Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

Navigating Cancer Post-Treatment: Who Will Help You?

It is completely understandable if you associate the term “cancer survivor” with an image of glamorous, defiant Gloria Gaynor claiming that She. Will. Survive. Or maybe with a courageous Lance Armstrong in his quest to reclaim the Tour de France.  Or perhaps it is linked for you with heroic rhetoric and pink-related racing, walking and shopping.

Phil Roeder from

I never call myself a survivor because when I hear this term, I recall my experience following each of four cancer-related diagnoses. It has not been triumphant. It’s been terrifying and grueling.  It hasn’t taken courage to get through the treatment.  It’s taken doing the best I can. I am not still here because I am defiant.  I am here because I am lucky, because I am cared for by good clinicians who treated my cancers based on the best available evidence, and because on the whole, I participated actively in my care. But mostly I am here because each successive diagnosis was made as a result of being followed closely with regular checks and screenings and because my doctors responded effectively to questionable findings and odd symptoms.

There are 12 million Americans living today who have been treated for cancer. Not only are we at risk for recurrences but, as Dr. Julia Rowland, director of the Office of Cancer Survivorship at the National Cancer Institute, notes, “Research shows that there are no benign therapies.  All treatment is potentially toxic and some therapy may itself be carcinogenic. Today, people are living long enough to manifest the health consequences of efforts to cure or control their cancer.”

Who amongst our clinicians is responsible for helping us watch out for those consequences for the balance of our lives? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

“Difficult” Patients

Physicians see nearly one in five patients as “difficult,” report researchers. Not surprisingly, these patients don’t fare as well as others after visiting their doctor.

Researchers took into account both patient and clinician factors associated with being considered “difficult,” as well as assessing the impact on patient health outcomes. They reported results in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Researchers assessed 750 adults prior to their visit to a primary care walk-in clinic for symptoms, expectations, and general health; for how they functioned physically, socially and emotionally; and whether they had mental disorders. Immediately after their visit, participants were asked about their satisfaction with the encounter, any unmet expectations, and their levels of trust in their doctor. Two weeks later, researchers checked symptoms again.

Also, clinicians were asked to rate how difficult the encounter was after each visit. Nearly 18 percent were “difficult.” They had more symptoms, worse functional status, used the clinic more frequently and were more likely to have an underlying psychiatric disorder than non-difficult patients. These patients were less satisfied, trusted their physicians less, and had a greater number of unmet expectations. Two weeks later, they were also more likely to experience worsening of their symptoms.

But the label works both ways, as physicians with a more open communication style and those with more experience reported fewer difficult encounters, researchers said.

On a lighter note, TV’s comedy “Seinfeld” dedicated an entire plotline from one of its many episodes to Elaine, her doctor, and the label of being a difficult patient. It’s worth watching here.

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Can Patients Choose A Good Doctor Online?

The following op-ed was published on October 27th, 2010 in USA Today:

When I ask new patients how they found me, frequently they say on the Internet through search engines such as Google.

Out of curiosity, I recently Googled myself. Numerous ads appeared, promising readers a “detailed background report” or a “profile” of me. Among the search results was information about my practice, whether I was board certified, had any lawsuits against me, and reviews from online doctor rating sites. Thankfully, most were favorable, but some were not.

Can patients reliably choose a good doctor online?

People already choose restaurants, movies, and their college professors based on what they read on the Internet, so it’s inevitable that many will research their doctors on the Web as well. But there are some good reasons consumers should be wary of the information they find online about doctors.

Random information?

An Archives of Internal Medicine study in September found that most publicly available information on individual physicians — such as disciplinary actions, the number of malpractice payments, or years of experience — had little correlation with whether they adhered to the recommended medical guidelines. In other words, there’s no easy way to research how well a doctor manages conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. That kind of relevant performance data are hidden from the public. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

Patient Engagement: How Empathy Can Empower Your Patients

In my recent post on KevinMD, “Deeply Connect and Engage Your Patients With Empathy,” I write about how empathy is essential to help empower our patients: “It is with empathy that we can engage and empower our patients.”

Doctors and nurses are leaders in health care.

Being a great leader means having a clear vision, mission or goal. It means being committed, and knowing how to listen and communicate, but it involves much more. It’s about having heart, empathy, and an uplifting spirit.

I value and respect a well written post by Thomas Goetz, author of The Decision Tree: Taking Control of Your Health in the New Era of Personalized Medicine recently published on KevinMD, “How can doctors successfully engage their patients?” Goetz writes about “Five things they should seek to give every patient, strategies to tap the most underutilized resource in medicine, their patient,” however I feel the most critical ingredient is missing, empathy.


It is with empathy that we can engage and empower our patients. With empathy and heart we can help our patients feel good, valued and respected. Empathy allows us to engage and empower our patients to take charge of their health and well-being. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Health in 30*

How Your Health Insurance Can Save Your Life

The Sacramento Bee recently ran the following opinion piece of mine below. A couple of additional comments not published follow. Enjoy. 


Viewpoints: Choice of health plan can be a lifesaver

It’s that time of year when most of us pick a health insurance plan based simply on cost. It’s a belief that is often perpetuated by friends, family, and advice dispensed by many articles in magazines and newspapers. As a practicing primary care doctor, I can tell you that the advice is frankly wrong.

Health insurance isn’t a commodity like auto insurance. It’s not just about the price. They aren’t all equally good at keeping you healthy and well. The recent annual report by the National Committee of Quality Assurance, which has been evaluating health plans for twenty years, continues to report tangible differences among health insurance plans across the country as well as in California.

In a ranking of 227 HMO plans nationwide in important areas like immunization rates for children, appropriate use of antibiotics, blood pressure and cholesterol control, cancer screening in adults for breast cancer, cervical cancer, and colon cancer, only two of nine California HMO health insurance plans ranked in the top 15 percent. The remaining seven were in the bottom half. If all health plans across the country performed at the level of the top 10 percent, 186,000 Americans would be alive today. They would have consistently and routinely received the preventive care and medical interventions that have proven to save lives. Read more »

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

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all book reviews »