I once heard the story of a doctor who did not charge the patient for a consultation unless he provided a prescription for a pharmaceutical medication, as he did not think the meeting had justified a “consultation”.
Of course, there are some cynical interpretations of this story. But I believe he genuinely considered this appropriate, and it is this point on which I would like to focus.
Along with pathological investigations, the pharmaceutical industry has become a kind of unholy triad with the medical profession. It is further noted that access to any of the three demands the client – patient – accede to the beliefs, attitudes and values of this association.
This is the source of considerable power. A power that can disempower the patient, who is already vulnerable with suffering, and make him or her reliant on the dictates of this system.
The equation goes something like this: You are suffering, believe that only pharmacy can alleviate the suffering, and therefore have to go to a medical practitioner to get relief from the suffering (maybe with an investigation or two thrown in).
Taking away the somewhat murky political and institutional concerns that back this process, why has it got so much power?
Because we have come to believe and accept that a pill, a prescription, constitutes “treatment”. We are taught this from an early age, such that we medicate infants against temperatures that could be otherwise healing. It stands behind a lot of the dynamics of the illicit drug problem.
But, in truth, the medication is the last on the treatment list; so let me consider what could come before:
- Listening to the story. This shows empathy and compassion, and is healing of itself.
- Giving the appropriate information to the patient about their suffering… sharing.
- Reassurance if the suffering is not serious.
- Appropriate dietary advice.
- Advice about rest, recuperation and rehabilitation.
- Information about non-pharmaceutical alternatives prior to a prescription.
Pharmacy has a place, but it is not a panacea.