Medecins Sans Diplômes
The Economist recently reported on “India's fake doctors.” The story started thus:
“BAREFOOT labourers, skinny housewives and half-naked, snuffling toddlers wait outside a corrugated-iron and plywood shack in a Delhi slum to see “the Bengali doctor”. Noor Muhammed, the nattily dressed 30-something inside, is indeed Bengali, but, as he cheerfully admits, not a doctor. Yet as he makes quick temperature and blood-pressure checks and hands out tablets—many of them antibiotics—his patients nod respectfully, and pay.”
I had to look at that paragraph a couple of times to make sure it didn’t say “skinny, snuffling toddlers and half-naked housewives.” Well, duh! It's a British paper, isn't it?
OK. Can it really be? Our Help Desks are staffed by people whose healthcare is provided by quacks? How healthy can these people be? How confident can we be that we’re getting the right answers when we talk to a call center?
I asked the well known authority and former lawmaker, Dr. Bill Grist, for his comments. Here’s what he offered, looking the camera straight in the lens:
Dr. Grist: It is not accurate to term these undocumented physicians as quacks. They are properly referred to as Doctors Without Degrees, similar to, but not affiliated with, Doctors Without Borders. The official name of the organization, in French (of course), is Medecins Sans Diplômes.
Me: But – don’t doctors have to be duly licenses?
Dr. Grist: Whatever for? For centuries – nay, for millennia, doctors have practiced without any kind of licensing, except for the actions of the free market. You know, don’t you, that most doctors are Republicans and therefore devotees of the free market?
Me: Oh? I thought it was bundled with membership in the AMA…
Dr. Grist: Anyway, the free market is much better at allocating resources – including medical resources – than government.
Me: You mean, doctors don’t want Medicare payments?
Dr. Grist: I mean, we don’t need the government telling us who can, and who can’t, practice medicine.
Me: But, isn’t it the government’s duty to safeguard the health and well-being of its citizens?
Dr. Grist: You’re sounding like a liberal. No, the government should stay out of our sickrooms, as much as out of our bedrooms – may be even more.
Me: Oh? Why’s that?
Dr. Grist: Think about it, if you can. We don’t want to deprive poor people of all medical care just because they can’t afford to go to a high-priced, degreed and licensed, physician. Don’t you have any compassion?
Me: Yes, but –
Dr. Grist: What if some untutored but natural genius can diagnose and cure patients at a fraction of the cost of the formal healthcare sector? And, keep in mind, the practice of medicine is self-regulating.
Me: You mean, peer reviews?
Dr. Grist: What I mean is this. A medical practitioner who kills most of his patients will be chased out of town by next of kin. Over time, that tends to weed out the incompetent.
Me: But, in the meantime, innocent people may die!
Dr. Grist: Look, I am pro life but that doesn’t extend to non-fetuses.