“Beam me up, Scotty”

Picture courtesy of Flickr user javacolleen

“McCoy’s syndrome” is defined, in an article¹ in a leading medical journal called The Lancet, as an excessive faith in medical technology (especially imaging), an absence of clinical reasoning and a lack of making emotional connections with the sick. The problem: frequent misdiagnosis.

Technological equipment in medicine helps physicians do their job better. But there can be a temptation to rely excessively or exclusively on a test result or image scan.

TRICORDER (Picture courtesy of Flickr user ted.sali)

The reference to McCoy’s syndrome is based on the fictional character named Dr. McCoy on a TV show called Star Trek in which the doctor diagnosed patients using a medical “tricorder” that scanned the patient and eliminated any need to discuss things with the patient or examine them any further. Take a reading, get a diagnosis.

But in real life, medical machinery today doesn’t accomplish this. And it may never do so. And one reason for this is that there is a mental component to health.

Faith is a mental component. But reliance on technology alone leaves out faith in patients’ ability to provide useful information about their situation – what they are thinking and how they are feeling. The placebo effect gives an indication of how a patient’s thought can have an effect on their health outcome from treatment. But can a tricorder measure that? Technology omits faith in a higher power from which may be acquired the benefits of spirituality, such as comfort, stress-reduction, calmness, hope, expectancy, and even health.

Clinical reasoning is a mental component. It encompasses the training, experience, wisdom and intuition of the physician.  It is fairly well known that different conditions can exhibit the same symptom. Mechanically identifying a symptom leaves out an intelligent assessment of a situation, including consideration of the thoughts, feelings and input shared by the patient.

An emotional connection with patients is also a mental component. This can yield better communication between patient and health care provider, as well as helpful things like trust, cooperation, assurance, and comfort. It can also provide information that clinical reasoning can utilize. There are no tricorders today that can capture this, are there?

To a large extent, we “get” this, don’t we?

Hospitals have long known that what they do to treat and heal involves more than just medications and procedures,” writes Nancy Foster, Vice President for Quality and Patient Safety at the American Hospital Association in Washington, D.C.²

Scotty (courtesy: Flickr user hyperion327)

And a recent national survey³ found that 90% of medical school Deans indicated that patients emphasize spirituality in their coping and health care. But while 90% also indicated that their medical schools have courses or content on spirituality and health, only 39% say that including spirituality and health is important. Is that a bit of “McCoy’s syndrome” creeping in?

STAR SHIP ENTERPRISE (courtesy: Flickr user KidMoxie)

Mechanical measurements of physical metrics fail to account for the impact consciousness and spirituality have on health. A higher, broader view is more effective for achieving health. “Beam me up, Scotty!”


¹ The Lancet, Volume 379, Issue 9814, Page e32, 4 February 2012; doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60192-5; McCoy’s syndrome: a new medical entity by José Baddini Martinez and Adriana Ignacio de Padua.
² Samueli Institute; 2010 Complimentary and Alternative Medicine Survey of Hospitals; (see sidebar on page 3 of survey, page 7 of document).
³ Int J Psychiatry Med. 2010;40(4):391-8. “Spirituality in medical school curricula: Findings from National Survey“; Koenig HG, Hooten EG, Lindsay-Calkins E, Meador KG; Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA. koenig@geri.duke.edu.
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