Complementary Medicine

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New Law Makes Health Legal!

The mistake of trusting unreliable blood tests over patient symptoms

I'd like you to tell you about a recent news story out of New Hampshire that reveals a lot about America's dysfunctional health care system.

You might not know this, but New Hampshire is the state with the motto, Live Free or Die. A fitting tag line, because it's also the state with the highest per capita rate of Lyme disease (the bacterial infection caused by deer ticks) and as this news report showed, the motto is literally true: without health freedom, some in New Hampshire with Lyme disease were dying - and many felt like they were at death's door!

Fortunately, the New Hampshire state legislature voted to do something about health care tyranny - passing a law that has important long-term implications not only for people with Lyme disease, but also for those with CFS and fibromyalgia.

Blood Tests Can Be Horribly Unreliable

The biggest problem with Lyme disease is that if it isn't quickly identified and treated it can become chronic, causing symptoms such as joint pain, weak muscles, fatigue, depression and mental confusion, and facial paralysis (Bell's palsy).

But standard lab tests for chronic Lyme disease are horribly unreliable (see The Problem with Lab Testing), missing many if not most cases. (And I suspect that certain specialized tests over diagnose the condition.) That's why the diagnosis of chronic Lyme is based largely on a clinical history and a physical exam, along with the therapeutic response to antibiotics.

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If it started like Lyme disease, and it looks like Lyme disease, and it responds to medications like Lyme disease, it probably is Lyme disease.

Seems incredibly straightforward, right? Unfortunately, standard medicine often follows the philosophy of "treat the blood test and ignore the patient." This often results in patients "dying with Harvard 'Lytes" (as in electrolytes, measured by routine blood tests). This means that even though the patient is dead, the blood tests were top notch. So the doctor gets a pat on the back for a job well done! (No, I'm not kidding. This actually happens.)

To make matters worse, some state medical boards will take away a doctor's license if they treat the patient instead of the blood tests. And this includes giving antibiotics to patients with chronic Lyme - even when patients dramatically improve. (Shockingly, many medical boards consider the patients' improvement to be largely irrelevant.)

A Sensible Law

In an important turnaround, the New Hampshire state legislature passed a law protecting patients, which went into effect on June 9, 2011. The law prevents the state medical board from taking away a doctor's license for treating chronic Lyme with antibiotics. Hopefully, other states will follow suit.

In my view, this law is a crucial step to ensuring patient freedom and access to care - a type of freedom and access that is crucial for CFS and fibromyalgia patients, too.

I also think laws should be passed that require medical boards to follow their own guidelines regarding peer-review of doctor performance. This means that cases brought against holistic physicians would be reviewed by other holistic physicians. That's in stark contrast to the current practice of sometimes picking reviewers with no expertise in (and a lot of hostility toward) natural medicine.

To read the story of how Lyme patients made all the difference in the passage of the New Hampshire bill (and the text of the bill itself), see New Hampshire HB295 Lyme Bill Becomes Law!

 

Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., internist and author of From Fatigued to Fantastic!, researches treatments for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fibromyalgia.

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