The Dalai Lama goes to Mayo

Here’s the type of news piece that gives me a good, long laugh – another worldly figure travels across the world to get an annual physical exam at the Mayo Clinic

No doubt, the Mayo Clinic is capable of doing great things – they have specialists so specialized that they have forgotten how to treat a common cold.  Who wouldn’t want an “expert” to manage an unusual condition?  Few people have unusual conditions, though.

I’ve seen patients in my clinic who go there for their annual exam.  For some reason, they feel that getting a clean bill of health from Mayo is some kind of blessing for eternal wellness.  Mayo is, in fact, good at coordinating a ridiculous number of labs, imaging, diagnostic tests, and doctor visits into a comprehensive day-long physical exam.  They are masters at communication and planning, apparently.  However, is there any benefit to this kind of overwhelmingly thorough evaluation?

This shotgun approach to an annual health exam is a dangerous venture for a few reasons. 

  1. It’s expensive.  I’d hate to be your insurance company staring at a list of charges you rack up on that one day.
  2. It cultivates a sense of urgency to “do everything” all the time.  People love to feel pampered – talk to your insurance company or whoever is actually paying for those charges.
  3. It leads to unnecessary follow-up testing.  Not all “abnormal” results are necessarily abnormal.  But, if you go fishing for everything when there’s no focus on a particular problem, you’re going to find a lot of junk, and you won’t know how to interpret it.
  4. It’s a poor use of resources.  Common things being common, most people don’t have “rare” diagnoses that require an expert on minutiae.  In an ideal world, we could find a way to maximize the efforts of the highly-specialized physicians who really don’t need to be dealing with routine conditions that could be managed by any other competent physician.  Do you need a world expert on obesity and metabolism to tell you that you need to eat better and exercise more? 

I don’t question their value in managing rare or difficult-to-treat conditions, but for the average individual it’s a complete waste of time and money.  It’s all about perspective – the things that are going to kill you are staring you in the face every day and are simple to manage.  There’s nothing glamorous about searching high and low to come up with weird explanations for common problems. 

Then again, I don’t know Buddha’s take on health.

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