Tanya Altmann, MD
It’s been a little while since I had a “blonde moment” during an expert interview, but this one was pretty funny. I was in the middle of a podcast with Dr. Tanya Altmann, media personality and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, about vitamin D – when I thought I heard her say that there were now special formulas of vitamin D for incense.
I knew that Dr. Altmann practiced medicine in Southern California, so I wasn’t terribly surprised about this new method of vitamin delivery. However, I hadn’t heard about vitamin D inhalation previously, so I asked her to explain how this new incense formula worked.
She paused to gather her thoughts and then corrected me: “No, I was saying that there’s a new formula for INFANTS…”
Oh. My bad.
So here’s the rest of our delightful interview. You may want to listen to the podcast, though I did edit out the awkward “incense” section so as not to start a new cult. One doesn’t want to give others too many ideas on the Internet! I hope that Dr. Tanya won’t think less of me for that misunderstanding.
Dr. Val: What is vitamin D, and why do we need it?
Dr. Tanya: Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for your entire body. Although it’s called a vitamin it actually functions as more of a hormone, playing an important role in the immune system. Vitamin D can help to protect people against illness, diabetes, and even cancer, though its role in helping to build strong bones (and protect infants from rickets) is probably its best known attribute.
Dr. Val: Tell me about the new AAP guidelines for infants, children and adolescents. Why did they change?
Dr. Tanya: Based on data collected in several recent research studies, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidelines last month which essentially doubled the recommended daily amount of vitamin D (from 200 to 400 IUs) for infants, children, and adolescents. Historically people were able to get sufficient amounts of vitamin D through sun exposure (the body can create vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight), but now that we need to protect kids from sun’s harmful rays due to future skin cancer risk, vitamin D levels have dropped significantly. Sunscreen, of course, blocks the sun from stimulating the creation of vitamin D in the skin. Read more »
Former Good Morning America host, Joan Lunden, is getting behind the personal health record industry. As the daughter of a physician, Joan grew up believing that she’d become a doctor one day. She told me that all that came to a screeching halt when she “realized that she didn’t like blood or stitches.” But Joan has always kept women and children’s health advocacy initiatives close to her heart. She will soon be starring in a new Lifetime TV show called Health Corner. I caught up with her about her recent work with PassportMD.
Listen to the podcast here, or read a summary of our discussion below.
Dr. Val: Tell me about your experiences in taking care of your mom, and what led you to become involved with a PHR company.
Lunden: I lost my brother to type 2 diabetes a little over a year ago. As it happens, he had been managing my mom’s medical care, and so with his loss I needed to step in and take it over. Of course she lives on one coast and I live on the other. I’ve got 4 little kids (two sets of twins) and three young adult children. It becomes really daunting to keep track of everyone’s medical care. Around that time I met some folks from PassportMD, and when they showed me how easy it could be to keep everyone’s records in one place, I said, “this is exactly what I need.”
I think I’m really typical of a lot of women out there in what we call “the sandwich generation.” Today a high percentage of women with small children are working outside of the home. It’s really a lot to juggle – a career, raising a family, and getting everyone to the doctor on time – forget about getting YOU to the doctor on time. As good as we women are at nurturing others, we tend to be at the bottom of our own to-do lists.
What I really love about PassportMD is not just the organization (I can immediately see all my kids’ vaccination schedules for example) but the fact that I’m building a family medical history. It’s so important to know your family history so that you can engage in appropriate screening tests and take preventive health measures. This PHR even sends you reminders when its time for immunizations, mammograms, or other appropriate screening tests.
Dr. Val: As a doctor I’ve encountered resistance to PHRs from patients because they don’t want to have to enter all the data themselves. They’d like it to be auto-populated with their medical record data so that they don’t have to start from scratch. Has the PassportMD tool solved that problem?
Read more »
On November 3, 2008 the US Supreme Court will hear opening arguments in the Wyeth vs. Levine case. This highly publicized lawsuit has been discussed by the New York Times and the Journal of the American Medical Association and will likely be the most important case during the upcoming Supreme Court term. However, neither source has fully explained the unexpected consequences to the consumer if Wyeth loses.
To get to the bottom of the issue, I interviewed Bert Rein, attorney for Wyeth. Bert has conducted interviews with NPR and the three major TV news networks. Please enjoy this exclusive podcast interview here at Getting Better with Dr. Val, or read my summary of our conversation below.
Dr.Val: Bert, please summarize for our listeners what has happened so far in the Wyeth vs. Levine case.
Rein: Ms. Levine is a guitarist who suffers from migraine headaches and associated nausea. One day she sought pain management therapy at a clinic in northeast Vermont – the same clinic where she regularly received care. They elected to treat her with a combination of demerol (for pain) and phenergan (for nausea). They delivered the drugs intramuscularly, but several hours later Ms. Levine returned, complaining of an unrelieved migraine headache.
The clinic’s physician realized that the drugs would be more potent if they were injected intra-venously so he asked the PA (physician assistant) to give another dose of the drugs through Ms. Levine’s vein. Unfortunately, the PA inserted a butterfly needle (rather than the usual heplock for an IV) into what she thought was Ms. Levine’s vein, and delivered the phenergan into or near a punctured artery. Phenergan’s label clearly states that the drug can cause tissue necrosis if it comes in contact with arterial blood. Ms. Levine experienced a necrotic reaction to the medication which resulted in the eventual amputation of her arm. She sued the clinic for negligence and was awarded $700,000 dollars in a cash settlement.
Ms. Levine then brought a separate lawsuit against Wyeth, claiming that the phenergan label did not offer sufficient instructions about how to administer it safely, though the risks of necrosis from arterial blood exposure to phenergan are well known and labeled in capital letters as a warning on the drug’s label. Read more »
Genetic testing is all the rage. Thousands of tests are now available over the Internet, costing people anything from $60 to $3000 per test. While some DNA sequences are fairly well understood (like the BrCA gene or the chromosomal anomaly that causes Down’s Syndrome), most of them are only loosely associated with specific diseases and health outcomes. Experts agree that one day we’ll have a better understanding of the complex interplay of multiple gene sequences, but that day is still far off.
A recent post at GigaOM (h/t to KevinMD ) was critical of genetic testing in general, noting its potentially prohibitively expensive consequences:
Somewhere between 10 and 50 percent of autopsies reveal diseases other than the one that killed the patient. If consumers test themselves, then tell their doctors, the medical system could wind up treating 50 percent more diseases than it does today — even those that wouldn’t have killed the patient.
I interviewed Dr. Joanne Armstrong, senior medical director for Aetna, and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, about the current state of genetic testing. To listen to the full conversation, please click here.
Dr. Val: First of all, could you tell me a little bit about your work, and what got you interested in genetics in the first place?
Dr. Armstrong: I am the head of the Women’s Health division of Aetna, and about 8 years ago when BrCA testing (the test for predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer) became widely available, I began thinking about the educational initiatives that needed to support this testing. I knew that it would become part of mainstream medical practice and wanted to make sure that patients understood the tests and what to do about them.
Dr. Val: In your view, what are some legitimate and appropriate genetic tests?
Dr. Armstrong: There are about 1200 genetic tests available now, and most of them are not medically appropriate or clinically valid. Read more »
I had the pleasure of speaking with Tony-award winning actor and Broadway star, Ben Vereen about his recent diagnosis of diabetes. Ben has had an extremely accomplished career, including recent guest appearances on NBC’s Law and Order, and ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. He’ll appear in an upcoming Fox feature with Patti Labelle called, “Mama, I Want To Sing” so don’t miss it.
To listen to a podcast of our interview, please click here.
Dr. Val: Ben, how exactly were you first diagnosed with diabetes?
Vereen: Unfortunately, prior to my diagnosis I didn’t recognize the signs of diabetes and didn’t understand what was causing my symptoms. I had dry mouth, frequent urination, severe thirst, sugar cravings and fainting episodes and didn’t realize they were all caused by diabetes. One day my daughter saw me pass out and she took me to the hospital. It didn’t take them long to figure out that my blood sugar was out of control. They kept me overnight and told me the next day that I had diabetes. I was shocked because I thought I was exercising regularly and eating well – it never occurred to me that I could have diabetes.
Looking back I realize that I had been told once (about 8 years ago) that I had “a touch of diabetes” but I thought it had gone away because of my good eating habits and exercise. I wish I had thought to follow up on that diagnosis and ask my primary care physician to check my blood sugar regularly.
Read more »