Summer is often a time when we can take a break from our usual frenetic schedules. It is a time to catch up on nonurgent reading. I just completed 3 books of interest, including Bad Blood, by John Carreyrou, What the Eyes Don’t See, by Mona Hanna-Attisha, and Overcharged, by Charles Silver and David Hyman.
The common thread among them is their focus on the interplay among American medicine, politics, money, and denial of science. Carreyrou is a Wall Street Journal investigative reporter who describes the spectacular rise and ignominious fall of Theranos, a privately held company in the business of blood testing and diagnostics. Theranos claimed to have a secret process enabling them to run over 200 diagnostic blood tests on blood derived from a finger prick. At its peak, the company was valued at $10 billion but their secret process proved to be false science. They are now subject to multiple lawsuits and their leaders are under criminal investigation.
Dr. Attisha’s book describes the decisions made by Michigan political and administrative leaders that resulted in high levels of lead in Flint’s water supply. Dr. Attisha is a pediatrician in Flint who documented elevated lead levels in her small patients. When she tried to bring this to public attention, her data was met with enormous backlash by leaders who tried to deny facts and discredit her personally. Neurological damage from childhood lead poisoning is not reversible.
Hyman and Silver’s book (published by the Cato Institute) asserts that politics, third-party payers, and the health care industry, together, have devised a system of wealth transfer from taxpayers to health care providers. It provides examples where this system (that separates payment from health value) does real harm to individual people and the nation. Reading this book makes us think about who should hold the assets from which first-dollar medical payments derive. It reminded me of the famous saying by James Madison, “If all men were angels, there would be no need for government.”
In some circles, science, data, and the scientific method are not valued. In the end, as these books point out, everyone can be entitled to their opinion, but no one has the power to alter facts.
John I. Allen, MD, MBA, AGAF
Editor in Chief