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Lung Cancer CT Scan Marketing Spreads Across The Country

Last week, after the National Lung Screening Trial results were released, David Sampson, American Cancer Society director of medical and scientific communications, wrote that “our greatest fear was that forces with an economic interest in the test would sidestep the scientific process and use the release of the data to start promoting CT scans. Frankly, even we are surprised how quickly that has happened.”

And, yes, the marketing has even hit fly-over country in the Twin Cities, with this ad appearing in the Sunday Minneapolis Star Tribune in the “A” section:

scan.jpg

Of course, no where in the ad will you read about the potential harms of such scans, the false positive rate, what happens when you get a false positive (unnecessary followup testing and perhaps unnecessary treatment), and more costs. And nowhere in the ad will you read that 300 heavy smokers had to be scanned in order for just one to get a benefit of extending his life. But six clinics in this chain are standing by to take your money and do your scan.

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

Minnesotans Get More Lower-Back MRIs: Why?

Kudos to Christopher Snowbeck and the St. Paul Pioneer Press for digging into new Medicare data to report that the state the newspaper serves is out of whack with the rest of the country in how many expensive MRI scans are done on Minnesotans’ bad backs.

Snowbeck artfully captures the predictable rationalization and defensive responses coming from locals who don’t like what the data suggest. Because what they suggest is overuse leading to overtreatment. So here’s one attempt a provider makes to deflect the data:

“The Medicare billing/claims data, which this report is generated from, would not capture conversations between a patient and provider that may have addressed alternative therapies for lower back pain,” said Robert Prevost, a spokesman for North Memorial Health Care. “It’s important to recognize the limitations of this data.”

No, data don’t capture conversations. But wouldn’t it be fascinating to be a fly on the wall during those many patient-physician encounters that led to an MRI to see what level of truly informed shared decision-making (if any) took place? Read more »

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

Health Journalism Gems You Shouldn’t Miss

A couple of health journalism gems you shouldn’t miss just because they were published over the holiday weekend:

Natasha Singer of the New York Times had an important piece, “When Patients Meet Online, Are There Side Effects?,” about privacy concerns when social networking sites like CureTogether.com and PatientsLikeMe.com offer online communities for patients and collect members’ health data for research purposes.

John Fauber of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published another in his “Side Effects” series on conflicts of interest in healthcare. This one was about doctors vouching for the drug Multaq for treating atrial fibrillation without ever having seen all of the data.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune began a “Too Much Medicine” series. Health editor Dave Hage informs that they’ve been working on this project for nearly a year with plans for a few more installments in coming months, each covering different ailments and procedures that are over-used or under-proven. (Unfortunately, I think the series is only available in the print editions.)

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

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

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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?

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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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