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Good Health Information Can Save Lives

My colleagues at Harvard Health Publications and I have a mission: To provide accurate, reliable information that will help readers live healthier lives. We work hard to fulfill that mission, and the feedback we get from folks who read our newsletters, Special Health Reports, books, and online health information indicates we are on the right track. Every so often we hear something from a reader that makes me especially proud of the work we do.

This letter was recently sent to the editor of the Harvard Women’s Health Watch:

One of your mailings undoubtedly saved me a lot of grief. (My kids, anyway.) I was aware of a woman’s heart attack symptoms being different from a man’s, and your brochure contained a paragraph confirming that. Early in June I was packing for a trip to celebrate my brother’s 90th birthday, at the same time a ditching project was being done in my back lot. Trying to deal with several matters at the same time is a talent I’ve outgrown, at 88, so didn’t think too much of the sudden fatigue and vague aches I felt in jaw & arms. I crashed for a nap in my recliner, felt OK afterwards, and figured it was just stress. The next day I was ready to leave, but got to thinking of those symptoms, and the fact the brochure had arrived at just that time, and wondered if it was more than coincidence and maybe I should pay attention? Didn’t much like the idea of something happening out in the middle of nowhere, so took myself to the fire hall where an EMT was on duty. He ushered me into the ambulance, did an EKG, and soon I was being helicoptered on doctor’s orders to St. Joseph’s Hospital. There I had 3 stents installed, and they apparently are doing their job. Thank you! Read more »

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

Health 2.0: Is It A Threat To The Medical Profession?

The Internet has threatened journalism. Clay Shirky has said that everyone is a media outlet. An Internet connection and blogging platform makes everyone a publisher. Can the mass professionalization of journalism be applied to medicine or health? Can access to a broadband connection outfit a citizen to think and act like a physician?

There are pieces of what physicians do that can be replicated, and other pieces that can’t. The technical things that doctors do can’t be replaced. Removing an appendix or replacing a heart valve, for example. Tough to pull off on CureTogether.

But what about the thinking? After all, patients have access to the same information, references, and literature as physicians. Unfettered access to information can create an illusion. It can give us a false sense of control. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

Medical Journal Retractions: A Transparency Issue

Interesting case study raised by the Retraction Watch blog.

A 2009 journal article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) – promoted in a news release by the journal and picked up by many news organizations — has now been retracted by the authors. But the journal issued no news release about the retraction — an issue of transparency that the RW blog raises. And you can guess how much news coverage the retraction will get.

And this was all over a molecule that could supposedly “make breast tumors respond to a drug to which they’re not normally susceptible” — as the RW blog put it. But it was also a molecule, RW points out, that wasn’t even in clinical trials yet.

He or she who lives by the journal news release risks one’s long-term credibility.

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

American Medical News: “Welcome To Our Archives”

Via the American Medical Associations’s American Medical News article “Welcome to our archives“:

Now, our extensive online archive, paired with search and article collections by topic, puts thousands of stories at your fingertips.

Add to that a growing collection of Web-only content, such as our interactive tool for tracking health-plan earnings and a “Vault” page that will take you directly to articles and multimedia on topics of enduring interest (

Most of that older content has been behind an access-control wall. By knocking down that barrier, we are making available 10 years of full content and several years more of selected earlier articles. All told, about 15,000 articles now can be searched and read.

We invite our readers to visit the archives and link to our articles from their own sites, blogs and posts.

Thanks, AMedNews! I suppose an I told you so would be rude, so I won’t.

*This blog post was originally published at GruntDoc*

A Doctor’s Many Hats

I have taken on the task of writing 50,000 words for a novel in November (NaNoWriMo) and would have to carve time out of work or family [my posts are decreased by this new hat]. I can only wear so many hats.

But I am here, and my writing has been far more enjoyable than I expected. This is the time when it is easy to hit the wall (we get daily encouraging emails from successful writers to get us through this time), but I’m okay so far. I am writing about a doctor who encounters a very unusual patient. I am writing in the first-person, which was a good choice, as I know the first person of a physician intimately and stand no risk of getting those details wrong. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

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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