Who writes medical history and how it is funded


root - Posted on 31 December 1969

A former practicing physician questions her own medical care and the US corporate medical/pharmaceutical industrial complex.

by Amanda Smiles/PNN

When Cynthia Lee began her medical career 20 years ago she assumed as a physician she would not only give quality care but also receive it. Cynthia went to medical school in the U.S. and believed that everything she needed to know about treating her patients was in the text books she studied and classes she attended. Later in her life, however, through her own personal struggle with misdiagnosis, Cynthia would learn the deep ties that bind medical schools, pharmaceutical companies, and improper care.

Cynthia as a child experienced trouble sleeping, a problem that would last long into her adulthood. In the mid-80s she was victim to a robbery and sexual assault. She was prescribed psychiatrics, meant to put her to sleep, but they were ineffective and she stopped taking them, never full recovering from her sleep disorder.

Cynthia found over the years her ability to work and function in society was severely hampered by her sleep disorder. At the best she maintained a steady practice and family- at the worst she was homeless unable to remember her own daughter’s name.
As her condition rollercoastered, a physicians herself, Cynthia sought medical advice. Always her condition was assumed to be psychiatric and she was referred to a psychiatrist and recommended medication.

Finally fed up with her own doctor’s incompetence, Cynthia took the reigns and began to research her condition. What she discovered was that suffered from sleep apnea, a physical condition that causes breathing pauses during sleep and prevents normal oxygen flow to the brain, affecting a person’s ability to function while awake.

What shocked Cynthia more than having her disorder written off by something that could be treated with meds was that her doctors weren’t even aware of a physical diagnosis. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to diagnosis her, it was that they couldn’t because of their training and education.

“Sleep apnea is more prevalent than people think,” says Cynthia, “What we have here are people in a cycle of no sleep, without normal rest and without normal oxygen flow to the brain. Even if they go to a doctor they get drugged instead of being properly studied.”

Cynthia says sleep apnea, which can result from certain dietary and environmental conditions, is three times more likely to occur in black populations. Those who suffer from sleep apnea have multiple problems including anger management issues. Prescription drugs can often aggregate symptoms and have severe long term effects.

Another concern of Cynthia’s is how undiagnosed sleep disorders affect the criminal justice system. If doctors are not diagnosing disorders like sleep apnea, how is a relevant and accurate medical history being presented at the time of trial? Particularly for death row inmates, the majority of which are black, these vital pieces of medical information could be the marker between life and death.

One alarming question that comes from Cynthia’s personal story is how doctors are missing sleep disorders in their patients. Cynthia remembers her own time in medical school and how sleep disorders were never discussed nor was she taught to look for certain symptoms that may be linked to sleep disorders.

Cynthia’s research also led to a noticeable pattern between medical journal’s funding and how and what information is portrayed. Journals funded with non-profit dollars had a tendency to contain research with true prevalence rates and their social significance, while journals funded by advertising dollars, largely from pharmaceutical companies, left out key pieces of information and seemed to tow the line around advertising dollars. The ad-funded journals tended to be the more prestigious journals, the very same ones used in medical schools.

Much like our nation’s history books, questions are raised about who write our doctor’s medical books and who did they once work for. The sudden trend to treat disorders with pharmaceuticals is no coincidence- diagnoses and treatments are taught our of medical books that students pour over for years. History has always been accused of being one side, but what about medicine. Whose history is being represented?

Faculty members at medical schools are often offered consulting and lecture contracts by large pharmaceutical companies. Although these contracts are for work outside of schools a faculty member’s opinion may not stay that way. Furthermore, pharmaceutical companies fund large research projects that occur on campus, does that money affect a student’s unbiased learning curve?

For Cynthia Lee these questions may have caused her years of misdiagnosing, not only in her own practice, but by her doctors as well.

“Medical care is living history,” she says, “And at this point, not even physicians are getting competent medical care from other physicians.”

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