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Missing The Point: Various Representations Of The Same Study

A paper presented at the 2011 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) breast cancer symposium this week has drawn all kinds of news coverage – and much of it is off the mark – even in the eyes of one of the American Cancer Society’s top docs.

The paper concluded:

“Results of this study validate the importance of annual screening mammography in women older than 50 years, and women aged 40 to 49 years recently omitted from screening guidelines. There was an increased prevalence of palpation (breast self exams) for the method of detection in women less than 50 years of age. If screening mammography is omitted in this group, cancers when detected may be of a more advanced stage and result in more mastectomies. This study also supports the use of palpation as a method of detection despite recent recommendations against teaching self breast exams by the USPSTF (US Preventive Services Task Force).”

WebMD’s lead sentence was: Read more »

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

WebMD Worries That Possible Misinformation On Their Website Will Result In Legal Action

More and more patients these days are seeing their physician pull out an iPhone or iPad to look up drug dosing information, review lab and radiology data, or help teach them more about their medical condition. And as developers, and the increasing number of physician-developers, continue to find more creative ways to bring medical resources to the point of care, we can certainly expect smartphone platforms and medical apps to become pervasive at the bedside. However, just as healthcare providers and patients are noticing this trend, there are number of others who are paying attention as well – for WebMD, one of the largest companies in this industry, it is the lawyers who may be watching that are worrisome.

As they put it in their annual statement to the SEC,

If our content, or content we obtain from third parties, contains inaccuracies, it is possible that consumers, employees, health plan members or others may sue us for various causes of action.

We’ve talked in the past about potential liability issues for healthcare providers using medical apps and the developers who produce them, as well as similar issues related to electronic health records. The fact that WebMD found the issue significant enough to report it to the SEC and their investors clearly indicates the issue is still unresolved and the remainder of their statement adds some further interesting perspective. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at iMedicalApps*

Ibuprofen-Parkinson’s Study: Few News Organizations Report On It Accurately

We’re delighted to see that USA Today, Reuters, and WebMD were among the news organizations that included what an editorial writer said about an observational study linking ibuprofen use with fewer cases of Parkinson’s disease. All three news organizations used some version of what editorial writer Dr. James Bower of the Mayo Clinic wrote or said:

“Whenever in epidemiology you find an association, that does not mean causation.”
“An association does not prove causation.”
“There could be other explanations for the ibuprofen-Parkinson’s connection.”

Kudos to those news organizations. And some praise goes to the journal Neurology for publishing Dr. Bower’s editorial to accompany the study. His piece is entitled, “Is the answer for Parkinson disease already in the medicine cabinet? Unfortunately not.”

And unfortunately not all news organizations got that message. Because many don’t read the journals, so they certainly never get to the editorials. Instead, they rewrite quick hits off a wire service story. As a result, we end up with some of the following:

A story was particularly deaf to Bower’s caveat, stating: “That bottle of ibuprofen in your medicine cabinet is more powerful than you may think.”

A story never addressed the observational study limitation, instead whimsically writing: “Pop a pill to prevent Parkinson’s disease? A new study says it’s possible, and the pill in question isn’t some experimental marvel that’s still years away from drugstore shelves. It’s plain old ibuprofen.” Read more »

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

How Reliable Is Health Information On The Web?

Recently some Science-Based Medicine (SBM) colleagues (David Gorski, Kimball Atwood, Harriet Hall, Rachel Dunlop) and I gave two workshops on how to find reliable health information on the Web. As part of my research for this talk I came across this recent and interesting study that I would like to expand upon further: Quality and Content of Internet-Based Information for Ten Common Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Diagnoses.

The fact that the article focuses on orthopedic diagnoses is probably not relevant to the point of the article itself, which was to assess the accuracy of health information on the Web. They looked at 10 orthopedic diagnoses and searched on them using Google and Yahoo, and then chose the top results. They ultimately evaluated 154 different sites with multiple reviewers for quality of content and also for their HON rating. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Health News Consumers Tired Of Misinterpreted Studies

People aren’t dumb. Even if — or maybe especially if — news stories don’t point out the limitations of observational studies and the fact that they can’t establish cause-and-effect, many readers seem to get it.

Here are some of the online user comments in response to a story that is headlined, “Coffee may cut risk for some cancers“:

* “I love how an article starts with something positive and then slowly becomes a little gloomy. So is it good or not? I’m still where I was with coffee, it’s all in moderation, it ain’t gonna solve your health woes.”

* “The statistics book in a class I’m taking uses coffee as an example of statistics run amuck. It seems coffee has caused all the cancers and cures them at the same time.” 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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