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Health And The Value Of Open-Mindedness

Three recent sto­ries lead me to my open­ing topic for the year: The value of open-mindedness. This char­ac­ter­is­tic — a state of recep­tive­ness to new ideas — affects how we per­ceive and process infor­ma­tion. It’s a qual­ity I look for in my doc­tors, and which I admire espe­cially in older people.

Piece #1 — On the brain’s matu­rity, flex­i­bil­ity and “cog­ni­tive fitness”

For the first piece, I’ll note a Dec 31 op-ed piece that appeared in the New York Times: This Year, Change Your Mind, by Dr. Oliver Sacks, the neu­rol­o­gist and author. In this thought­ful essay, he con­sid­ers the adult brain’s “mys­te­ri­ous and extra­or­di­nary” power to adapt and grow: “I have seen hun­dreds of patients with var­i­ous deficits — strokes, Parkinson’s and even demen­tia — learn to do things in new ways, whether con­sciously or uncon­sciously, to work around those deficits.”

With appro­pri­ate and very-real respect, I ques­tion Sacks’ objec­tiv­ity on this sub­ject — he’s referred some of the most out­stand­ing (i.e. excep­tional) neu­ro­log­i­cal cases in the world. And so it may be that his care­ful reports are per­fectly valid but not rep­re­sen­ta­tive; for most of us, the adult brain’s capac­ity to estab­lish new cir­cuitry for lan­guage learn­ing or music appre­ci­a­tion may be lim­ited. What his sto­ries do show is that unimag­in­ably strange things hap­pen in our brains, at least occa­sion­ally. And maybe we should just accept that and take notes (as he does so care­fully), and keep an open mind. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

Echinacea For Colds: Does It Really Work?

Does echinacea, the popular natural cold remedy, really work?

It depends on what you mean by “work.” Results [recently] reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that echinacea may reduce the length of a week-long cold by 7 to 10 hours and make symptoms a little less onerous. That can’t be characterized as a major effect, so many people may figure that the trouble and expense of echinacea just isn’t worth it (fortunately, side effects from echinacea don’t seem to be much of an issue.)

But others may decide that some benefit is better than none, and these results do fit with others that have left the door slightly ajar for echinacea having some effect as a cold remedy — a modest effect, but an effect, nonetheless.

A summary for patients published by the Annals summed up the situation nicely:

People who take echinacea to treat colds may experience a decrease in the length and severity of their cold symptoms but to such a small degree that they may not care about the difference. Although many studies of echinacea have been performed, researchers still disagree about its benefits in treating the common cold. This study is unlikely to change minds about whether to take this remedy.

Have you tried echinacea as a cold remedy? Has it worked? How do research findings, pro and con, affect your opinion of so-called alternative medicines?

Many of the echinacea studies, especially early on, were sponsored by companies making or selling the product. This study was supported by a grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.

– Peter Wehrwein, Editor, Harvard Health Letter

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

The Business Of Anticoagulation

This is a guest post by Dr. Juliet Mavromatis:

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The emergence of a new generation of anticoagulants, including the direct thrombin inhibitor, dabigatran and the factor Xa inhibitor, rivaroxaban, has the potential to significantly change the business of thinning blood in the United States. For years warfarin has been the main therapeutic option for patients with health conditions such as atrial fibrillation, venous thrombosis, artificial heart valves and pulmonary embolus, which are associated with excess clotting risk that may cause adverse outcomes, including stroke and death. However, warfarin therapy is fraught with risk and liability. The drug interacts with food and many drugs and requires careful monitoring of the prothrombin time (PT) and international normalized ratio (INR).

Recently, when I applied for credentialing as solo practioner, I was asked by my medical malpractice insurer to detail my protocol for monitoring patients on anticoagulation therapy with warfarin. When I worked in group practice at the Emory Clinic in Atlanta I referred my patients to Emory’s Anticoagulation Management Service (AMS), which I found to be a wonderful resource. In fact, “disease management” clinics for anticoagulation are common amongst group practices because of the significant liability issues. Protocol based therapy and dedicated management teams improve outcomes for patients on anticoagulation with warfarin. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Hospitalist*

Understanding Treatment: The Communication Disconnect Between Doctors And Patients

Over the long week­end I caught up on some read­ing. One arti­cle* stands out. It’s on informed con­sent, and the stun­ning dis­con­nect between physi­cians’ and patients’ under­stand­ing of a procedure’s value.

The study, pub­lished in the Sept 7th Annals of Inter­nal Med­i­cine, used sur­vey meth­ods to eval­u­ate 153 car­di­ol­ogy patients’ under­stand­ing of the poten­tial ben­e­fit of per­cu­ta­neous coro­nary inter­ven­tion (PCI or angio­plasty). The inves­ti­ga­tors, at Baystate Med­ical Cen­ter in Mass­a­chu­setts, com­pared patients’ responses to those of car­di­ol­o­gists who obtained con­sent and who per­formed the pro­ce­dure. As out­lined in the article’s intro­duc­tion, PCI reduces heart attacks in patients with acute coro­nary syn­drome — a more unsta­ble sit­u­a­tion than is chronic sta­ble angina, in which case PCI relieves pain and improves qual­ity of life but has no ben­e­fit in terms of recur­rent myocar­dial infarc­tion (MI) or survival.

The main result was that, after dis­cussing the pro­ce­dure with a car­di­ol­o­gist and sign­ing the form, 88 percent of the patients, who almost all had chronic sta­ble angina, believed that PCI would reduce their per­sonal risk for hav­ing a heart attack. Only 17 percent of the car­di­ol­o­gists, who com­pleted sur­veys about these par­tic­u­lar patients and the poten­tial ben­e­fit of PCI for patients fac­ing sim­i­lar sce­nar­ios, indi­cated that PCI would reduce the like­li­hood of MI.

This strik­ing dif­fer­ence in patients’ and doc­tors’ per­cep­tions is all the more sig­nif­i­cant because 96 percent of the patients “felt that they knew why they might undergo PCI, and more than half stated that they were actively involved in the decision-making.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

Do Social Media Advocates Now Have Something To Cheer About?

Over the last year or two, lots of people have been jumping on the social media bandwagon, i.e., Twitter, Facebook, and so on. There has been a lot of talk about how social media and social networking will revolutionize healthcare, but little evidence to back this talk up. Until now, that is.

Before I get to the evidence that I referred to, I need to clarify something. The goal of social media as I understand it is to get people talking, sharing information and creating new ideas. As applied to healthcare, one of the goals of social media is to get people/patients with like medical conditions taking, sharing and supporting one another. Healthcare researchers refer to this phenomenon as peer support. Peer support is not new to healthcare. Disease-specific support groups (breast cancer, diabetes, etc.) have been around for years. “Group” physician office visits comprised of patients with the same diagnosis have been around for years as well.

The Study

Now to the evidence. As anyone with a chronic condition or who treats patient with chronic conditions knows, patient self-care is critical. Knowledge, skills and confidence are prerequisites for effective self-care management. Read more »

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

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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