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Modern Snake Oil: Physician Touts Baseless Cures For Rheumatoid Arthritis

There’s an old saying in medicine: “Use the new medicine while it still works.” This is more than just a cute quip. The saying encompasses a few different phenomena. When a drug is tested on a few thousand people, the luck of the draw may show a greater effect than would be seen in a larger, more diverse population. Also, less common side effects will become more evident in a larger sample. Once several million people take the drug, it may turn out that the drug isn’t as spectacular in a large, diverse population, and that certain side effects, though rare, are serious.

This is one of the reasons I’m a very conservative and skeptical physician. Today’s miracle drug may be tomorrow’s Vioxx. Less conservative doctors may make much more enthusiastic recommendations. I found one physician promoting pomegranate juice for rheumatoid arthritis (or at least linking to the article on Joe Mercola’s site without comment). It sounds harmless enough, but what’s the evidence? (You can hunt for the page yourself; I’m not linking to Mercola.)

The statement is based on a pilot study out of Israel consisting of data from six patients. The measures used seem quirky, but are irrelevant anyway. There are no conclusions that can be drawn from such a small sample. Despite this, the authors conclude (and Mercola and the doctor who posted the link presumably endorse) that, “Dietary supplementation with pomegranates may be a useful complementary strategy to attenuate clinical symptoms in RA patients.”

Really? Based on what? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Should Children Receive Medical Treatments That Have No Evidence Of Efficacy?

In November, the journal Pediatrics published an entire supplement devoted to Pediatric Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal, Ethical and Clinical Issues in Decision-Making. The authors purport to have “examined current legal, ethical, and clinical issues that arise when considering CAM use for children and identified where gaps remain in law and policy.” (S150) Their aim is to “illustrate the relevance and impact of identified [ethical, legal and clinical] guidelines and principles,” to recommend responses, identify issues needing further consideration, and thus “assist decision makers and act as a catalyst for policy development.” (S153)

Unfortunately, as we saw in Pediatrics & “CAM” I: the wrong solution, the authors’ solution for the “issues that arise when considering CAM use for children” consist, in the main, of placing a huge burden on the practicing physician to be knowledgeable about CAM, keep up with CAM research, educate patients about CAM, warn patients about CAM dangers, refer to CAM practitioners, ensure that CAM practitioners are properly educated, trained and credentialed, and so on.

Limit CAM? Not happening

Curiously absent are recommendations placing responsibility on those who profit from the sale of CAM products Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

FDA Regulation May Squelch Development Of Some Medical Apps

We’ve been considering FDA oversight of medical apps for a while, over at Now, the public comment period has concluded on the FDA’s draft of how this oversight might look. The story:

The FDA will scrutinize medical apps that act as an accessory to a medical device and those that transform the mobile device into a medical device. A draft guidance issued by the FDA includes an extensive list of applications that will have to undergo review. Examples of apps that fall under the regulatory oversight are:

* Applications that allow the user to view medical images, such as digital mammography or digital images of potentially cancerous lesions on a mobile platform, and those that perform a health analysis or provide a diagnosis by trained health care professionals.

* Applications that allow the user to view patient-specific lab results.

* Applications that connect to a home use diagnostic medical device to collect historical data, or to receive, transmit, store, analyze, and display measurements from connected devices.

Great, right? The apps that do heavy lifting of patient information and connect to real medical devices get regulated, but the fun and educational apps I am working on remain free and open. Still, Harvey Castro, my favorite EM-doc-and-app-developer, was worried:

“Overall, I believe safety is the most important item when it comes to providing patient care,” said Harvey Castro, MD, an app developer ( and emergency physician. “Unfortunately, I believe this will hurt small businesses and entrepreneurs by making it cost-prohibitive to enter the market.”

“Applications will be dominated by a few companies capable of paying the high fees to get FDA approval. I will be saddened to see these changes in the future.”

For their part, the FDA said it’s nothing to worry about: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Blogborygmi*

It’s Not Too Late for You AND Your Patients to Get a Flu Vaccine

Getting a flu vaccine is on many “to do” lists in the fall, but for those who still haven’t checked it off their list, it’s not too late to get vaccinated. Many people don’t realize that flu activity usually peaks in the United States in January or February, and flu viruses can circulate as late as May. As long as there’s flu around, it isn’t too late to get vaccinated.

Getting a yearly flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting against the flu, and CDC recommends influenza vaccination for everyone age 6 months and older. We urge you and all health care professionals to get vaccinated yourselves and offer flu vaccine at every opportunity to every patient—except infants younger than 6 months and the very few people for whom flu vaccination is contraindicated.

Studies show that your recommendation makes the difference in your patients’ decision to get a flu vaccine. You should continue to emphasize the importance of flu vaccination for your patients. And, if you don’t already do so, consider offering flu vaccines to patients in your own practice, even if yours is a sub-specialty practice and you don’t see yourself as a vaccine provider. Even if you don’t offer flu vaccines, you can still recommend and emphasize the importance of flu vaccination as a way to keep your patients—and their families—protected throughout the season.

As promising as it is sounds that flu vaccination rates are increasing among children and healthcare personnel, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Safe Healthcare*

Addicted To Working: How It Can Affect Marital Relationships

“I doubt that all the philosophy in this world can eradicate slavery; at best it will change its name. I can imagine worse forms of servitude than our own, more insidious forms, that will foster in men an appetite for work as rabid as the passion for war among barbarian races, either by turning people into stupid and content machines that believe in their freedom whilst fully enslaved, or by suppressing any human leisure. I prefer our physical slavery to this subjection of the spirit”.

– ‘Memoirs of Hadrian’– Marguerite Yourcenar

Nobody considers himself to be addicted to work. But we should go over how many times a day we check our e-mail or call our office while on holidays, even when we must do it almost secretly. No doubt iPads, iPhones or Blackberrys make it easier to fall into temptation, and we fool ourselves by saying we’re getting the device just to check the weather.

We tend to think workaholism is a synonym for working many hours, but this is a narrow view that ignores the addictive nature of that condition. An average workaholic has a strong inward motivation to work every minute, anywhere, not really for the money, or the promotion, or because of a lack of social life. Just for the sake of it.

Scott points out two traits to define this addiction: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Diario Medico*

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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