I am always challenged and intellectually stimulated when I feel as though I’ve identified a pattern, practice, or even consequence of doing business that reveals itself as I observe the fledgling industry that we’ve alchemized and branded here in the U.S. as our version of “Regenerative Medicine."
Aside from the fact that we’re in many ways “catching up” to our international neighbors in the delivery of treatments in clinic, we continue to innovate at lightening pace, and it’s paying off. We’re seeing treatments being reverse-validated by science headlines reporting study outcomes. Although many practitioners have paid a hefty price by claiming their treatment works before it’s validated by such studies, there comes a subtle satisfaction in the irony that they were right.
There are many reasons why those in the medical field tend to eat our young when faced with fierce competition. And from the viewpoint of so many, most of those reasons appear to have nothing to do with science and everything to do with dogma and money.
So it’s no surprise that folks in the current clinical treatment space in the industry can be prone to blind spots when it comes to optimizing their patients’ longterm outcomes. The kind of outcomes even providers hope for in their own lives, or perhaps the life of a loved one someday.
After all, we all share our need for health, and, as I’ve often said publicly, I believe providers in the field share a patient’s goals of restoration to long-term health outcomes.
But something’s missing in our treatment model that is going to soon emerge as an ethical crisis of sorts, albeit unintended. The risky part of it is that the attention for the problem could become focused on treatment providers at a time when they are just beginning to take a regulatory breath.
At the heart of the issue is our knowledge that current stem cell therapies offered under the practice of medicine are treatments, not cures. When administered in the context of a chronic debilitating disease or condition, there is an overwhelming likelihood symptoms will reappear within two years, and the disease or condition will begin progressing again.
Is it ethical, then, given the known sequelae of pathologies treated only once with stem cell therapy, to fail to address a patient’s need for more than one treatment - a need we know is going to present even after successful initial intervention? Is it necessary to devise multiple treatment protocols, paying special attention to patient cost?
Providers have actively marketed initial treatments, without attention to the patient’s desire to sustain health. Believe me, I’m all too familiar with blind spots. I know how easy it is to believe we see something we don’t, and fail to see something that is there in front of us. I’m seeing signs that this issue is now coming home to roost in the lives of patients treated by stem cell therapy about two years ago.
Simply put, the question on the table is: What about treatment #2?
I believe that practitioners should begin to consider this question in the context of their own practice and personal hopes. They will soon be asked for more help, for treatment #2, and this time the game for patients changes significantly if they find they can’t afford or otherwise obtain additional treatment(s) to thwart the near certain return of their symptoms.
I’ve noted this beginning to happen with friends, and even myself, and am concerned that it may do psychological damage to an individual experiencing relief from long term and unrelenting symptoms - not to mention increase in quality of life, normalizing of relationships, better functioning, and more meaningful contribution to the lives of others.
What will it feel like to see a patient regress? Will the almost spiritual wonder surrounding the fact that a simple, elegant treatment using their own body has healed itself, diminish? How loyal and appreciative would a patient be to a provider willing to find a way for subsequent treatments that are affordable and accessible? Can providers help create a self-regulated safety net?
There are no easy answers, but as professionals, we need to start asking ourselves these questions and get started soon on finding options in the context of our common humanity, desire for healing others, and shared goals.
Ignoring this blind spot will almost certainly cause suffering, draw the attention of adversaries to the practice, and impact the bottom line in unpredictable ways. Recognizing and embracing the challenge of providing treatment # 2 will keep the industry alive.
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Doug Oliver, MSW, is President / Executive Director of The Regenerative Outcomes Foundation,
a non-profit organization providing patient grants, provider education incentives, and research in optimizing patient outcomes.