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

Latest Posts

A Doctor’s Brain: The Most Important Piece Of Healthcare Technology

Some people may tell you that healthcare IT will solve many of the quality and cost problems in healthcare. I don’t believe them.

I know a 70-year old man named Carlos (not his real name) who was hospitalized following a bout of hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is a build-up of fluid in the skull, which affects the brain. Among other things, people with hydrocephalus can be confused, irritable, and nauseous. Carlos had all of these symptoms.

Carlos’ problem was fixable by inserting a special kind of drain in his head called a “shunt.” This kind of shunt is, essentially, a series of catheters that runs from the brain into the abdomen, and which drain the excess fluid. You can’t see it from the outside, so it’s meant to stay inside of you for a very long time.

For a week after Carlos’ shunt was installed, his symptoms completely disappeared. But they soon started to re-emerge. Worried, his family took him to the hospital. Doctors found that his hydrocephalus was back — the shunt wasn’t draining properly. They admitted him to the hospital, and the next day they put in a new shunt. The surgery went well.

But again, about a day later, he started to have the same kinds of symptoms. The doctors sent him for a CT scan, which showed, to their surprise, no problems with the shunt. Unsure of what to do, they decided to wait and see if the symptoms resolved. It was possible, they thought, that the symptoms were from the quick drainage of fluid through the shunt. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

Do Patients Have Clinical Judgment?

I used to think they didn’t, but they do.

Clinical judgment is the application of individual experience to the variables of a patient’s medical presentation. It’s the hard-worn skill of knowing what to do and how far to go in a particular situation. It’s having the confidence to do nothing. Clinical judgment is learned from seeing lots of sick people. Good clinical judgment is when the gifted capacity of reasoning intersects with experience. Some doctors have better judgment than others.

Aristotle called this phronesis – or practical judgment.

Patients have practical judgment. We often can tell when something’s amiss with our own body. Things feel different or look different. Taking action on these observations is how we exercise judgment as patients.

Parents of children with central venous lines, for example, can often identify the early signs of infection before fever has ever appeared. They know the subtleties of their child’s behavior. The same goes for children with epilepsy. People with diabetes increasingly have the latitude to apply judgment to the management of their disease. This tends to be quite defined, however, with fixed variables and limited options for intervention. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

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…

Read more »

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 »

See all book reviews »