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How Sprained Ankles Can Lead To Cancer Drug Rationing

New York Times blogger Tara Parker Pope describes how her daughter was recently “the victim” of excessive medical investigation. Apparently, the little girl twisted her ankle at dance camp and experienced a slower than normal recovery. Four weeks out from the sprain, Tara sought the help of a specialist rather than returning to her pediatrician. The resulting MRI led to blood testing, which led to more testing, and more specialist input, etc. until the costs had spiraled out of control – not that Tara cared much because (as she admits) “I had lost track because it was all covered by insurance.”

Instead of any twinge of guilt on the part of Ms. Pope for having single-handedly called in the cavalry for an ankle sprain, she concluded that her daughter was a victim of medical over-investigation. But what would any physician do in the face of a concerned pseudo-celebrity parent (with a huge platform from which to complain about her medical treatment)? The doctor would leave no stone unturned, so as to protect herself from accusations of “missing a diagnosis” or being insufficiently concerned about the ankle sprain.

The responses to Ms. Pope’s personal “horror story” about over-treatment (and the waste of billions of dollars inherent in the US medical system) were amusing. One commenter writes, “Why not think of the unnecessary $210 billion as a fiscal ‘stimulus?’ Makes as much sense as any other program in the Age of Obama/Krugman.” And another, “[Of course there's over-treatment] because the federal government subsidizes it! Medicaid, Medicare, and third party private insurance all promote the use of wasteful health care spending. And Obamacare will put that process on steroids.”

Whether or not you agree that socialized medicine reduces healthcare costs, it seems to me that we all have a responsibility not to over-utilize medical resources so that they will still be there when we really need them. Over-investigating every pediatric ankle sprain will simply drain our collective resources, ultimately resulting in further healthcare rationing. New York Times writer Peter Singer has argued that rationing is inevitable and decisions about cancer drug treatment will become the purview of US government agencies as time goes on. I’m pretty sure he’s right.

That being the case, why spur on rationing? Ms. Pope’s victim mentality demonstrates her lack of insight into the true causes of rising healthcare costs – one of which is patient demand. Ms. Pope herself is contributing to the healthcare waste she despises by requesting excessive testing in an environment where physicians are afraid to say no due to legal pressures (or a NYT writer’s bully pulpit). Demand drives costs, and there is a finite limit on our resources. Personal responsibility must play a role in healthcare utilization, just as efforts to protect our environment and scarce resources require participation by individuals. Ultimately, one child’s ankle investigation comes at the price of another patient’s cancer treatment.

Was it the physicians’ responsibility to put the brakes on her daughter’s over-testing? Maybe, but I’d prefer to live in a world where patients can invoke additional testing when their personal judgment suggests that it’s important. Ms. Pope knew better, but requested the additional testing because her insurance paid for it. Free care leads to more care – especially more unnecessary care. Ms. Pope’s daughter was not a victim of over-testing, but a beneficiary of that luxury that may soon evaporate.

We can create a healthcare system where no ankle gets more than a physical exam and ibuprofen (so we can forcibly prevent over-utilization), or we can teach people to use healthcare resources responsibly. Unfortunately, that will require that patients have a little more financial skin in the game – as Ms. Pope has demonstrated. The alternative, a distant oversight body regulating what you can and can’t have access to in healthcare, is where we’ll probably end up. Some day in the future Ms. Pope will recall the day when she was able to get unlimited medical investigations for her daughter without question or cost, and she’ll marvel at how that freedom has been lost. By that time, I suppose, I’ll be one of those people who is being denied cancer treatment by my government.

News You Should Know: Distracted Driving, Nurse Strike, And ADHD

distracted driving, cell phone, reporting on health, car accident, riskDistracted Driving: Studies of driving while talking on a cell phone may have overestimated the risk of car crashes, new research suggests, Amy Norton reports for Reuters Health.

Nurse Strike: Some 4,000 nurses are expected to strike for one day at eight Sutter Health hospitals in California on December 22, John S. Marshall reports for the Associated Press. We predict a less than peaceful holiday for patients and hospital staff.

ADHD: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Reporting on Health - The Reporting on Health Daily Briefing*

Do You Really Need 6-8 Glasses Of Water Each Day?

“Bueno es saber que los vasos
nos sirven para beber;
lo malo es que no sabemos
para qué sirve la sed”.
Proverbios y cantares.XLI. Antonio Machado

(‘It’s good to know that glasses
are what can help us drink;
The trouble is, we don’t know
What is the purpose of thirst’)

The one thing you can’t afford to have missing when you start a scientific congress or any other professional meeting is not a notepad, a pencil or even an iPad – nowadays, it’s a bottle of water. Offices, airports, handbags and lecture halls, all of them are bursting with all kinds of bottles. It seems they are essential to work and even to stay alive.

Bordering nonsense, some people desperately search for a bottled water vending machine as soon as they arrive at the airport, even if that means gobbling it down in a minute before walking through the security checkpoints.

It is now a common belief that continously drinking water (6 to 8 glasses a day according to NHS, at least two litres -half a gallon- according to other sources) is the healthy thing to do. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Diario Medico*

The Rise In Cancer Rates May Not Mean More Cancer

Several newspapers in the UK reported this week that cancer rates have risen over the past two decades. That set into motion an analysis by the excellent “Behind the Headlines” service offered by the NHS Choices website. They found this in newspapers:

“Cancer rates in the middle-aged “have jumped by almost a fifth in a generation”, according to The Daily Telegraph, which says that the increase “is thought to be mainly due to better detection of cancers rather than people adopting more unhealthy lifestyles”. The Sun takes the alternate view, saying that doctors are “blaming the rise on obesity and home boozing”. The Daily Mail similarly suggests that lifestyle changes are to blame.”

You don’t have to live in the UK to learn from their analysis.

They wrote:

“One factor contributing to these increases is likely to be higher rates of detection due to the NHS breast cancer screening programme and the PSA test for prostate cancer. The raw data behind these stats also needs to be placed into context: these particular cancer diagnosis rates are drawn from the datasets for England from the Office of National Statistics and similar datasets from registries in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The ONS urges caution when interpreting its data, particularly when looking at trends across time, or differences across regions.

For example, Read more »

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

Cancer Patient Threatened With Legal Action Because He Blogged About Bad Hospital Experience

I’ve recently come across a really controversial story about a cancer patient who blogged and complained about his hospital treatment and has been threatened with legal action by an NHS trust.

Daniel Sencier was worried about delays at Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary and had surgery at another hospital. He complained to North Cumbria University Hospital Trust and it came up with an action plan to improve care.

But Mr Sencier, 59, of Penrith, then received a letter threatening legal action. The trust declined to comment.

Mr Sencier, a photography student, had expected an apology but then received a letter saying the trust would consider legal action if his blog contained “unsubstantiated criticism”.

*This blog post was originally published at ScienceRoll*

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?

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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