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Latest Posts

Reducing The Use Of CT Scans In Children

Well, this is satisfying. Over the years, in our ER we have mirrored the nationwide trend and have significantly increased the utilization of CT scans across the board. The reasons are manifold. Some cite malpractice risks, and indeed in our large group we have had one lawsuit for a pediatric head injury and another for a missed appendicitis which probably did contribute. But, in my opinion, there have been many other drivers of the increased use. For one, CTs have gotten way, way better over the last 15 years, which quite simply has made them a better diagnostic tool. They’ve also gotten way faster. As the facilities have invested in CT scanners, they have increased their capacity and increased their staffing, so the barriers to their use have rapidly diminished. I am so old that I remember when ordering a CT involved calling a radiologist and getting their approval! No more of that, I can tell you.

But a couple of years ago, we really started paying attention (perhaps belatedly) to Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*

False Positives And The Dangers Of Too Much CT Scanning

On the US News & World report website, Dr. Kenny Lin writes as a physician and a concerned observer about “Dangers of Incidentaloma: Why To Think Twice Before Getting a CT Scan.”

It’s an important issue. Give it a look.

Lin’s blog, “The Common Sense Family Doctor,” is also worth visiting. Recently he cited one of my alltime favorite essays, “The Last Well Person,” by Dr. Clifton Meador, who wrote in 1994:

“The demands of the public for definitive wellness are colliding with the public’s belief in a diagnostic system that can find only disease. A public in dogged pursuit of the unobtainable, combined with clinicians whose tools are powerful enough to find very small lesions, is a setup for diagnostic excess. And false positives are the arithmetically certain result of applying a disease-defining system to a population that is mostly well. … If the behavior of doctors and the public continues unabated, eventually every well person will be labeled sick. Like the invalids, we will all be assigned to one diagnosis-related group or another. How long will it take to find every single lesion in every person? Who will be the last well person?”

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

CT Scans For Kids: Is The Radiation Exposure Dangerous?

There was an interesting study published this week in the journal Radiology:

Rising Use of CT in Child Visits to the Emergency Department in the United States, 1995–2008 (Abstract)

The results are not surprising to anyone who has been working in medicine in the US over the last fifteen years. Basically, in 1995, a kid visiting the ER had a 1.2% likelihood of getting a CT scan, and by 2008, that number was 5.9%.

I had written about this general phenomon not too long ago, in defense of the general increase of CT utilization in the ER, largely on the basis that CT is a better tool: it provides diagnoses in a rapid and timely manner, and excludes many potential life threats, saving lives and mitigating malpractice risk. That was largely relevant to the adult population, though, and kids are not, as they say, just little adults. The increase in scanning children is more dramatic, especially given the generally lower incidence of disease in kids compared to adults and the chonrically ill. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*

Some Physicians Fear Airport Scanner Radiation, Despite Evidence

In preparation of Internal Medicine 2011 in San Diego this week, the unavoidable choice to make isn’t which sessions to attend, but even before arriving: Will you pass through the airport’s security scanners, or opt for the pat down?

Physicians themselves are split on the issue, with some physicians opting out of repeat scanning in favor of the pat down search.

“I do whatever I can to avoid the scanner,” one physician told CNN. Other physicians interviewed were split on the issue one way or another. But as a frequent flier, this doctor was concerned about the cumulative effect. “This is a total body scan–not a dental or chest X-ray. Total body radiation is not something I find very comforting based on my medical knowledge.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Thyroid Cancer: A Hazard From Radioactive Iodine Emitted By Japan’s Failing Nuclear Power Plants

One of the most abundant substances in the cloud of radioactive steam released by a failing nuclear power plant is iodine-131 — a radioactive form of the element iodine that is found throughout nature. Iodine-131 poses a special health risk because of its cancer-causing effect on the thyroid gland.

The small, butterfly-shaped thyroid sits just below the voice box. From this perch, it controls how fast every cell in the body changes food into energy. The gland’s main product, thyroid hormone, governs the function of the digestive tract, brain, heart, nerves, muscles, bones, skin, and more.

Iodine is a key ingredient that goes into making thyroid hormone. We get this element from ocean-caught or ocean-farmed fish and shellfish, milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, and fruits and vegetables grown in iodine-rich soil.

The human body is surprisingly good at absorbing iodine and storing it in the thyroid gland. That’s a problem when iodine-131 is released into the atmosphere. The thyroid stores it as readily as natural, non-radioactive iodine. As iodine-131 builds up in the thyroid gland, it emits bursts of radiation that can damage DNA and other genetic material. Such damage can remove the normal limits to cell growth and division. Unchecked growth of thyroid tissue is thyroid cancer.

Iodine-131 gets into the body several ways. A person can breathe in radioactive steam released by a nuclear power plant. Fallout — radioactive particles that fall out of the atmosphere and settle onto plants, soil, and water — further adds to the burden when a person eats iodine-131 enriched fruits and vegetables or drinks water containing the isotope. Milk is another vehicle — cows that eat grass sprinkled with iodine-131 make milk that contains it. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health 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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