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Health Care’s Tragedy Of The Commons

There are at least two conversations going on in the health care marketplace today, each focused on one of two key questions. One is: How can we achieve the Triple Aim? The other is: Why do they get to do that?  (It’s not fair! I want more!)

Until we stop asking the second question, we can’t answer the first question. Why? Because all too often the answer to the second question is the equivalent of: It’s OK, Timmy, I’ll buy you TWO lollipops; pick whichever ones you want.

It’s the tragedy of the commons, transposed to the health care marketplace.

Recent cases in point:

  • Avastin
  • Tufts Medical Center – Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts grudge match
  • Mammography and PSA guidelines

1.    Avastin.  Late last year, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at HealthBlawg :: David Harlow's Health Care Law Blog*

Avastin’s Approval Revoked: Harvard Health Publications Uncovers The FDA’s Process

Last week, the FDA revoked its 2008 approval of the drug Avastin to treat breast cancer, concluding that the drug does little to help women with breast cancer while putting them at risk for potentially life-threatening side effects. Avastin will remain on the market (and so be potentially available to women with breast cancer) because it has also been approved to treat other types of cancer.

In a statement, FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said this:

FDA recognizes how hard it is for patients and their families to cope with metastatic breast cancer and how great a need there is for more effective treatments. But patients must have confidence that the drugs they take are both safe and effective for their intended use. After reviewing the available studies it is clear that women who take Avastin for metastatic breast cancer risk potentially life-threatening side effects without proof that the use of Avastin will provide a benefit, in terms of delay in tumor growth, that would justify those risks. Nor is there evidence that use of Avastin will either help them live longer or improve their quality of life.

Why does this happen? Read more »

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

Cancer Drug Has Potential To Treat Chronic Ear Infections

I read with astonishment that a class of cancer drugs known as VEGF Inhibitors (ie, Avastin and Erbitux) used to treat colorectal, lung, breast, and kidney cancers can also be used to potentially treat a type of chronic ear infection known as glue ear… at least in theory and in mice. Glue ear is when an individual suffers from repetitive ear infections or upper respiratory infections to the point where the fluid in the ear turns into a maple syrup consistency. It’s thick, sticky and tough to get rid of with standard antibiotic medications. Standard treatment to address glue ear is placement of ear tubes to allow ventilation and drainage of the ear as well as antibiotic/steroid ear drops.

British researchers using the mouse model have determined that Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Fauquier ENT Blog*

Convincing The Public Of The Importance Of Evidence-Based Medicine

On October 4th, 2011, I delivered the Alex Drapos Memorial Lecture at Clark University as part of their ongoing President’s Lecture Series.  Here’s what Jim Keogh, Director of News and Editorial Services, reported about my talk:

Gruman said American health care treads a fine line between trying to serve the good of the many and the interests of the individual. But no one has yet figured out a cost-effective, yet humane, way to do both. She asserted that the skyrocketing expense of health care — expected to rise to $4.64 trillion by 2020 — isn’t reflected in the quality of treatment people receive.

“Should we be able to choose whatever medicine we want, even if there’s no evidence it’s effective?” ~ Jessie Gruman

“There is much ineffective, extra, inappropriate care being delivered,” Gruman said. As an example she cited Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

NPR Addresses Upcoming Final Decision On Avastin’s Fate

On the NPR Shots blog, Scott Hensley addresses, “Avastin For Breast Cancer: Hope Versus False Hope.” Excerpt:

Any day now FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg is expected to make a final decision on Avastin’s fate. Women who said Avastin helped their breast cancer were out in force at a June hearing of an appeal of FDA’s proposal. At this point, it would be a big surprise if the agency let the approval, granted on an accelerated basis back in 2008, stand.

Now, one of the cancer specialists on the expert panel, which Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

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

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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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