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What Patients Are The Lowest Quality Hospitals Serving?

Hospitals that provide the lowest quality care at the highest cost care for more than twice the proportion of elderly minority and poor patients as the nation’s best performers, researchers found. And patients at the “worst” institutions are more likely than patients elsewhere to die of certain conditions, such as heart attacks and pneumonia.

These hospitals and their patients may be the ones most at risk under new Medicare payment arrangements that could cut payments to hospitals that fail to meet quality metrics, reported researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health.

The researchers examined how quality, costs and patients served correlated among 3,200 hospitals nationwide. They then identified 122 “best” hospitals, those that were in the highest quartile of quality and lowest quartile of risk-adjusted costs, and 178 “worst” hospitals, those in the lowest quartile of quality and the highest quartile of costs.

Hospital quality and performance data were Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Hospitalist*

Medicare Reconsidering Under What Circumstances Wearable Defibrillators Will Be Paid For

I know what you’re thinking. “Did he fire six shots or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?

Well, do ya, punk?

Harry Callihan, from the movie Dirty Harry

It was a small article in the Wall Street Journal on 8 August 2011: “Zoll Medical Falls As LifeVest May Face Reimbursement Revisions.” No doubt most doctors missed this, but the implications of this article for our patients discovered to have weak heart muscles and considered at high risk for sudden cardiac death could be profound.

That’s because Medicare (CMS) is considering the requirement for the same waiting period after diagnosis of a cardiomyopathy or myocardial infarction as that for permanent implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs). To this end, they issued a draft document that contains the new proposal for their use. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

Heart Attack Survivors Should Avoid Certain Pain Medicines (NSAIDs)

New information published in Circulation advises against using any nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in patients who have had a prior heart attack.  These over-the-counter drugs are commonly used  like Advil, Aleeve, Diclofenac, Ibuprofen.  Using NSAIDs for even as little as one week was associated with a 45% increase for death or recurrent myocardial infarction (MI).  The researchers could not identify a period that seemed to be safe, no matter how short.

The study used the Danish National Patient Registry and identified 83,675 patients who had a first MI between 1997 and 2006.  The average age was 68 years and 65% were men.   All the NSAIDs (except Naprosyn) used during the observation period were associated with an increased risk for death or new heart attack.  Diclofenac (brand name Voltaren) was the worst.

Readers should not go away thinking NSAIDs cause heart attacks.  This study looked at patients who had already had an MI.  But for those patients, the over-the-counter pain relievers should be avoided.  Many patients with heart disease also have arthritis or other pain syndromes.  We need to come up with safe treatments for pain or use “safer” NSAIDs like low dose Naprosyn or Ibuprofen only when the benefit is weighed with the risk.

Just because something is sold without a prescription does not mean it is without risk.  Tell your doctor every medication you take.

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

Calcium Supplements: Good For Your Bones But Bad For Your Heart?

Calcium is good for us, right? Milk products are great sources of calcium, and we’re told to emphasize milk products in our diets. Don’t (or can’t) eat enough dairy? Calcium supplements are very popular, especially among women seeking to minimize their risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis prevention and treatment guidelines recommend calcium and vitamin D as an important measure in preserving bone density and reducing the risk of fractures. For those who don’t like dairy products, even products like orange juice and Vitamin Water are fortified with calcium. The general perception seemed to be that calcium consumption was a good thing – the more, the better. Until recently.

In a pattern similar to that I described with folic acid, there’s new safety signals from trials with calcium supplements that are raising concerns. Two studies published in the past two years suggest that calcium supplements are associated with a significantly increased risk of heart attacks. Could the risks of calcium supplements outweigh any benefits they offer? Read more »

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

Shoveling Snow? How To Protect Your Heart

After shoveling the heavy, 18-inch layer of snow that fell overnight on my sidewalk and driveway, my back hurt, my left shoulder ached, and I was tired. Was my body warning me I was having a heart attack, or were these just the aftermath of a morning spent toiling with a shovel? Now that I’m of an AARP age, it’s a question I shouldn’t ignore.

Snow shoveling is a known trigger for heart attacks. Emergency rooms in the snowbelt gear up for extra cases when enough of the white stuff has fallen to force folks out of their homes armed with shovels or snow blowers. 

What’s the connection? Many people who shovel snow rarely exercise. Picking up a shovel and moving hundreds of pounds of snow, particularly after doing nothing physical for several months, can put a big strain on the heart. Pushing a heavy snowblower can do the same thing. Cold weather is another contributor because it can boost blood pressure, interrupt blood flow to part of the heart, and make blood more likely to form clots.

When a clot forms inside a coronary artery (a vessel that nourishes the heart), it can completely block blood flow to part of the heart. Cut off from their supply of life-sustaining oxygen and nutrients, heart muscle cells begin to shut down, and then die. This is what doctors call a myocardial infarction or acute coronary syndrome. The rest of us call it a heart attack.

The so-called classic signs of a heart attack are a squeezing pain in the chest, shortness of breath, pain that radiates up to the left shoulder and down the left arm, or a cold sweat. Other signs that are equally common include jaw pain, lower back pain, unexplained fatigue or nausea, and anxiety. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health 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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