In my medical career, over the years, I have seen medications or surgical procedures that were once thought to be the best medical treatment at the time lose favor. They are no longer considered effective.
For example, when I was a resident, the vast majority of children with ear infections, or otitis media, were treated with antibiotics. Today, this treatment has changed and the majority of patients with ear infections are not treated with antibiotics.
There are treatments we use today that are questionable and many times not supported by scientific studies, for example, autism. The most effective way to treat autism remains controversial, in spite of it being a very common diagnosis, occurring in about 1 in every 110 children.
A recent article reviewed approximately 4,000 studies relating to the treatment of autism. The authors found that although some forms of treatment did show promise, there was little evidence to support the use of many of the medications and therapies that are presently used to treat autism.
So what should people do when they are ill and their doctor prescribes a certain type of therapy to make them well?
If there is solid scientific evidence that the treatment is effective against a certain disease, in my view, you have to go with the best evidence available at the time, even though 10 years from now there may be a new therapy.
But there is a positive side to the medical treatment story.
Overall, treatments used by the medical profession have been successful. The survival rates from most diseases have improved tremendously during the past 50 years. Many infections that previously were responsible for millions of deaths have been conquered. People are living longer.
So although medicine is not an exact science, its overall track record is quite good.
Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.