How much is YOUR life worth to you? If you were diagnosed with an untreatable, fatal health problem, how hard would you try to find something on the fringes that might work for you?

If you were suffering from chronic pain, how much would you pay to get rid of that pain?

What if it was a spouse or your children?

Health care is big business whether you are in the US with a more capitalistic approach to health or in Canada with a more social approach. Business is there to provide a product or service and make money doing so.

If you are selling Beanie Babies or some other fad toy, over-marketing and over-promising is relatively harmless; you aren't really hurting anyone if they buy your product and don't feel the magic.

But if you are talking about health… it is really easy to cross a line.

I recently saw an episode of Marketplace (Stretching the Truth) where they looked at spinal decompression therapy for back pain. They use a machine call the DRX9000to stretch out your vertebrate (up to 100 pounds of force) and allow your spine to recover. Patients are paying up to $5000 for the treatment and the manufacturer and clinics are claiming a very high success rate; 85-90%.

Too good to be true? Yup. (Biased reporting? Maybe, but the point of this post is not this product, but the ethics around overselling health.)

According to one doctor (back specialist), 75% of backs get better on their own anyways. And the other 25%, spinal decompression may or may not help depending on the real issue; in some cases the machine makes the back worse, much worse.

In a way all doctors (MDs, chiropractors, optometrists, dentists, etc.) are in business. They get paid based on the number of patients they see and treat. The better reputation (personal marketing) they have, the more they get paid. No patients equals no job or practice.

There is probably a built in tendency of the medical practitioners to over-state benefits and minimize risk. After all, you don't want to worry patients too much, it affects recovery rates and adds stress for no reason.

And heck, if doctors are saving lives and ending pain and suffering, they deserve to be well compensated.

The problems start when:

  • A benefit is stated with no or little proof,
  • Unnecessary treatments are sold,
  • The product or service is sub-standard (quack?),
  • People prey on those who are vulnerable (pain or dying) and will try anything,
  • Money becomes more important than the service of helping people.

I am a big proponent of providing a useful product or service to the market and getting compensated for it. Therefore, if your product or service is providing nothing useful, I would question the ethics of your business model. And yes, entertainment and happiness are useful.

So yes, we need to know about options concerning our health (marketing), but we also need to know that our health professionals and businesses are recommending treatments that are in our best interests, not just theirs.

One cure that fits all is often just too good to be true.