Monday, January 16, 2017

What to do for a broken toe? It depends who you ask...

My son sprained or broke his toe yesterday. It was painful, and swollen, and is a little discolored now.

He's not a complainer, so when he limped for hours, I looked online to see what the best options were. And of course, the course of action recommended is very heavily dependent on what type of site it is.

American websites—at least those run by professional organizations—will always recommend that you go immediately to a doctor. They'll say something like this:
If you think you have a fracture, it is important to see your doctor as soon as possible. A fracture that is not treated can lead to chronic foot pain and arthritis and affect your ability to walk.
(The above is a direct quote from the website of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons)

However, the NHS website (National Health Service, the government run health care service from the United Kingdom) specifically says that most broken toes can be treated at home, unless there's complications.

I'm not at all in favor of government run health care. However, these two different approaches are a really good example of how a difference in self-interest leads to a difference in opinion. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons wants everyone to run to an orthopedic surgeon if they suspect there may be a sprain or a break because it's great for their bottom line.

But an organization like the UK National Health Service is trying to limit the number of people that go to the doctors office. And writing up webpages that advocate reasonable self-care is a good way to do that.

It's just like the saying "don't ask a barber if you need a haircut". I remember chatting with my hair-stylist, when getting my hair colored around the year 2007 or 2008, at the start of the recession, and asking her if her business had gone down at all, since many people were short of money. She immediately replied, very definitively, "Oh no, women always continue to get their hair done, because it's important to their self-esteem, and they cut back on everything else first". I immediately thought to myself—her self-interest is definitely coloring her opinion, and this is her view of what the world should be like. It didn't work—I color my hair myself now. It's much faster, and of course cheaper.


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