Colemanís 2nd Law of Medicine

Dr Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc FRSA





Colemanís 2nd Law: There is no point in having tests done unless the results will affect your treatment.


1 If your doctor wants you to have tests done ask him how the results will affect your treatment. If the results of the tests wonít affect the treatment you receive (and arenít needed as a baseline against which to compare future tests) then the tests arenít worth having.
     Tests and investigations are often regarded (by both doctors and patients) as being harmless. They arenít. There is no such thing as minor surgery (Colemanís 11th Law of Medicine) and even taking blood is an operation. There are dangers inherent in every test that is performed. And there is, in addition, the danger that the result will be wrong and that your doctors will treat the test rather than treating you.

2 One of the problems with doctors doing too many tests and investigations is the fact that this overloads the laboratories where tests are done.
     As I write this, I have in front of me a letter from a British doctor inviting a patient to have a routine cervical smear test. ĎYour result will be available from us within 12 weeks,í concludes the letter, as though this were some sort of added benefit.
     Twelve weeks of worry!
     What sort of feeble-spirited doctor would send out a letter like that? Donít doctors realise that patients worry about the results when they have a test done to find out whether or not they have cancer? Donít doctors realise that worrying makes people ill?
     For years I have received a steady stream of letters from readers reporting that they have had to wait weeks or even months before receiving vital results after blood tests, X-rays, biopsies and other investigations. In many cases, patients had to wait long periods of time to find out whether or not they had cancer. For example, it is not uncommon for tests done to find out whether women have breast cancer to take over three months to be returned to the patientís doctor. Just how this can be explained, let alone excused, I have no idea. Most test results should be obtainable within minutes or, at most, within a day or two. Any doctor who routinely expects patients to wait days, weeks or months to find out whether or not they have cancer or some other threatening disease is unthinking, barbaric and quite unfit to practise medicine. What damage does the worry do to the health of patients who need to be at their strongest? What additional damage is done to the health of worrying relatives and friends?

3 Doctors often refuse to start treatment until they have received all the test results back. If they get test results within hours or days that is fine. But in some hospitals it can take months for test results to return. If a patient with symptoms of a bladder infection provides a urine sample so that any urinary tract infection can be identified, it makes sense to start the patient on treatment with an antibiotic. If the test result shows that the antibiotic prescribed was the wrong one, an appropriate drug can then be prescribed. Patients sometimes die untreated because doctors will not (or dare not) try treatments until all the investigations have been completed. The threat of litigation means that doctors insist on waiting for convincing evidence before trying anything. Inevitably, this means that it is not infrequently too late to act by the time treatment is started. If, for example, there are two or three possible diagnoses available and only one of the diseases can be treated then it would seem to make sense to start the treatment for the disease which can be treated, even though laboratory evidence in support of that diagnosis might not be available. But this isnít what happens.

4 Doctors have a tendency to treat investigation results rather than patients. Donít let them do this to you. When clinical observations and laboratory findings are incompatible, the laboratory findings are wrong.

This short extract is taken from Colemanís Laws by Vernon Coleman.

ĎTrusting your doctor can be lethal. Sunday Times bestselling author Dr Vernon Coleman has defined 12 simple rules, each one of which could save your life. Easy to read, this could be the most important book in your life. Dr Colemanís laws of medicine have been carefully formulated over 40 years of experience.í Colemanís Laws is available as an ebook on Amazon.

Copyright Vernon Coleman

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