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Father To Daughter: The Lessons Of Illness

Ruthie and Andrew

When I was diagnosed with leukemia my daughter, Ruthie, was just two and a half. She has vague memories of our household being turned upside down with worried, hushed conversations and friends and relatives calling A LOT. Because a leading specialist, Dr. Michael Keating from MD Anderson Cancer Center, advised against having treatment right away (something better was coming along), I did not have treatment for more than four years. By then Ruthie was seven. She has vivid memories then of me going off to Houston, accompanied by her mom, for a week of initial treatment and then successive weeks of treatment every month for quite a while back here in Seattle. She also remembers me tired, nauseous and, some days, in bed.  The better memory is me participating in a clinical trial that worked and then returning to a full and active life.

Ruthie and I had never really talked about her observations of this until last night. Now, almost 18, Ruthie will be headed to college soon. It’s been a “journey.” As with many teenagers, they can be rebellious and oppositional, at times. But, in most cases, they eventually return to that loving person you remember. Ruthie has been making that return and, as she does, we’ve been talking more.

Last Friday night Ruthie called me in a panic. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

Making Sure You Have The Right Diagnosis: Tips From An Internet-Savvy Patient

People generally have a sense there might be information on the Web that can help them when they are worried about their health. They also have a sense there is a LOT of information and some of it may be wrong. All of that is true. What is a strategy to find the good and avoid the bad?

This morning, I chatted with Mike Collins, host of “Charlotte Talks” on WFAE, public radio in Charlotte, North Carolina about The Web-Savvy Patient and some of my “Insider Tips” within. We talked at length about how you can get started looking for health information on the Web.

First of all, if you’re worried about your health, make sure you get an accurate diagnosis, and make sure that diagnosis is specific to you. Don’t be satisfied if your health care team tells you that you have a “thyroid problem.” Find out if it is hyperthyroidism or hypothryroidism. It makes a big difference. If you don’t know what you have you will find yourself wandering all over the Internet, discovering information that won’t be right for you. You might be lead to believe that you have a brain tumor, rather than a migraine induced by monthly hormones or the effects of too much coffee (we know that one here in Seattle!). So rule #1 is know the details of your diagnosis and if you don’t feel confident, recognizing some people are misdiagnosed, get a second opinion to confirm it. Then, and only then, should you start your search online. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

When Medical Advice Is Sought From Health Advocates, Not Physicians

It is happening several times a day now. The phone rings. I get stopped at Starbucks, or at the dog park, or at the supermarket. “My friend may have a brain tumor,” “I have been short of breath,” “I am tired all the time.”  Then come the questions: “What do you think I should do? Who should I see?”  I am not a doctor, but people are increasingly looking to me as if I were one. It’s a little daunting.

As you may know, I’ve been producing and/or hosting programs on medical topics for patients since the mid 1980’s. First it was erectile dysfunction, then breast surgery, then multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes – you name it, I’ve interviewed someone about it. Town meetings, live audio webcasts, radio shows, and videos. I feel like I’ve gone to med school two or three times. And like a med student I’ve worried common symptoms could mean the worst diagnosis. That headache could be too much coffee OR it could be a brain tumor. Feeling tired could be you are snoring and have sleep apnea OR you have leukemia.

A number of years ago, having just moved from Los Angeles to Seattle, Hollywood called. A friend sold a 5 day a week medical show to MGM and he needed wife/partner Esther and me to be producers. We were the ones who wrote what flashed on the screen when a patient described their symptoms to one of the real docs who were stars of the show “Group One Medical.”  “I have had some blood in my stool, the patient would say. Flash on the screen: could be hemorrhoids. Could be advanced colon cancer.  We walked around the home/office worrying about every ache and pain. I am told that’s just what med students do. The most mundane could be life-threatening. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

Dr. Lisa Sanders: Medical Detective

If you follow me regularly, you know I enjoy watching the Fox television drama House M.D. on Monday nights (although I often watch the recording later in the week). Doctor Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) is a sorry character but a terrific diagnostician.  In almost every episode someone is on the brink of death from an elusive illness when House’s “light bulb” goes on and, in a flash, he saves the patient’s life by proving himself to being the world’s best medical detective.

Doc Hollywood

Doc Hollywood???

Dr. Lisa Sanders is watching 3,000 miles away in New Haven, Connecticut where she teaches first and second year med students at Yale how to learn to be House-type medical detectives – but much more respectful ones. She is like that herself. She’s so good at it she writes a medical column for The New York Times Magazine. That column was actually the inspiration for the television show. And it won Dr. Sanders a job as technical adviser on the medical drama. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

The “e-Patient” Revolution: Is It Over?

There’s a conversation brewing over use of the term “e-patient.” The online health revolution is over, it’s been suggested. Web use, after all, has become so widely adopted  that the term “e-patient” may have more historical meaning.

Dropping the “e” might indicate that we’ve arrived. I’m not so sure. Perhaps the revolution we thought was going on never entirely took off. Or maybe it’s all about how you define the revolution.

Here’s what I see: Day in and day out, over weeks and months, hundreds of patients visit my clinic. I talk to them candidly about the tools they use and how technology and community is changing how they see their problems. I do the same with friends and family members. And like it or not, they’re a lot closer to “e-Patient 1.0″ than many of us would like to think. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

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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