When facing a patient's challenging medical situation, many physicians are trained to give wastebasket diagnoses: diagnoses that say, “Nobody knows what this is, put it in a basket, and don't waste your time on it.” Many of my clients came to me after years of being put in the wastebasket category.
Understandably, patients get incredibly frustrated and lose faith in the system. Any medical student sees this over and over again, and it starts to beg the question, what more can we do? Medical schools would give a pragmatic answer, perhaps saying, “We have a lot of sick people to deal with, and people with complex situations not easily treated with standard medicine are in the minority. Treating them requires an application of resources, and we have this backlog of traditional illnesses, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or acid reflux because we're not treating the real underlying issues.”
Medical research and practice in this country is devoted to health for diverse individuals, but we succumb as physicians and scientists to a siren song of reductionism: thinking we can eliminate variables, such as how one individual differs from another, or what might be the root cause of multiple health issues. Much of medical research has advanced along a narrow path, and we have an entire scientific philosophy that supports this.
On one hand, this approach allows us to get fantastic scientific results, but what happens is that we get highly specialized knowledge in very limited spheres of theory, which makes research isolated, and treatment too specialized at times. For example, physicians often treat high blood pressure without looking at how gut health and the digestive system might relate to a patient's high blood pressure.
Moreover, we have a medical world composed of specialists, each one often most familiar with only his or her specialty, whether that's cardiology, obstetrics, or gastroenterology. This results in many people with hard-to-diagnose or treat issues being sent from one specialist to another without one