Ironically, it seems the health products with the least evidence are coming with the greatest assurances. A few years ago, a package holiday company advertised guaranteed sunny holidays in Queensland (Australia). The deal went something like this: if it rained on a certain percentage of your holiday days, you received a trip refund. An attractive drawcard indeed, but what the company failed to grasp was that the “Sunshine State” is very often anything but sunny.
This is especially so where I live, on the somewhat ironically named Sunshine Coast. We had 200 rainy days last year and well over 2 metres of rain, and that was before big floods in January. Unsurprisingly, the guaranteed sunny holiday offer was short-lived.
There are some things that really shouldn’t come with guarantees. The weather is one, health is another. Or so I thought…
“Those capsules you started me on last month for my nerve pain didn’t work. I tried them for a couple of weeks, but they didn’t do nothin'.”
“Perhaps you’d do better on a higher dose.”
“Nah, they made me feel kinda dizzy. I’d prefer to get my money back on these ones an’ try somethin’ different.”
“I can try you on something else, but there are no refunds available on the ones you’ve already used, I’m afraid.”
“But they cost me over 80 dollars!”
“Yes, I explained at the time that they are not subsidised by the government.”
“But they didn’t work! If I bought a toaster that didn’t work, I’d take it back and get me money back, no problem.”
“Medications are not appliances. They don’t work every time, but that doesn’t mean they’re faulty.”
“But what about natural products? I order herbs for me prostate and me heart every month and they come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. You doctors say those things don’t really work so how come the sellers are willing to put their money where their mouths are?”
He decided to try a “natural” treatment next, confident of its likely effectiveness thanks to the satisfaction guarantee offered.
Last week I had a 38-year-old female requesting a medical certificate stating that her back pain was no better. The reason? She planned to take it to her physiotherapist and request a refund because the treatment hadn’t helped. Like the afflicted patient above, she didn’t accept that health-related products and services weren’t “cure guaranteed”.
“My thigh sculptor machine promised visible results in 60 days or my money back. Why aren’t physios held accountable too?”
Upon a quick Google search, I found that many “natural health” companies offer money-back guarantees, as do companies peddling skin products and gimmicky home exercise equipment. I even found a site offering guaranteed homeopathic immunisation. Hmmm…
In an information-rich, high-tech world, we are becoming less and less tolerant of uncertainty. Society wants perfect, predictable results — now! For all its advances, modern medicine cannot provide this and we don’t pretend otherwise. Ironically, it seems the health products with the least evidence are coming with the greatest assurances. A clever marketing ploy that patients seem to be buying into — literally and figuratively.
I think we all need to be reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s famous words: “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” We can’t really put guarantees on whether it will rain down on our holidays or on our health, and should retain a healthy scepticism towards those who attempt to do so.
This blog post has been adapted from a column first published in Australian Doctor http://www.australiandoctor.com.au/articles/11/0c070a11.asp
Dr Genevieve Yates is an Australian GP, medical educator, medico-legal presenter and writer. You can read more of her work at http://genevieveyates.com/