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

Latest Posts

Leader In The Field Discusses Pharmaceutical Industry

Dr. Jerry Avorn

Americans spend more than $300 billion a year on prescription drugs. How we use these drugs, and how effective they are, have become important subjects for public health researchers. A leader in this area is Dr. Jerry Avorn, chief of the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Avorn is the author of numerous articles and the book Powerful Medicines.

For an article in the Harvard Health Letter, editor Peter Wehrwein spoke with Avorn about generic drugs, the pharmaceutical industry, the high cost of cancer drugs, and more. Here’s an excerpt from their conversation; you can read the complete interview at Read more »

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

Can The Approval Process For Cancer Drugs Be Accelerated?

If you’ve read my blogs for a while, or look up some past blogs, you’ll see I have been frustrated at times with the FDA. Yes, they have a tough job protecting us from medical products that are unsafe and/or ineffective. But when it comes to cancer, where we have few “homerun” therapies, I wish they were a bit more liberal. A “bunt single” might be good enough. You may have read how I have been critical of Dr. Rick Pazdur, the FDA leader for oncology drug approval. Some desperate patients and family members have referred to him as “Dr. No.”

Just the other day I interviewed a respected breast cancer survivor and patient advocate who has high respect for Dr. Pazdur.  Musa Mayer of New York City is a 22-year breast cancer survivor and author of three books about breast cancer. She’s devoted her life to educating other patients about cancer and also playing a role in public policy. She has become a favorite patient representative on FDA cancer advisory boards and regularly weighs in when breast cancer drugs are being considered.

In my interview with Musa, she explained Read more »

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

The Not-So-New Problem Of Drug Shortages

Crucial drugs are running in short supply and patients are dying as a result.

Much of the problem stem from manufacturing problems that interrupt production. There may be only one or two companies making a drug, and when something happens such as contamination, it creates huge gaps. As a result, there’s been 213 drug shortages so far this year, or two more than all of the previous year.

The shortages have forced hospitals to resort to gray market purchases. These involved third parties that may corner the market on some drugs, and resell them at exorbitant mark-ups. The practice then fuels further shortages.

And this “new” crisis has been occurring for a decade. ACP Internist ran an article 10 years ago that could run in its pages today. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Will A Market Driven Healthcare System Be Most Effective?

Mechanism Design has demonstrated that the most efficient systems are created when everyone’s vested interests are aligned.

“An example is defense contracting. If you agree to pay on a cost plus basis you have created incentive for the contractor to be inefficient.

The defense contractor will build enough extra into a fixed price system to account for cost overruns.  The cost overrun would be permitted in the rules if the price was transparent. If there were no cost overruns the contractor’s profit would be increased. It would provide incentive to be efficient.

“If you agree to pay a fixed price, you can come close to an efficient price if you have all the truthful information.”

A reader wrote,


History has proven over and over again that only the market mechanism of willing sellers and willing buyers is the optimal way to allocate economic resources. This presumes an informed buyer, and a willingness of sellers to compete for buyers. Adam Smith was clear on this in the Wealth of Nations.

If incentives are aligned and truthful price information is available an efficient system is created.  Most stakeholders think they can do better by not sharing truthful information. If the rules of the game require truthful information the system can become an efficient market driven solution.

The healthcare system must become market driven. At present Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Repairing the Healthcare System*

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*

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 »