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Would You Be Able To Recognize Chest Pain As Heart Disease?

Most people are pretty good judges of what’s going on with their own bodies. But telling a heart attack from other causes of chest pain is tough stuff—even, it turns out, for highly trained doctors. That’s why I thought this personal story, written by a Harvard doctor who has heart disease, would make an interesting read. It’s an excerpt—the full version can be found in Heart Disease: A guide to preventing and treating coronary artery disease, an updated Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

Early one spring, I noticed a burning sensation high in my abdomen whenever I walked up a hill or worked out on the treadmill. I felt perfectly healthy otherwise. I had lots of energy and could do high-level exercise on the treadmill—once the burning sensation went away—without becoming short of breath. I thought it was just heartburn, so I started taking powerful acid-suppressing pills. They didn’t help.

Sometimes when I would feel the burning in my chest, I would remember an old saying to the effect that “A doctor who takes care of himself has a fool for a patient.” Still, I hesitated; I didn’t want to waste the time of a cardiologist if all I had was heartburn.

But one morning as I walked across the street from the garage to my office in the hospital, Read more »

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

Building On The Strengths Of Your Perfectionism

I often think of the well-known expression “perfect is the enemy of good” when I am endlessly rewriting an article to make it better (when it is already good enough) and in the process just make or even miss a deadline. But this old saying also reflects the dark view many people have of perfectionism. As a personality trait, it is seen as obsessive and at times pathological. People who are perfectionists may become so focused on setting a high standard for themselves that they live their lives as if graded constantly on a report card.

But perfectionism has a bright side, too. Desirable aspects of this personality trait include conscientiousness, endurance, satisfaction with life, and the ability to cope with adversity. This helps explain why some perfectionists become corporate leaders, skilled surgeons, or Olympic champions.

Dr. Jeff Szymanski, a clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the International OCD Foundation, believes it is possible to become a better perfectionist—by building on the strengths of this quality and learning to minimize its drawbacks. In his new book, The Perfectionist’s Handbook, he discusses this theory in greater detail and provides exercises people can try at home. Read more »

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

Doctor Considers All The Ways He’s Been Inspired By Steve Jobs

I’ve been reading A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring written by famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.  Wooden spends half of his book thanking the people who had a powerful influence on his life, coaching, philosophy, and outlook on life.  Important people included his father, coaches, President Abraham Lincoln, and Mother Theresa.

Yes, President Abraham Lincoln and Mother Theresa.

Though clearly he could have never met the former and didn’t have the opportunity to meet the latter, Wooden correctly points out that as individuals we can be mentored by the writings, words, and thoughts of people we have never and will likely never meet.

Which seems like the most opportune time to thank one of my mentors, founder and former CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs.

Now, I have never met nor will I ever meet Steve Jobs.  Lest you think I’m a devoted Apple fan, I never bought anything from Apple until the spring of 2010.  Their products though beautifully designed were always too expensive.  I’m just a little too frugal.  I know technology well enough that people have mistaken me for actually knowing what to do when a computer freezes or crashes.  Yet, the value proposition was never compelling enough until the release of the first generation iPad.  Then the iPhone 4.  Finally the Macbook Air last Christmas.

No, thanking Steve Jobs isn’t about the amazing magical products that have changed my life as well as millions of others.  It’s more than that.  What he has mentored me on is vision, perspective, persistence, and leadership.  Nowhere is this more important than the world I operate in, the world of medicine. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*

Do You Think You Have OCD?

When I leave for work in the morning, I go through my precommute checklist. Train pass, check. Wallet, check. Coffee mug, check. Smart phone, check. Keys to the house, check. Only when I’m sure that I have everything I need do I open the door and head outside.

Sometimes I worry that this morning routine is becoming too much of a ritual. Is it possible that I have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD for short)?

Probably not. The fact that I am able to get out the door every morning means that my daily ritual isn’t interfering with my ability to function, says Dr. Jeff Szymanski, a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School.

You have OCD when obsessions and compulsive behavior Read more »

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

Why Many Disagree With Obama’s Implementation Of ACOs

The sooner President Obama’s Healthcare Reform Act (Obamacare) is repealed the faster we will be able to get on with healthcare reform that will work for all stakeholders. President Obama figured that 30 existing and successful integrated medical care organizations would be in the first group of clinics to join and be included in his Accountable Care Organization (ACO) system of care.

ACOs are a critical part of Obamacare’s goal to provide affordable, universal and quality healthcare. ACOs are really HMO’s on steroids. ACOs are supposed to be better versions of HMO’s.  The public and physicians despised HMO’s because of its control over patient choice and access to care.  President Obama thinks Medicare will save over $500 billion dollars a year with ACOs.  Unfortunately for President Obama, neither the CBO nor the Medicare actuaries believe it.

So far at least 4 of President Obama’s premier integrated healthcare organizations have Read more »

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

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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