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What Medical Condition Is The Most Costly To Employers?

Ok…here’s a brain teaser.  What medical condition is the most costly to employers?  I’ll give you a hint.  It is also a medical condition that is likely to go unrecognized and undiagnosed by primary care physicians.

If you guessed depression you are correct. If you mentioned obesity you get a gold star since that comes in right behind depression for both criteria…at least in terms of cost and the undiagnosed part.

Four out of every ten people at work or sitting in the doctor’s waiting room suffer from moderate to severe depression.  Prevalence rates for depression are highest among women and older patients with chronic conditions.  Yet despite its high prevalence and costly nature, depression is significantly under-diagnosed (<50%) and under-treated by physicians.

For employers, the cost of depression cost far exceeds the direct costs associated with its diagnosis and treatment    As the graphic above indicates, the cost of lost productivity for on the job depressed workers (Presenteeism) and lost time for depressed workers that are absent from the job (Absenteeism) far exceed the cost of cost of treatment (medical and medication cost).

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*This blog post was originally published at Mind The Gap*

A Physician With Neck Cancer: Just As Frightened As Any Other Patient

Two years ago we wrote “Let’s hear it for the ‘d-patients’” — doctors who become e-patients themselves. We said “D-patients prove that patient empowerment is anything but anti-doctor. Heck, sometimes it’s a doctor preservation movement.”

A new article in our Journal of Participatory Medicine provides a compelling example: A Physician’s Experience as a Cancer of the Neck Patient: The Importance of Patient Participation. The author, Itzhak Brook MD, makes our point:

I am telling my personal story in the hope that health care providers will realize the difficult challenges faced by a patient diagnosed with cancer and undergoing extensive surgeries. I am also discussing the importance of active participation of the patient and their family members in all phases of care.

JoPM co-editor Charlie Smith adds, in his introductory note: (emphasis added)

You may wonder why a physician’s account of his illness and the frustrations he experienced merit publication in this journal. But, if a doctor has this degree of anxiety, this much difficulty getting information about his care and this degree of struggle making good decisions, then patients can easily understand why they feel so overwhelmed and incapable, at times, of truly “participating” in their own care. What we are advocating for is difficult in the best of circumstances and requires all hands on deck for the task! Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

Is National Debt As Bad As Paul Ryan Says It Is? Lessons From The Past

The last two weeks have made clear that the debate over our national debt will play a major role in the next election cycle.

On one side, many Republicans, lead by Representative Ryan, insist that the rate of growth of our national debt – especially the massive projected growth of Medicare and Medicaid – promises to destroy our society within a generation or two; and that the only way to avert that catastrophe is to make substantial structural changes to our entitlement programs. The subtext of their message is: Federal debt is bad, and debt of this magnitude will be fatal.

On the other side, most Democrats, led by President Obama, stress that our entitlement programs are promises that simply can’t be changed in any substantial way, insist that such entitlements are “investments in our future,” and suggest that whatever shortfalls our current system might encounter can be remedied by taxing millionaires and billionaires. The subtext of their message is: Federal debt can be a force for good, and in this case will trigger a much-needed redistribution of wealth (which is a primary goal of Progressives).

The debate over the national debt is as old as the Republic. In the original version of this debate, the part of the modern Republicans (i.e., debt is bad) was played by Jefferson, and the part of modern Democrats (i.e., debt is an investment in the future) by Hamilton. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing Blog*

Beer Bellies Anyone? Waist Measurement Can Determine Risk For Heart Disease


Extra fat that accumulates around the abdomen goes by many names: beer belly, spare tire, love handles, apple shape, middle-age spread, and the more technical “abdominal obesity.” No matter what the name, it is the shape of risk.

Abdominal obesity increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, and other woes. The danger zone is a waist size above 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women.

As I describe in the April 2011 issue of the Harvard Men’s Health Watch, beer is not specifically responsible for a beer belly. What, then, is to blame? Calories. Take in more calories with food and drink than you burn up with exercise, and you’ll store the excess energy in fat cells.

Many studies indicate that people who store their extra fat around the midsection (apple shape) are at greater risk for heart and other problems than people who carry it around their thighs (pear shape). An analysis of 58 earlier studies covering over 220,000 men and women suggests that excess fat is harmful no matter where it ends up. This work was published in The Lancet. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Oops: Pre-Term Labor Drug Does More Harm Than Good To Pregnant Moms

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a new warning about a medication that has been used for years and it has sent shock waves throughout my specialty. Terbutaline is an FDA approved medication that is used for asthmatic patients or patients who have significant narrowing of the airways. However for years it has been used as an “off-label” medication to treat preterm labor but now that’s about to change. An off-label drug means it hasn’t been approved for that specific use by the FDA.

According to the FDA, the injectable form of Terbutaline should only be used for a maximum of 24 to 72 hours because the drugs association with heart problems and death.  The FDA goes on to say that the oral version (pills) should not be prescribed to treat preterm labor because it’s ineffective and can cause similar problems. As an obstetrician, I feel utterly betrayed. The medication clearly had side effects that included shortness of breath and a racing heart. As resident physicians we were taught that the benefit outweighed the risks of having a premature baby and the patients should try to adjust to the medication. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Linda Burke-Galloway*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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