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Latest Posts

More Evidence Of The Safety And Effectiveness Of Vaccines

One of the basic human “needs” is the desire for simplicity. We have limited cognitive resources, and when we feel overwhelmed by complexity one adaptive strategy is to simplify things in our mind. This can be useful as long as we know we are oversimplifying. Problems arise when we mistake our schematic version with reality.

In this same vein we also like our narratives to be morally simple, so there is a tendency to replace the complex shades of gray with black and white. This is perhaps related to cognitive dissonance theory. We have a hard time reconciling how someone can be both good and bad, or how a good person can do bad things. So there is also a tendency to see people as all good or all bad. We can transcend these tendencies with maturity and wisdom, but that takes work.

A good example of the desire for simple moral clarity is the anti-vaccine movement. Their world is comprised of white hats and black hats (guess which one they perceive themselves as wearing), as evidenced by the blog posts and comments over at Age of Autism. There is a certain demand for purity of thought and message that seems to be getting worse over time in a self-reinforcing subculture. Many now see their struggle in apocalyptic terms.

The desire for simplicity even extends to factual claims. Read more »

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

Medical Journalism And The Patient’s Voice In The Media

Yesterday’s post was not really about Avastin, but about medical journalism and how patients’ voices are handled by the media.

L. Husten, writing on a Forbes blog, cried that the press fawned, inappropriately, over patients’ words at the FDA hearing last week, and that led him to wonder why and if journalists should pay attention to what people with illness have to say, even if their words go against the prevailing medical wisdom.

There’s a fair amount of controversy on this. For sake of better discussion in the future, I think it best to break it up into 3 distinct but inter-related issues:

1. About health care journalism and patients’ voices:

A general problem I perceive (and part of why I started blogging) is how traditional medical journalists use patients’ stories to make a point. What some of my journalism professors tried to teach  me, and most editors I’ve dealt with clearly want, is for the reporter to find a person with an illness, as a lead,  and then tell about the relevant news, and provide some expert commentary – with at least one person speaking on each “side” of the issue, of course – and then end the story with some bit about the patient and the future.

I argue that this form of medical journalism Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

Meta-Analyses And A Capricious Drug Approval Process: The Actos And Avandia Stories

Both Germany and France have now suspended the marketing of Actos (pioglitazone) due to concerns of a link between Actos and bladder cancer. Though we have known about bladder cancer concerns for some time, these recent concerns about the bladder cancer link stem from a recent report analyzing the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS), which found that 93 cases of cancer were recorded between 2004 and 2009 in patients treated with antidiabetic drugs, of which 31 patients were treated with pioglitazone, representing a statistically significant increased risk of bladder cancer (ROR 4.30, 95% confidence interval, 2.82-6.52; P less than 0.0001).

Interestingly, the FDA announced that it was going to look into the link between Actos and bladder cancer only a few days before it made its final decision on what to do with Avandia (as if they didn’t know about the Actos cancer risk before the July 2010 advisory board).

Despite the many things you have heard about Avandia, back in July 2010, the FDA decided to severely restrict the use of Avandia for three reasons: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Press Release Contains Ridiculous Health Claim Of The Week

Every once in a while, a press release comes along that’s worth mocking publically. Here’s one of them.

In honor of National Mental Health Month, one PR flack pitched Philip Stein watches. In the flack’s words: “The highlighted element of the watch is the brand’s exclusive wellness technology that helps wearers improve sleep and reduce stress. The watch is embedded with a metal disk that emits natural frequencies into the body wearer and in turn, affects the wearer’s energy field. It’s called ‘Natural Frequency Technology’ and is a new patented technology studies suggest help to improve sleep quality and reduces stress.”

Really. That’s what the flack said. Right off the bat, he’s gone from mental health issues to sleepless nights from stress. Not content with confounding the two issues, he continues: “Dr. Jeff Gardere, America’s well-known psychologist, is Chief Medical Executive for Philip Stein Watches and had been running a practice for over 20 years. He recognized during that time that there was a huge need to educate the public on the possible severities of stress and everyday lifestyle changes that everyday people can make without a prescription. Dr. Gardere found a natural way to reduce stress and prescribed his patients with a high-end accessory Philip Stein Watch.”

The psychologist “prescribed” a watch. I wonder if my insurance company would pay for that scrip? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

From Spain: Drug Prescription Habits Are Often Emotionally Driven

I recently stumbled upon a very interesting editorial opinion in the ‘European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology’: ‘The use of drugs is not as rational as we believe…but it can’t be! The emotional roots of prescribing’, authored by Albert Figueras, from Fundació Institut Català de Farmacologia (Catalonia Institute of Pharmacology Foundation at Vall d’Hebron Hospital, in Barcelona).

Since more than 40 years ago when Archie Cochrane said that “there must be solid scientific evidence behind any statement, decision and prescription made by medical staff”, and all the way until today’s WHO promotion of rational medicine utilization, both developing and industrialised countries have been striving to increase sound knowledge about prescription and thus spread the kind of rational thinking necessary to foster evidence-based medicine in drug use.

Keeping your skills up to date has never been an easy task but nowadays we have newsletters and other Internet tools that can grant any MD state-of-the-art knowledge on any subject he or she may need, accessible anywhere and for any medical speciality. Nevertheless, drug use in the “real world” is far from this high quality. Not only in Spain: it has been noted in France, Greece and other countries that, despite widespread knowledge of risk factors that may cause gastrointestinal toxicity in patients under nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) treatment, there is a massive use of proton-pump inhibitors in individuals that show no significant risk.

Changing well-established drugs for newer, less-known products is not consistent with the need of a well-grounded comparative evaluation. We are not raising concern on the influence of gifts or invitations from pharmaceutical companies. Many doctors really want to make rational decisions… but can’t. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Diario Medico*

Latest Interviews

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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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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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.

***

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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