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Narrative Medicine: Healing Through Storytelling

More in the evolving meme of narrative medicine: Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (my alma mater) have found that for a select population of individuals, listening to personal narratives helps control blood pressure. While the power of stories is old news, the connection to clinical outcomes is what’s newsworthy here. Read Dr. Pauline Chen’s nice piece in the New York Times. The implications for ongoing work in this area are mind boggling.

The Annals of Internal Medicine study authors sum it up nicely:

Emerging evidence suggests that storytelling, or narrative communication, may offer a unique opportunity to promote evidence-based choices in a culturally appropriate context.  Stories can help listeners make meaning of their lives, and listeners may be influenced if they actively engage in a story, identify themselves with the storyteller, and picture themselves taking part in the action.

This nascent field of narrative medicine caught my eye when I stumbled onto the work of Rita Charon and the concept of the parallel chart. Extrapolation to social media may be the next iteration of this kind of work.

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

Becoming A Savvy Healthcare Consumer: A “Difficult Science”

Dr. Kent Bottles is in the midst of a very thoughtful multi-part blog post under the heading, “The Difficult Science Behind Becoming a Savvy Healthcare Consumer.”

Part I examined “the limitations of science in helping us make wise choices and decisions about our health.”

Part II explores “how we all have to change if we are to live wisely in a time of rapid transformation of the American healthcare system that everyone agrees needs to decrease per-capita cost and increase quality.”

Both parts so far have addressed important issues about news media coverage of healthcare. Read more »

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

Lung Cancer CT Scan Marketing Spreads Across The Country

Last week, after the National Lung Screening Trial results were released, David Sampson, American Cancer Society director of medical and scientific communications, wrote that “our greatest fear was that forces with an economic interest in the test would sidestep the scientific process and use the release of the data to start promoting CT scans. Frankly, even we are surprised how quickly that has happened.”

And, yes, the marketing has even hit fly-over country in the Twin Cities, with this ad appearing in the Sunday Minneapolis Star Tribune in the “A” section:

scan.jpg

Of course, no where in the ad will you read about the potential harms of such scans, the false positive rate, what happens when you get a false positive (unnecessary followup testing and perhaps unnecessary treatment), and more costs. And nowhere in the ad will you read that 300 heavy smokers had to be scanned in order for just one to get a benefit of extending his life. But six clinics in this chain are standing by to take your money and do your scan.

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

Do You Have “Low T?”

If you google “low testosterone” you’ll see lots of ads for testosterone replacement. Some are from pharmaceutical companies that sell testosterone, others from obvious snake-oil salesmen.

Both types of ads list vague sets of symptoms, encourage you to believe that they are pathologic, and want to sell you something to make you better. For example, the pharmaceutical company Solvay gives you a handy guide for speaking to your doctor, and a quiz to see if you have “low T.” The quiz asks some questions that may be useful, but also asks very general questions about your sense of well being. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Doctors Wanted For Hazardous Journey

“MEN WANTED FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES,
BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS,
CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOR AND
RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS.

With this want ad, circa 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton recruited 28 souls with an unimaginable challenge: To cross the unexplored Antarctica on dogsled. The polar explorer knew exactly what human characteristics he needed to pull off such a feat and understood that straight talk would resonate with a few select men.

Shakleton and his crew boarded their ship, the “Endurance,” and sailed the world’s most dangerous oceans straight into harms way — still considered one of the world’s greatest survival stories. Amazingly, all men survived against unimaginable odds. Their story reminds us that we all stand on the waves and wakes of dreamers, doers, slaves, and fools, all who say, “We did it, took our chances, immigrated to the U.S., headed West, built a new business, risked it all.”

And, if you listen closely, you will hear their stories as an invitation that has been repeated throughout history: “What will you do? Whether your turn or your calling, what will you do?”

Today, I’m posting a similar want ad to medical colleagues. The journey may be far less physically dangerous, but considering prevailing attitudes, perhaps it’s as daring in imagination. Read more »

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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