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Universal Cardiac Screening For All Young Athletes?

It’s heart wrenching when young athletes die of sudden cardiac death (SCD). Last week the death of Wes Leonard, a Michigan high school star athlete, was especially poignant since he collapsed right after making the game-winning shot. This sort of tragedy occurs about one hundred times each year in America. That’s a lot of sadness. The obvious question is: Could these deaths be prevented? Let’s start with what actually happens.

Most cases of sudden death in young people occur as a result of either hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), an abnormal thickening of heart muscle, or long QT syndrome (LQTS), a mostly inherited disease of the heart’s electrical system. Both HCM and LQTS predispose the heart to ventricular fibrillation — electrical chaos of the pumping chamber of the heart. The adrenaline surges of athletic competition increase the odds of this chaos. Unfortunately, like heart disease often does, both these ailments can strike without warning.

Sudden death is sad enough by itself, but what makes it even worse is that both these ailments are mostly detectable with two simple painless tests: The ECG and echocardiogram (heart ultrasound). Let’s get these kids ECGs and echos then. “Git ‘er dun,” you might say.

On the surface the solution seems simple: Implement universal cardiac screening of all young athletes. And you wouldn’t be alone in thinking this way. You could even boast the support of Dr. Manny Alvarez of Fox News and the entire country of Italy, where all athletes get ECGs and echos before competing. But America isn’t Italy, and things aren’t as simple as Fox News likes to suggest. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

Questioning The Annual Pelvic Exam

A new article in the Journal of Women’s Health by Westhoff, Jones, and Guiahi asks “Do New Guidelines and Technology Make the Routine Pelvic Examination Obsolete?”

The pelvic exam consists of two main components: The insertion of a speculum to visualize the cervix and the bimanual exam where the practitioner inserts two fingers into the vagina and puts the other hand on the abdomen to palpate the uterus and ovaries. The rationales for a pelvic exam in asymptomatic women boil down to these:

  • Screening for chlamydia and gonorrhea
  • Evaluation before prescribing hormonal contraceptives
  • Screening for cervical cancer
  • Early detection of ovarian cancer

None of these are supported by the evidence. Eliminating bimanual exams and limiting speculum exams in asymptomatic patients would reduce costs without reducing health benefits, allowing for better use of resources for services of proven benefit. Pelvic exams are necessary only for symptomatic patients and for follow-up of known abnormalities. Read more »

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

Managing Patient Uncertainty

How comfortable are we with uncertainty? I struggle with this question every day. I treat children with abdominal pain. Some of these children suffer with crohns disease, eosinophilic esophagitis, and other serious problems. Some children struggle with abdominal pain from anxiety or social concerns. I see all kinds.

But kids are tricky, and sometimes I can’t pinpoint the problem. Trudging forward with more testing is often the simplest option since it involves little thinking. And some parents perceive endless testing as “thorough.”

The question ultimately becomes: When do we stop? Once we’ve taken a sensible first approach to a child’s problem and judged that the likelihood of serious pathology is slim, when and how do we suggest that we wait before going any further? This requires the most sensitive negotiation. It’s about finding a way to make a family comfortable despite the absence of absolute certainty. This is easier said than done. Parents can unintentionally advocate for themselves and their worries by insisting on the full-court press. Alternatively they may refuse invasive studies when absolutely indicated.

All of this is for good reason: You can’t be objective with your own kids.

Pediatrics is tricky business and managing parental uncertainty is perhaps my biggest preoccupation. As I’ve suggested before, sometimes convincing a family to do less represents the most challenging approach.

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

In The ER With Abdominal Pain? Lower Your Diagnosis Expectations

Abdominal pain is the bane of many emergency physicians. Recently, I wrote how CT scans are on the rise in the ER. Much of those scans look for potential causes of abdominal pain.

In an essay from Time, Dr. Zachary Meisel discusses why abdominal pain, in his words, is the doctor’s “booby prize.” And when you consider that there are 7 million visits annually by people who report abdominal pain, that’s a lot of proverbial prizes.

One reason is the myriad of causes that lead bring a patient to the hospital clutching his abdomen. It can range from something as relatively benign as viral gastroenteritis where a patient be safely discharged home, to any number of “acute” abdominal problems necessitating surgery.

But more importantly, we need to consider how limited doctors actually are in the ER. Consider the ubiquitous CT scan, which is being ordered with increasing regularity:

The pros: CT scans are readily available, able to look at every organ in the abdomen and pelvis, and very good for ruling out many of the immediately life-threatening causes of belly pain. CT scans can also reduce the need for exploratory surgery. The cons: Often, CTs can’t diagnose the actual cause of ER patients’ abdominal pain. Worse, CTs deliver significant doses of radiation to a patient’s abdomen and pelvis (equivalent to between 100 and 250 chest X-rays). Over a lifetime, patients who receive two or three abdominal CT scans are exposed to more radiation than many Hiroshima survivors.

Add that to the fact that patients expect a definitive diagnosis when visiting the hospital — one that doctors can’t always give when it comes to abdominal pain. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

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*

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