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Expensive Medications: Is The Benefit Worth The Cost?

The concept of cost-effectiveness in medicine is elastic. One’s view on this issue depends upon who is paying the cost. Of course, this is true in all spheres of life. When you’re in a fine restaurant, you order differently when the meal will be charged to someone else. Under these circumstances, the foie gras appetizer and the jumbo shrimp cocktail are no longer luxuries, but are considered as essential amino acids that are necessary to maintain life.

In the marketplace, except in the medical universe, goods and services are priced according to what the market will bear. If an item is priced too high, then the seller will have fewer sales and a bloated inventory. Consumers will not pay absurd prices for common items, regardless of supernatural claims of quality.

  • Would you pay $100 for an ice cream sundae that boasted it was the best in the world?
  • Would you pay $1000 for a tennis racket that promised performance beyond your ability?
  • Would you pay $500 for a box of paper clips that never lose their tension? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

An Alternative To A Colonoscopy?

Most of us born several decades ago, recall the futuristic book Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov, where a miniaturized crew traveled through a human body to cure a scientist who has a blot clot lodged in his brain. Ironically, miniaturized medical care is now upon us while books are at risk of becoming obsolete.

I hope that gastroenterologists won’t become obsolete, at least until my last kid graduates from college.

I perform an amazing diagnostic procedure called wireless capsule endoscopy (WCE), when patients swallow a camera. Once swallowed, this miniaturized camera takes its own fantastic voyage through the alimentary canal. The test is used primarily to identify sources of internal bleeding within the 20 feet of small intestine, which are beyond the reach of gastroenterologists’ conventional scopes. I have performed over 200 of these examinations, and I am still awestruck when I watch a ‘movie’ of someone’s guts. While most examinations do not reveal significant findings, I have seen dramatic lesions that were bleeding before my eyes. WCE can crack a cold medical case wide open.

Here’s a typical view of the small bowel as seen by the cruising camera: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

Drugs, Drug Reps, And Dealing With Pharmacies

As a gastroenterologist, I treat hundreds of patients with heartburn. You already know the names of the medicines I prescribe, since they are advertised day and night on television and appear regularly in print newspapers. Pharmaceutical representatives for each one of these drugs come to our office each claiming some unique clinical advantage of their products over the competitors. They have a tough job since the medicines are all excellent, are priced similarly and are safe. On some days we will have 2 or 3 reps visiting us, each one proffering a medical study or two that supports their product. They show us graphs where their drug is superior to the others regarding an event of questionable clinical import. Their goal is to show that the graph line of their drug is going up, while those of their competitors are going down.

Physicians, like me, who do give these folks some time, have mastered the art of the slow head nod as the drug’s virtues are being related. In the past, the relationships they cultivated with us translated directly into prescriptions being written. Not so today, when our prescribing pens are controlled by insurance company formulary requirements. Those drugs that are not on the coveted list not just swimming upstream, they’re trying to scale a waterfall.

Drug companies know a lot more about us than we know about them. They have Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

What Can History Tell Us About Healthcare In America?

Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health. Millions do not now have protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. The time has arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity…The poor have more sickness, but they get less medical care. People who live in rural areas do not get the same amount or quality of medical attention as those who live in our cities.

The above quote wasn’t taken from an Obama administration policy proposal. These words are from a 1945 speech by President Harry Truman. It is astonishing that over 60 years later, the health care crisis is not only still with us, but is slowly smothering us. How many years of oxygen do we have left until health care in America is entirely asphyxiated? Each year, the challenges deepen and multiply, which pushes necessary solutions and reform further out of reach. The financial costs of simply maintaining the current system are sailing beyond the stratosphere. The ‘reform’ strategies in my adult lifetime have been to promise, procrastinate and pray, methods which provide politicians with short term gains at our long term expense.

As I write this, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

Friendly Legal Chat: EMRs May Create A Plethora Of New Ways For Physicians To Be Sued

I spent the entire last weekend with an attorney, not a desirable circumstance for most physicians. However, I wasn’t being deposed or interrogated on cross examination. This was a rendezvous that we both sought with enthusiasm.

Lewis is my closest friend, a bond that was forged since we were eight years old. We are separated now only by geography, and we meet periodically because we both treasure the friendship. Earlier this year we rolled the dice in Vegas. Last weekend, we sweated in the sweltering heat of the Mile High City. Next stop? Back to Denver with a few youngins’!

Lewis is the managing partner in a prominent west coast law firm that specializes in tax evasion. (Or is it tax avoidance? Am I confusing my terms here, Lew?) He has been redrafted to this position because he has earned the respect of his colleagues. Clearly, both Lewis and I have ascended to the highest strata of our professions. Lewis is in charge of a large law firm that has global reach; he travels all over the world cultivating business and negotiating deals; and he navigates clients through complex and labyrinthine legal conundrums. I, an esteemed community gastroenterologist, perform daily rectal examinations and counsel patients on flatulence.

I am sure that readers will agree that our future professional prestige is already evident in this photo of us taken several decades ago. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

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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