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Hyperbole In Medical News May Give Patients False Hope

Right off the top, let me be clear that I am NOT minimizing the importance of this week’s news about an experimental treatment for leukemia – one that has drawn much news attention.

It is an important finding.

What I am commenting on herein is the news coverage.

The ABC television piece itself wasn’t bad, with good perspective from Dr. Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society. But the lead-in and the ending, both involving anchor Diane Sawyer, were hyperbolic. The following screenshot was part of Sawyer’s lead-in. Read more »

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

Prevention Magazine Pushes Non-Evidence-Based Heart Screening

Prev. mag pullout.jpgThe February issue of Prevention magazine has an article entitled “Surprising Faces of Heart Attack” profiling “three women (who) didn’t think they were at high risk. Their stories are proof that you could be in danger without even knowing it.” No, their stories are not proof of that.

The story is about three women in their 40s. The story varyingly states that the three should have had the following screening tests:

– Advanced cholesterol test, carotid intimal medial thickness test ( CIMT)
– Advanced cholesterol test and stress echocardiography
– Cardiac calcium scoring and CIMT

 There’s an accompanying piece: ”7 Tests You’re Not Having That Could Save Your Life.”

Harry Demonaco photo.jpgI asked one of our medical editors, Harold Demonaco, director of the Innovation Support Center at the Massachusetts General Hospital, to review the two pieces. As his day-job title suggests, he deals with review of the evidence for new and emerging healthcare technologies. He wrote: 

The section “7 Tests you are not having that could save your life” states: “If you have not had these cutting edge screenings, put this magazine down and call your doctor. Now.”

Wow. While much of the information is correct, it is the context that is disturbing. Suggesting that these tests are essential in everyone is a bit over the top. Some of the information provided for each test is basically correct. However in some cases the recommendations go well beyond national guidelines.

The major issue here is the tacit assumption that tests are infallible, without any downsides and are always a good thing. That is simply not the case. So who should get these tests? Read more »

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

The Autism-Vaccine Fraud: The Difference One Journalist Can Make

The BMJ’s statement this week that the 1998 article by Andrew Wakefield and 12 others “linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent” demonstrates what a difference one journalist can make. Journalist Brian Deer played a key role in uncovering and dismantling the Wakefield story.

(Of course, others recently have said something similar about The Daily Show comedian Jon Stewart’s role in focusing on the health problems of 9/11 first responders.)

CNN’s Anderson Cooper had a segment worth watching, including a new interview Cooper conducted with Wakefield via Skype:

Unfortunately, journalism played a key role in promoting Wakefield’s claims. The “Respectful Insolence” blog referred to one journalist as “CBS’ resident anti-vaccine propagandist.” Around the world there were many other examples of journalists’ unquestioning acceptance of the vaccine scares.

The BMJ reminds us that “the damage to public health continues, fuelled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals, and the medical profession.”

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

Healthcare PR Puffery: A Year-End Review

Healthcare journalists are buried under a mountain of public relations material sent to them every day of every week of every month. I don’t even work in a traditional news setting, yet I’ve made it onto the distribution lists of countless PR people.

The picture on the left shows a pile of video news releases sent to one TV health news reporter over a relatively short time span.

Here’s my year end look at just some of what was sent to me this year. Imagine what the New York Times, USA Today, the TV networks, and others receive.

I get countless emails from PR people offering interviews with their experts on:

• Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — including an offer of an interview with a “celebrity trainer” who claims to have trained Julia Roberts, Cindy Crawford, Jennifer Aniston, Claudia Schiffer, and Kim Kardashian. (Were they all SAD?)

• A leading NY dermatologist invited me to “sip on champagne” and sample his new “daily nutrition for skin” cream.

• “For the more than 50 million Americans suffering from frequent heartburn, the thought of Halloween celebrations can truly be scary.”  — PR for NYC gastroenterologist who is also consultant to makers of a heartburn drug. One of his tips: “Don’t just stock up on treats, prep your medicine cabinet” with the proton pump inhibitor of the company for whom he consults. Read more »

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

Becoming A Savvy Healthcare Consumer: A “Difficult Science”

Dr. Kent Bottles is in the midst of a very thoughtful multi-part blog post under the heading, “The Difficult Science Behind Becoming a Savvy Healthcare Consumer.”

Part I examined “the limitations of science in helping us make wise choices and decisions about our health.”

Part II explores “how we all have to change if we are to live wisely in a time of rapid transformation of the American healthcare system that everyone agrees needs to decrease per-capita cost and increase quality.”

Both parts so far have addressed important issues about news media coverage of healthcare. Read more »

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

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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