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Mammography: Why This Test Is Both Imperfect And Recommended

A well-written and balanced article on mammography from USA Today may help move the conversation about this screening test away from hype and a bit closer to reality. The title – “Mammogram is ‘terribly imperfect’, though recommended.”

For women in their 40s, mammograms reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer by about 15%… But mammograms miss some cancers and raise false alarms about others, causing women to go through unnecessary follow-up tests… “We’re saying, ‘Mammography is a terribly imperfect test, but we’re recommending women get it,’” Brawley says. “The task force was saying, ‘Mammography is a terribly imperfect test, and Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Blog That Ate Manhattan*

Unnecessary Tests And Treatments: Responsible Reporting Can Help

Just when I’ve lost hope that mainstream media will stop perpetuating the myth the more medicine equals better care, the Associated Press came up with this excellent piece. The article states, rightly, that “anywhere from one-fifth to nearly one-third of the tests and treatments we get are estimated to be unnecessary,” and that, “it may lead to dangerous side effects.”

Regular readers of this blog should be familiar with those concepts. I wrote recently that patients often reject evidence-based medicine. One reason is that there aren’t enough clinical guidelines available for patients to make an informed decision. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at KevinMD.com*

Mainstream Media’s Sub-Par Health Coverage, Part 2

I recently wrote about an experience that I had with a reporter (Erica Mitrano) who interviewed me about energy healing at Calvert Memorial Hospital in southern Maryland. Erica was very friendly and inquisitive, and we had a nice conversation about the lack of scientific evidence supporting any energy healing modality. I thought it would be fun to post what we had discussed at SBM, and then wait to see what trickled down into the finished piece.

When the final article appeared I was very disappointed. Not only was I not quoted, but there was no skeptical counterpoint at all. The story read like an unquestioning endorsement of junk science, and I wondered if it was worth it to continue speaking to journalists to offer expert advice. It seemed to me that this experience was emblematic of all that’s wrong with health reporting these days. (Just ask Gary Schwitzer, who has recently given up on reviewing TV health stories in mainstream media since they are generally so inaccurate.) Read more »

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

Mainstream Media Has Blogger Envy

headline_nurse2I never knew that newspapers use to hire nurses. This nurse is working in a big city at the news desk. I wonder if she had to have a journalism degree as well as a nursing license in order to write copy for a media outlet back when nurses wore their cap. There was a time when only journalists wrote the news. Now anyone with a computer, a video camera, and a website can out scoop CNN. Kim from Emergiblog told me that some bloggers and a member of the press got into a debate at BlogWorld09. I wasn’t surprised to hear this because mainstream media thinks that its the only legitimate source for news. Come on mainstream media, we both know what’s really going on here. You have blogger envy.

I’m sorry if I sound cranky, mainstream media, but I’m really tired of all your whining. I know you don’t think that citizen journalists check their facts and that we lack reliable news sources. Some of you have even said that our stories aren’t fair and balanced. Do you really want to go there, mainstream media? I’m talking to you Fox News and MSNBC. You’ve got your nerve to criticize anyone about their scruples. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Nurse Ratched's Place*

Lesley Stahl at BlogHer: False Information Is Giving Media (and Healthcare) A Bad Name

Photo Credit: wowowow.com

I attended a fantastic conference hosted by BlogHer yesterday. It’s a strange experience, entering a convention hall filled with 98% women. My ears were ringing with an unfamiliar “crowd noise” pitch – instead of the usual rumbling that one expects on entering a ballroom full of people, I noticed the same volume of noise, but a few octaves higher. I suppose it was the sound of estrogen.

The co-founders of BlogHer, Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort Page, and Jory Des Jardins are a media tour de force. Within a span of 3 years they have built the largest and arguably the most influential group of women bloggers on the Internet. BlogHer drives an astounding 4 billion page views per year and has 16 million unique visitors per year. 

The closing panel discussion was riveting. Lesley Stahl described the decline of television journalism, explaining that the line between pundits and journalists had been blurred beyond recognition.

Anyone on television is considered part of ‘mainstream media.’ There is no distinction made between opinion and fact. That’s why the media has lost trust in the eyes of Americans. Pundits don’t necessarily care about accuracy, and so traditional journalists (who spend a good deal of their time fact checking) are lumped in with them. I get tarred too.

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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.

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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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