Industry Update
Opinion Article16 October 2020

Something Better Than the Best - The Life of a Hotel Doctor

By Mike Oppenheim, MD

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She had a fourteen hour flight to Australia, explained a woman with a French accent. Unfortunately, she had thrown her back out again. Would I come and give something to relax her muscles for that long journey? Her doctor always prescribed something that did the trick.


I don't know any medicine that does that, but if I knew what her French doctor used, I might have no objection. She didn't know the name, and he was unavailable.

She was already taking the usual pain remedies, so there was no point in a housecall. The woman agreed, but she was clearly disappointed. I know she wondered if I was truly on the ball.

Mostly, doctors do their best, but there's a popular believe that if you absolutely must feel better (you have a vacation, important business, a wedding) a smart physician will make a special effort and come up with something even better.

As a hotel doctor, I deal with this yearning all the time. Since doctors are tenderhearted, it's tempting to prescribe a placebo if no useful medicine exists. Placebos sometimes work although not as dramatically as enthusiasts claim.

The problem is that they're not available. Decades ago, drug companies sold colorful pills labeled "placebo," but, perhaps for medicolegal reasons, they stopped. The result is that when a doctor decides you need a placebo, he prescribes a real medicine in the full knowledge that he's doing something wrong. As I've written repeatedly, the advantage of alternative, folk, holistic, and herbal healing is that their medicines are harmless. Our medicines have side-effects, so we're not supposed to prescribe them unless they'll help.

Mike Oppenheim

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