Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

Medical Journalism And The Patient’s Voice In The Media

Yesterday’s post was not really about Avastin, but about medical journalism and how patients’ voices are handled by the media.

L. Husten, writing on a Forbes blog, cried that the press fawned, inappropriately, over patients’ words at the FDA hearing last week, and that led him to wonder why and if journalists should pay attention to what people with illness have to say, even if their words go against the prevailing medical wisdom.

There’s a fair amount of controversy on this. For sake of better discussion in the future, I think it best to break it up into 3 distinct but inter-related issues:

1. About health care journalism and patients’ voices:

A general problem I perceive (and part of why I started blogging) is how traditional medical journalists use patients’ stories to make a point. What some of my journalism professors tried to teach  me, and most editors I’ve dealt with clearly want, is for the reporter to find a person with an illness, as a lead,  and then tell about the relevant news, and provide some expert commentary – with at least one person speaking on each “side” of the issue, of course – and then end the story with some bit about the patient and the future.

I argue that this form of medical journalism Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

Bend The Cost Curve In Cancer Care: Reduce Excessive Surveillance Testing

This is the second in a series of posts on Bending the Cost Curve in Cancer Care. We should consider the proposal, published in the NEJM, gradually over the course of this summer, starting with “suggested changes in oncologists’ behavior,” #1:

1. Target surveillance testing or imaging to situations in which a benefit has been shown. This point concerns the costs of doctors routinely ordering CTs, MRIs and other imaging exams, besides blood tests, for patients who’ve completed a course of cancer treatment and are thought to be in remission.

The NEJM authors consider that after a cancer diagnosis many patients, understandably, seek reassurance that any recurrence will be detected early, if it happens. Doctors, for their part, may not fully appreciate the lack of benefit of detecting a liver met when it’s 2 cm rather than, say, just 1 cm in size. What’s more, physicians may have a conflict of interest, if they earn ancillary income by ordering lab and imaging tests.

My take:

It’s clear that some and possibly most cancer patients get too many and too frequent post-treatment surveillance tests. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

NEJM Publishes Proposal To Minimize Spending In Oncology

Recently the NEJM ran a Sounding Board piece on Bending the Cost Curve in Cancer Care. The author’s take on this problem:

Annual direct costs for cancer care are projected to rise — from $104 billion in 2006 to over $173 billion in 2020 and beyond.2…Medical oncologists directly or indirectly control or influence the majority of cancer care costs, including the use and choice of drugs, the types of supportive care, the frequency of imaging, and the number and extent of hospitalizations…

The article responds, in part, to Dr. Howard Brody’s 2010 proposal that each medical specialty society find five ways to reduce waste in health care. The authors, from the Divisions of Hematology-Oncology and Palliative Care at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond VA, offer two lists:

Suggested Changes in Oncologists’ Behavior (from the paper, verbatim — Table 1): Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

Human Breast Milk For Sale Without FDA Regulation

The June issue of Wired carries a feature on the Booming Market for Human Breast Milk. You can read about the under-the-counter and over-the-Internet sale of “liquid gold” with a typical asking price in the range of $1 to $2.50 an ounce.
Here’s a taste, from the article:

…“rich, creamy breast milk!” “fresh and fatty!”… Some ship coolers of frozen milk packed in dry ice. Others deal locally, meeting in cafés to exchange cash for commodity…

Late last year, the FDA issued a warning about feeding your child human milk from strangers. Still, the stuff’s barely regulated.

milk containers, Wired Magazine, June 2011

As much as I think it’s a good idea for women to breast feed their babies as best they can, I was pretty shocked to learn about this unregulated industry.  Mainly because if a woman who donates milk is infected with a virus, like HIV or HTLV-1, the milk often contains the virus. The infant can absorb the virus and become infected. Feeding human breast milk from an unknown donor is kind of like giving a child a blood transfusion from a stranger, unchecked by any blood bank.

I’m not sure why Wired ran this story, which is admittedly interesting. Maybe it’ll push the FDA to take a more aggressive stance on this matter, as it should.

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

On Media and Intellectual Darwinism in the Blogosphere

Last week Aaron Sorkin wrote for The Atlantic a piece in which he details his daily news feed, in What I Read. He’s not into blogs:

When I read the Times or The Wall Street Journal, I know those reporters had to have cleared a very high bar to get the jobs they have. When I read a blog piece from “BobsThoughts.com,” Bob could be the most qualified guy in the world but I have no way of knowing that because all he had to do to get his job was set up a website–something my 10-year-old daughter has been doing for 3 years. When The Times or The Journal get it wrong they have a lot of people to answer to. When Bob gets it wrong there are no immediate consequences for Bob except his wrong information is in the water supply now so there are consequences for us.

PZ Meyers, whose tagline for Pharyngula at ScienceBlogs is a bit crass for my taste, but with whom I often agree, writes On What’s Wrong With the Media:

This is the problem, that people blithely assume that because it is in the NY Times or the WSJ that it must be right — I’d rather read BobsThoughts.com because there, at least, poor lonely Bob must rely on the quality of his arguments rather than the prestige of his name and affiliation to persuade. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

Latest Interviews

Caring For Winter Olympians In Sochi: An Interview With Team USA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gloria Beim

I am a huge fan of the winter Olympics partly because I grew up in Canada where most kids can ski and skate before they can run and partly because I used to participate in Downhill ski racing. Now that I m a rehab physician with a reconstructed knee I…

Read more »

How Do Hospital Executives Feel About Locum Tenens Agencies And Traveling Physicians?

I recently wrote about my experiences as a traveling physician and how to navigate locum tenens work. Today I want to talk about the client in this case hospital side of the equation. I ve had the chance to speak with several executives some were physicians themselves about the overall…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

Read more »

See all book reviews »