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Why Are Antibiotics Prescribed So Casually And So Frequently?

A good friend of mine and Whistleblower reader contracted the sniffles and received a prescription for antibiotics at a local urgent care center. Nothing newsworthy here. So far this quotidian event sounds like a ‘dog bites man’ story. Had antibiotics been denied, this would have been ‘man bites dog’, as this denial would be a radical departure of standard medical practice, particularly in the urgent care universe.

No doubt, my friend was not assigned the dismissive diagnosis of ‘the sniffles’, but was likely given a more ominous diagnosis of ‘acute upper respiratory infection’, a term that sounds so serious that he might have feared that a 911 call had already been made.

Why are antibiotics prescribed so casually and so frequently? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

Can Primary Care Physicians Keep Specialists From Ordering Too Many Tests?

There are many tips to saving money on medical costs like asking your doctor only for generic medications, choosing an insurance plan with a high deductible and lower monthly premiums, going to an urgent care or retail clinic rather than the emergency room, and getting prescriptions mailed rather than go to a pharmacy.

How about getting your old medical records and having them reviewed by a primary care doctor?  It might save you from having an unnecessary test or procedure performed.

Research shows that there is tremendous variability in what doctors do.  Shannon Brownlee’s excellent book, Overtreated – Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer, provides great background on this as well as work done by the Dr. Jack Wennberg and colleagues on the Dartmouth Atlas. Some have argued that because of the fee for service structure, the more doctors do the more they get paid.   This drives health care costs upwards significantly.  Dr. Atul Gawande noted this phenomenon when comparing two cities in Texas, El Paso and McAllen in the June 2009 New Yorker piece. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*

Aggressive Care: When Is It Better For Patients?

The recurring narrative among health reformers is that hospitals that provide more care raise health costs, but don’t necessarily improve quality. This has lead to a backlash against so-called “aggressive” hospitals and doctors, with upcoming financial penalties to match. But the situation, as always, appears to be more nuanced than that.

In her column in the New York Times, Dr. Pauline Chen looks at one subset of patients who actually may benefit from aggressive care: Those who suffer surgical complications. The study,

found no difference in the rate of complications for aggressive and nonaggressive hospitals. But when they looked at all the patients who had complications and examined their outcomes, the researchers found that regardless of the urgency of their operations, those patients who were cared for at more aggressive hospitals were significantly more likely to survive their complications than those who had their operations at less aggressive hospitals.

In addition, the investigators found that characteristics associated with intensity of care treated surgical complications better:

… a hospital’s failure or success in treating surgical complications correlated consistently with factors that also characterized intensity of care — general expenditures, intensive care unit use and the total days of hospitalization — they found that benefits of this more aggressive care extended well beyond the time of the operation.

I constantly remind readers of this blog that more medicine isn’t necessarily better. The counter-intuitive findings from the Dartmouth Atlas study have been instructive in convincing patients that they are, in many cases, overtreated. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

“Overtreated” Is Underread

My daughter, Elana, home from college on winter break, offered me a book to peruse from one of her classes. She correctly suspected that her father, the MD Whistleblower, would enjoy reading a book authored by a whistleblower pro.

The book, “Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer” by Shannon Brownlee should be required reading for first year medical students, who have not yet acquired views and habits that promulgate excessive medical care and treatment. For those of us already in practice, this book should be a required element of board recertification.

Brownlee understands the medical system well and describes a culture of excess, conflicts of interests, absence of universal quality control mechanisms and fractured and disorganized care with no one in charge of a particular patient. She presents some chilling anecdotes of medical tragedies that have occurred at our most prestigious medical institutions. And she introduces us to reform leaders who understand the system’s inherent deficiencies and their proposals to remedy them.

Brownlee states that explanations for waste in the healthcare system include:

  • Cost of a gargantuan bureaucracy
  • Medical malpractice fear and defensive medicine
  • Incentives for patients with medical insurance to overutilize care
  • Rising medical costs

The most important cause, she argues, is unnecessary medical care, which costs the nations hundreds of billions of dollars and exposes patients to the risk of harm from medical complications. She writes, “If overtreatment were a disease, there would be a patient advocacy group out there raising money for a cure.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

“Simple Blood Test” For Cancer: Breakthrough Or Nightmare?

That’s the question Dartmouth’s Dr. Gil Welch asks in a column on the CNN website. He reflects on [recent] news about a test in development that might find a single cancer cell among a billion healthy ones — as so many news stories framed it. Welch analyzes:

“But it’s not that simple. The test could just as easily start a cancer epidemic.

Most assume there are no downsides to looking for things to be wrong. But the truth is that early diagnosis is a double-edged sword. While it has the potential to help some, it always has a hidden side-effect: overdiagnosis, the detection of abnormalities that are not destined to ever bother people in their lifetime.

Becoming a patient unnecessarily has real human costs. There’s the anxiety of being told you are somehow not healthy. There’s the problem that getting a diagnosis may affect your ability to get health insurance. There are the headaches of renewing prescriptions, scheduling appointments and keeping them. Finally, there are the physical harms of treatments that cannot help (because there is nothing to fix): drug side-effects, surgical complications and even death. Not to mention it can bankrupt you.

Americans don’t need more diagnoses, they need the right diagnoses.

I don’t know whether this test will help some patients. It might, but it will take years to figure that out. 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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