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Latest Posts

When Age Plays A Role In Medical Decision-Making

Missed Diagnosis Lawsuit and the Dynamics of Age Related to Risk

Years ago I had the opportunity to care for Mr Smith, a 101 year old man who presented to the hospital with chest pain and shortness of breath. Besides having  101 year old heart and lungs that tend to follow their own  biological clock,  this man also had a massive chest tumor filling 85% of one side of his thorax.

Whoah really?  What does that mean in a 101 year old man?  Most folks this age have exceeded the normal bell curve distribution of life and disease.  When you reach 101 years old, there isn’t a lot of chronic anything you can catch with the expected time you have left on earth.

Every now and then, however, we find patients who are the exception to the rule, such as the 101 year old guy that present with a new cancer diagnosis.  That’s where being an internist comes in handy. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Happy Hospitalist*

The “Street” Economics Of Drug Abuse

I’ve discovered over the years that I really like economics. I never took an econ class in my entire life, since I was pretty focused on the life sciences, but I’ve picked up a fair amount informally over the years. Fortunately I have a strong background in statistics and math, and I’ve done a lot of reading on economics. I wouldn’t say that I have any special level of understanding or credibility on the topic. Perhaps it should be noted that my wife took away the checkbook for good reason. But I enjoy it as a topic, as something to read about and a powerful tool for understanding how the world works.

One consequence of being an ER doc is that you are pretty close to “the street,” and I don’t mean Wall Street. I mean the folks living and scrounging on the streets. As a matter of functioning in the job, you learn the street jargon, you learn what drugs people are using and why, and what the effects of those drugs look like.

The other day I saw a middle-aged guy brought in for acting really weird. Though everything in his social history argued against it, he just looked like he was on meth. I checked a tox, and sure enough, it came back positive. He strenuously denied any drugs, but eventually gave in and admitted the meth use.

I remember in residency walking through downtown Baltimore with a fellow resident and our spouses, and we amazed them by serially identifying the likely drug of choice of the various street people we passed, based on casual observation of their behavior. It’s just what we do. Baltimore was a heroin town. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*

Drug Seekers And A New Threat

I wish I could say that every patient encounter worked out well, that all my patients went home happy and satisfied. It would be nice, but unfortunately that is not true at all.

There are many patients who present with unrealistic expectations or an agenda which is non-therapeutic, and I am relatively straightforward and unapologetic about correcting patient’s misconceptions about the care that is or is not appropriate in the ED. Unsurprisingly, this often though not always involves narcotic medications.

Which is not to say that I am a jerk. I try to be compassionate, and I try to find alternative solutions, and I have been told that I can turn away a drug seeker more nicely than any other doctor in the department. But when it is time to say “no,” I say “no” firmly and without evasions or excuses. People don’t like to hear that, and all the more so in this “the consumer is king” environment of customer-service culture we foster in the medical industry these days.

So when I do say “no,” as nice as I try to be, some people get upset. Sometimes they escalate. They hurl insults, spit, throw themselves on the floor and throw a fit or feign unconsciousness. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*

Is That ER Doctor Packin’ A Smartphone Or A Revolver?

I have a new “smartphone.” It’s a Droid from Verizon. Pretty cool. I like what it can do, though it tends to enable me tendency to chronically check my email. I like the features, between ease of texting, voice dialing, etc.  But it’s big, compared to me dear departed flipphone, whose corpse lies in state in my pickup truck.

But I noticed one day, as I reached around my side, that the large phone now on my hip felt remarkably like my revolver. Odd feeling that. I was in public and I remember panicking, wondering if I had forgotten to conceal my concealed weapon for some reason.

And as I pondered this, I realized that both represent fundamental differences in the way we view individuality. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I’m a writer so I’m supposed to stretch. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

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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