Myths, Lies, and Truth About Medical Error with Dr. Bobby Price

When Dr. Bobby Price graduated from pharmacy school, he was beyond excited about the career ahead of him. He would be on the forefront of developing new medications, learning about the chemistry and biology of treating disease. He was the National President of the Student Pharmaceutical Association, and worked as a pharmacist at a hospital, a Walmart, and even the U.S. Department of Defense. But then, everything changed. He came face to face with uncomfortable truths about the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, and knew he needed to drastically shift course — so he became a certified plant-based nutritionist, herbalist, exercise physiologist, and author. Read on to learn Dr. Bobby Price’s inspiring journey, the truth about medical error and medical error deaths in the United States, and more. 
*The above is a short clip from our interview with Dr. Bobby Price. Click here to watch the whole thing.*
You can also listen to an audio version of our interview with Dr. Bobby Price on The WellBe Podcast. 

The Journey that Led Dr. Bobby Price to Change His Career Course

As is so often the case with the experts we interview at WellBe, Dr. Bobby Price’s career transformation was sparked by a personal health struggle. In 2011, he started getting unhealthy in various ways, and was trying to figure out why. He tried everything he could think of to get back to better health, experimenting with different diets and exercise regimens, but nothing worked. 
Up until then, Dr. Price was fully sold on pharmaceuticals and conventional medicine. “I thought it was the bee’s knees,” he says. When he would prescribe medication to newly diagnosed patients, they would often ask if the drug was something that they could get off of, and he was quite comfortable letting them know that they would need to take whatever the prescription was for the rest of their life. “I gave out that advice readily and often,” Dr. Price says. “To my understanding, that was the only way.”
But, given his inability to make himself feel better despite all of his education and training, Dr. Price was willing to try anything. “It just made me open up my mind to what else is available that I don’t know,” he says. So, out of desperation, he decided to adopt a plant-based diet for 21 days and see how it went.
To say it went well would be an understatement. In just 17 days, he’d lost 17 pounds after years of trying to lose weight. Not only that, after the full 21 days, he’d reversed his high blood pressure — a diagnosis he’d been given at age 16, despite the fact that he was an athlete and had only 5% body fat, and assumed he’d be on medication for forever. He felt better than he had in years. 
“That was my first inkling that, oh man, these plants have a little kick to them that I’m not really aware of,” says Dr. Price. “I knew everything you could know about medications. I knew everything you could know about diagnosing. I knew everything you could know about the human body. But here it is: I didn’t know enough about the one thing that took 17 to 21 days to change my life.” At that point, his career diverged away from conventional medicine and toward the healing power of plants.
“That’s when my whole philosophy shifted,” Dr. Price says. “I was healing myself, or the plants were healing me, and I began to feel like a hypocrite to my patients.” He wanted to share the truth that he’d discovered, the truth that you can reverse “lifelong” conditions naturally rather than relying on drugs, that all it might take would be shifting to a plant-based diet, but at the same time, it was his duty as a pharmacist to give patients information about and suggestions for medications. “That’s where the contradiction and a lot of the internal battles started with me,” he says. He couldn’t reconcile the cognitive dissonance, the knowledge that the people to whom he was prescribing would likely end up in the hospital. He knew he couldn’t do both things at once.
Despite how inconvenient this realization was, how much it derailed the life and career he’d envisioned for himself, he couldn’t ignore it. He needed to change course.  He dove headfirst into the research and traditions around how fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds can heal and nourish the body, traveling around the world and studying with herbalists, gurus, and shamans and becoming a certified nutritionist. Today, he spread what he’s learned through on-on-one work with clients, herbal detox programs, and his book, Vegucation Over Medication.

The Scary Truth About Medical Error Deaths 

Though his personal health transformation was the triggering event for his career change, he’d learned things in his years as a pharmacist that had already begun to cast doubts in his mind. One of the scariest truths he’d seen firsthand in his work was the devastating cost of medical error. 
Medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States, though numbers vary with regard to how many people die each year as a result. According to a study out of Johns Hopkins, 250,000 Americans die every year due to medical error. However, the group Patient Safety America estimates that number is much higher, pointing to the fact that many medical error deaths go unreported because physicians, medical examiners, and coroners rarely note medical error on death certificates. According to their amended data, the number is actually 440,000. 
When most of us think of medical error, we think of something egregious, like a doctor prescribing the wrong dose of a drug. But, Dr. Price explains, the definition is much broader. “Medical error is, simply, an unintended cause or outcome as a result of healthcare,” he says. “In many cases, this can mean that they got the right drug, the right dose, or the right surgery on the right limb, the patient still died as a result of that.” Medical error, he says, doesn’t necessarily mean that a physician did something terribly wrong: oftentimes, they did exactly what they were taught to do as a medical professional, and it still resulted in death. This can be because of things like hospital acquired infections, which afflict 1.7 million Americans a year, or simply because invasive and aggressive interventions carry risks. 

The Best Ways to Protect Yourself from Medical Error

On the other side of things now, Dr. Price sees clearly that people need to take action to protect themselves from the American healthcare system. “There’s a long list, unfortunately, of myths, lies, and truths behind modern food and medicine,” he says. To that end, he outlined the three best ways that people can protect themselves from medical error.
The first step is education. “Don’t walk into any situation with any professional without first educating yourself,” he says. “Because if you don’t, you’re not going to be able to ask questions. You can only ask questions when you have a perspective. You can only have a perspective when you have information. Never walk into a situation without first getting some perspective yourself.”
Self-education is essential, he explains, because it’s easy to get railroaded or overwhelmed by a doctor’s advice and then agree to something that they wouldn’t have chosen for themselves if they had more time or knowledge. When people come to see a doctor, he explains, they’re confused about what’s going on with their bodies, and often healthcare professionals fail to adequately or effectively explain the issue and the options for fixing it. “So when the options are presented, they’re presented in such a way that it seems like it’s either A or B. And in many cases, A is ‘Take this drug’ and B is ‘Suffer.’ It’s really not anything in between,” Dr. Price says. “Unfortunately, most healthcare professionals aren’t gonna give you any holistic advice.” 
Generally, he believes that most people would want the more natural option, one that allows them to heal themselves without the possibility of medical error or side effects. But few people have the opportunity to choose that option, because they’re not even told it exists. So the best thing patients can do, he says, is to do their research beforehand so that they’re equipped to ask the right questions rather than simply accepting the false choice presented by their doctor. (Or, people can choose to work with a patient advocate who can do the research and ask the questions for them.)
His second piece of advice for avoiding medical error is for people to reclaim their health. He says that most people have handed their health over to the healthcare system, which means that they respond to medical issues in a reactive, rather than proactive, way. “Because the healthcare system is really a sick care system,” he says. “It only treats you when you’re sick.” 
To combat this, people need to equip themselves with information on how to stay healthy, rather than just waiting for a disease to arrive. “Become your own patient,” he says. “This will help you be in control of your health, rather than being at the mercy of the medical system.” Once you’re in the system, he says, people are presented with options that they would have rather avoided: things like chemo, radiation, getting organs removed, all of which have lasting effects and introduce the possibility of medical error. “Most people don’t want to go through these extreme things, but if you don’t do what’s necessary beforehand, you can’t actually prevent a situation,” he says.
His third recommendation for avoiding medical error is to keep your toxic load as low as possible, in terms of the choices you make around medications, products you use, and especially food. “Being a chemist, being a pharmacist, what I understand both about medication and food is that they both can be very toxic to our bodies,” Dr. Price says. “We live in a very polluted and toxic world today.”He points out that food today is filled with chemicals, things like preservatives, additives, colorings, thickeners, emulsifiers. “All of those things that keep the texture, the taste, the look, all of those things,” he says. “But unfortunately, those things will keep the food looking alive, but it won’t keep you alive.”
This is important because once a person gets to a certain toxic threshold, disease starts to creep in because it can no longer naturally eliminate the toxicity. Because of this, he often recommends an herbal detox to certain patients to help lower their toxic threshold in addition to transitioning them to a plant-based diet. “That’s why it’s so important to eat a cleansing, nutritious diet that supports your body’s natural detoxification processes,” he says. “A cure becomes senseless if you prevent the disease in the first place.”

The WellBe Takeaway: Lessons from Dr. Bobby Price on Protecting Your Health

Today, Dr. Price has completely transitioned away from his role as a pharmacist, focusing entirely on working with clients and sharing what he’s learned about the healing power of herbs and plants. “I haven’t worked in a pharmacy in a few years,” he says. “This is pretty much what I do nonstop.” 
The trove of his knowledge and insights can be found in his book and on his website, but here are some of the key takeaways from our interview with Dr. Bobby Price:
  • A plant-based diet can be incredibly healing and have the power to reverse certain conditions that were previously thought to be “lifelong.”
  • Medical error is rampant in the U.S. healthcare system. Medical error deaths are the third leading cause of death in the country, accounting for somewhere between 250,000 and 440,000 deaths annually.
  • Medical error encompasses a wide range of things, not just egregious mistakes. Oftentimes, medical error results even when a physician does exactly what they were trained to do.
  • In order to avoid medical error or other side effects of aggressive medical interventions, Dr. Price recommends that people take steps to avoid being put “at the mercy of the medical system.” To do this, he advises three things: First, educate yourself about what you’re experiencing, so that you know the right questions to ask your doctor and aren’t blindsided into agreeing to a treatment plan you wouldn’t have chosen for yourself. Second, reclaim your health by learning about how to stay healthy (rather than just focusing on healing disease). And third, reduce your toxic load as much as possible by eating whole, plant-based foods, avoiding medications as much as possible, using non-toxic products, and doing an herbal detox if necessary.
Do you eat a plant-based diet? If so, what changes did you notice in your health after making the switch? Tell us in the comments below!
Watch our full interview with Dr. Bobby Price to learn the ways in which the FDA fails to protect consumers, how food labels cover up what’s actually in something, whether he thinks American health trends are getting better or worse, why taking medications is like turning off your check engine light, how he incorporates the natural and emotional world into his practice, how the opioid crisis has impacted doctors’ prescribing habits in general, and much more.
You can also listen to an audio version of our interview with Dr. Bobby Price on The WellBe Podcast. 
1. Makary Martin A, Daniel Michael. Medical error—the third leading cause of death in the US BMJ 2016; 353 :i2139
2. James, John T. PhD A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care, Journal of Patient Safety: September 2013 – Volume 9 – Issue 3 – p 122-128. 
3. Klevens RM, Edwards JR, Richards CL Jr, et al. Estimating health care-associated infections and deaths in U.S. hospitals, 2002. Public Health Rep. 2007;122(2):160-166. 
The information contained in this article comes from our interview with Dr. Bobby Price, certified plant-based nutritionist, exercise physiologist, and Doctor of Pharmacy.  Dr. Price earned double bachelors in Chemistry and Exercise Science from Georgia State University, Certification as a Plant-Based Nutritionist from Cornell University, and a Doctorate of Pharmacy from Mercer University. He has extensive clinical experience in the hospital setting and healthcare regulatory experience with the Food and Drug Administration. You can learn more about him here
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