and more focused on doctors rather than their patients.

ANU Medical School and College of Law professor Tom Faunce said the limitations faced were a problem both doctors and their patients could overcome.

He said the best way to receive a diagnosis was to speak up, and if the medical professional didn't listen, find another one.

"If a patient comes in and says they are unwell and they feel they've got the disease or illness the doctor should presume that's correct rather than presume they've got some other agenda for saying it," he said.

He said patients didn't realise they were relied on to provide detail about their illness.

"A patient can't just turn up and expect the doctor to click their fingers [and know what's wrong]," Dr Faunce said.

A united argument was the "chronic" underfunding of the Australian health care system, which was a huge factor in the limitations placed on medical professionals.

So can we trust our doctors?

"I think that if you trust your physician or nurse as a human being, that is a legitimate trust," Dr Merrick said.

"But you need to understand your trust is placed in them as both an expert and a professional, but as a human being. Somebody who is flawed, but who will absolutely try to do their best by you."

Kimberley Le Lievre is the Editor of The Sunday Canberra Times

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