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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*

The Problem With Casual Medical Advice

It’s happening more frequently: Requests for medical advice by email. The more I do, the more people I meet. The network grows and friends of friends learn about what I do.

So junior has a little pain and shows at the local ER where the requisite CT shows a little thickening of the ileum. Someone suggests that the family drop me a line. Here’s the problem: There’s more to this than digital correspondence will allow.

While the statistical reality of this child’s situation is that this finding represents a little edema from a virus, the differential is precarious: Crohn’s disease, lymphoma, tuberculous ileitis, eosinophilic enteropathy.

A case of this type requires the thorough exploration of a child’s story and a compulsive exam that takes into consideration the problems in the differential. Worrisome considerations need to be framed and discussed in the context of the child’s total presentation and real likelihood of occurrence. The sensitive dialog surrounding our diagnostic approach to this child requires a relationship. And the various approaches require an element of negotiation with the family. All of this takes time, emotional intelligence, and good clinical judgment.

Children are complicated creatures. Parents are more complicated. Loose, off-the-cuff advice based on shotty information shortchanges both parties.

Of course the easiest response to these regular queries is that my employer, malpractice carrier, and the Texas State Board preclude offering medical advice without an established relationship or the maintenance of a medical record available for peer review. Everybody understands legalese. Few, however, understand the complexity of a properly executed medical encounter.

*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…

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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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