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What “The King’s Speech” Teaches Us About Stuttering

The film “The King’s Speech” won the Academy Award for Best Picture [on Sunday night.] The movie has come in for some criticism for its depiction of the political machinations surrounding the abdication of Edward VIII  and Britain’s appeasement of Hitler. The British-born writer Christopher Hitchens, unsparing and deliciously eloquent as always, puts the politics of  George VI in a far less favorable light than the movie does.      

But ”The King’s Speech” has won almost universal praise for its portrayal of the reluctant monarch’s stuttering, a speech pattern that includes involuntary repetition of sounds and syllables and “speech blocks” that cause prolonged pauses. Many young  children who stutter grow out of the problem, but perhaps as many as one in every 100 adults are affected by the condition, 80 percent of whom are men. Stuttering clusters in families, so researchers have been searching for inherited genes that might cause the condition. Last year, in The New England Journal of Medicine, NIH researchers reported some success with results showing an association between three mutated genes and stuttering, although those mutations are probably responsible for a very small minority of cases. 

It’s been said that ”The King’s Speech” will do for stuttering what “Rain Man” did for autism: Plant a sympathetic view of a disability in the public consciousness. One danger of such a quick infusion of awareness, however, is that it can harden into a fixed, if largely favorable, stereotype. We are finding out — or are being reminded — about all the famous people who have stuttered (many of them writers). First-person accounts are popping up all over the place because of the film. The best I’ve come across is by Philip French, a British film critic, who describes vividly what it was like to listen to the radio broadcasts of the real King George VI, wondering if he would make it to the end “like a drunken waiter crossing a polished floor bearing a tray laden with wine glasses.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Faces Of Medical Error: The Story Of Michael Skolnik

I was very sad and quite angry after watching a powerful video this weekend entitled ”The Faces of Medical Error: From Tears to Transparency.” It’s the story of Michael Skolnik. His mother, Patty, gave me the video when I met her recently. Michael had what may have been unnecessary brain surgery in 2001 and died three years later.

The Skolniks worked on this video as part of an educational campaign on medical error, and they created an organization now named Citizens for Patient Safety. Here’s a trailer to the video:

You can also watch a Today Show segment that profiled the Skolniks from a few years ago:

While much of the message is about medical errors and malpractice, the Skolniks also promote a message of the “critical need for shared decision-making.” In fact, I met Patty at a shared decision-making conference.

If you haven’t heard Michael Skolnik’s story, you should. And if you’re like me, you’ll need a tissue box close by for the sadness, and something else to help with the ensuing anger.

Thanks to Patty Skolnik for sharing the story and the video with me.

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

Is February Heart-Marketing Month?

Heart disease and February: What relationship could be more cozy? From the scary risks of shoveling snow (yep, you could die, so be sure to lift a little at a time), Mercedes-sponsored red dress parades and government-sponsored National Wear Red Day®, to tips for identifying heart attacks in women (men, you need a different month I guess), February has all the important stories to improve your awareness. Such a polite term “awareness.”

But I wonder, now that the Internet is upon us and people are seeing their insurance rates and co-pays skyrocket, if maybe we’re shooting ourselves in the foot with all this heart-month marketing hype. People are sick and tired of testing “just to be sure.” It’s starting to directly cost them a fortune, and people are frustrated at having to pay a fortune for healthcare, let alone heart care.

I know, I know — I should be at the forefront of working with patients to stomp out heart disease. And goodness, people DO need to be attuned to diet, exercise, and weight loss. But the reality is, if we’re giving you the 10 latest tips on how to detect a heart attack, we’re probably a bit too late.

That’s the problem with all these press releases: While there’s a need to raise “awareness” of heart health, there’s also a very real need for people to take us — heart disease professionals — seriously to help cut costs in healthcare here. The last thing our healthcare system needs is more frivolous testing. Yet this is exactly what all this marketing does for our healthcare system — and it helps those with the largest PR budgets most of all. Read more »

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

Cardiovascular Care: Costs Could Triple By 2030

Real total direct medical costs of cardiovascular disease (CVD) could triple, from $273 billion to $818 billion (in 2008 dollars) by 2030. Real indirect costs, such as lost productivity among the employed and unpaid household work, could increase 61 percent, from $172 billion in 2010 to $276 billion.

Results appeared in a policy statement of the American Heart Association.

CVD is the leading cause of mortality and accounts for 17 percent of national health expenditures, according to the statement. How much so? U.S. medical expenditures rose from 10 percent of the Gross Domestic Product in 1985 to 15 percent in 2008. In the past decade, the medical costs of CVD have grown at an average annual rate of 6 percent and have accounted for about 15 percent of the increase in medical spending.

The spending is associated with greater life expectancy, “suggesting that this spending was of value,” the authors wrote. But as the population ages, direct treatment costs are expected to increase substantially, even though lost productivity won’t, since seniors are employed at lower rates.

If current prevention and treatment rates remain steady, CVD prevalence will increase by about 10 percent over the next 20 years. The estimate reflects an aging population, and one that is increasingly Hispanic. To prepare for future cardiovascular care needs, the American Heart Association projected future costs. By 2030, 40.5 percent (116 million) of the population is projected to have some form of CVD. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

“What’s Wrong?” It’s A Generic-Drug Rip Off, That’s What

Cute packaging and product placement in the checkout lane at Duane Reade will get you generic Tylenol for a price equivalent to $50 for 100 tabs, as opposed to $6 per 100 count in the usual package.

*This blog post was originally published at tbtam*

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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