Hitting a Nerve

One person’s snake oil is another’s improved bottom line


“I’d be a millionaire if I could get rid of my conscience.”

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist is Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

A friend of mine in obstetrics said that yesterday. We were talking about the various quackery products pushed over the Internet and in some stores. These things claim to heal anything from Parkinson’s disease to a broken heart, and are generally sold by someone without real medical training. Generally, they also include some comment about this being a cure that doctors are hiding from you.

Of course, all of this is untrue. If there were actually cure for some horrible neurologic disease, I’d be thrilled to prescribe it. I’m here to reduce suffering, not prolong it.

I get it. People want to believe there’s hope when there is none. Even if it’s just something like forgetting a broken relationship, they want to believe there’s a way to make it happen quickly and painlessly.

It would be nice if it worked that way, but it doesn’t. Worse, people in these unfortunate medical or emotional situations are often vulnerable to these sales pitches, and there’s no shortage of unscrupulous individuals willing to prey on them.

What bothers me most in these cases is when doctors, with training similar to mine, push these “remedies.” Often they’re sold in a case in the waiting room and recommended during the visit. I assume these physicians either have lost their conscience and don’t care, or over time have somehow convinced themselves that what they’re doing is right.

Having a doctor selling or endorsing such a product gives it a credibility that it usually won’t get from an average Internet huckster, even if it’s for the same thing.

I’m sure some doctors have convinced themselves that the product is harmless, and therefore falls under primum non nocere. But being harmless isn’t the same as being effective, which is what the patient wants.

Like my friend said, with the financial pressures modern physicians are under, it’s easy to look at things like this as a way to improve cash flow and the bottom line. But you can’t lose sight of the patients. They’re why we are here, and selling them a product that will do them no good isn’t right.

Hippocrates’ “Do no harm” is a key part of being a doctor, but Jiminy Cricket’s “always let your conscience be your guide” is part of being a good doctor. We should never forget that.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Next Article: