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Taking The Mystery Out Of Clinical Trials

About 10 days ago I appeared in Phoenix as a speaker at a regional education seminar put on by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. My topic was sharing my experience as a participant in a clinical trial. I was delighted to do so, as I feel that trial saved my life and restored me to good health.

I am hoping my words encouraged others to consider being in a trial. There are no guarantees of the result, but trials are always worth considering. Unfortunately, few patients do. That may limit their choices and certainly holds back research that could help others. What a shame.

Clinical trials are defined as human subject research. It is through these trials that we determine if new drugs or devices can better serve patients than what is currently available. Clinical trials are available for almost every disease — although finding these trials can be challenging. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

Cancer Prevention: How To Sift Through The Headlines

Guest post submitted by MD Anderson Cancer Center

Most of us can’t keep up with all the new ways to avoid cancer. Thanks to the Internet, we now have an unlimited supply of cancer knowledge at our fingertips. But, how can we filter out the good, the bad and the questionable?

Below are steps to help you tease out the facts when reading that next big news story on preventing cancer.

Says who?

Don’t just take the writer’s word for it. Dig a little deeper to find out the source behind the hype. The American Cancer Society says you should ask yourself these questions when reading an article:

  • Was this a press release from a company announcing a new breakthrough in cancer prevention?
  • Was it a report from a clinical study that was given at a scientific conference?
  • Was it a report from a study that was published in a respected medical journal?
  • Where was the study done? What do you know about the research centers that conducted and sponsored the study?

Knowing the answers to these questions can help you decide on where you need to go to seek more details about the study findings. Visit the source of the information to learn more about how this new substance or method was tested. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Health in 30*

Avastin For Breast Cancer: Will The FDA Revoke It?

Time to get back up on my soap box.

Next month the FDA is supposed to consider taking the unique, first-time-ever step of revoking a drug’s indication not because it’s dangerous, but because it doesn’t work well enough to offset its risks. Never mind that it costs about $8,000 a month.

The drug is Avastin (bevacizumab), a targeted monoclonal antibody that prevents tumors from creating and maintaining their own blood supply, a process called angiogenesis. Without oxygen and nutrients from blood, tumors can’t keep growing.

Avastin is the world’s best-selling cancer drug, approved for use with chemotherapy to treat lung cancer and metastatic colorectal and breast cancer. It is also being investigated (and, likely, being prescribed off label) for numerous other cancers. The problem comes with breast cancer. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at A Medical Writer's Musings on Medicine, Health Care, and the Writing Life*

Clinical Trials: Accessing The Medicines Of Tomorrow Today

Reporting from the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago, empowered patient Andrew Schorr discusses how long it can take before a study is presented at ASCO and the role of clinical trials in giving patients access to the medicines of tomorrow today.

What’s Old is New at ASCO from Patient Power® on Vimeo.

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

Have We Killed Clinical Research?

“…I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”  — Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire

Years ago when I began my medical training, I recall enrolling patients for clinical research. In cardiology, there were a myriad of questions that needed to be answered, especially in the area of defining which medications were best to limit the damage caused by a heart attack.

Patients routinely participated in large, multi-center prospective randomized trials to answer these questions. It was routine for them not to charged for participating in the trial — the drug(s) and additional testing would be funded by the company whose drug was being studied. Patients enrolled willingly, eager to help advance science and perhaps, in some small way, their fellow man. It never dawned on me in those early days why hospitals and research centers were so eager to promote research. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

Latest Interviews

How To Make Inpatient Medical Practice Fun Again: Try Locum Tenens Work

It s no secret that most physicians are unhappy with the way things are going in healthcare. Surveys report high levels of job dissatisfaction burn out and even suicide. In fact some believe that up to a third of the US physician work force is planning to leave the profession…

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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…

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Latest Cartoon

Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.

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Click here for a musical take on over-testing.

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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…

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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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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…

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