Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

Bad Science And The Gift Of Medical Skepticism

Discover magazine had an article about Dr. Ben Goldacre, a British physician who writes for The Guardian, is the author of the new book “Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks,” and is considered a gift to skepticism. His column is also called “Bad Science,” and he recently gave a short and interesting talk about non-evidence-based medicine at the Pop!Tech conference held in Camden, Maine. Enjoy!

Ben Goldacre Talks Bad Science from PopTech on Vimeo.

*This blog post was originally published at ScienceRoll*

“Unintended Consequences” Of Cheaper Generic Drugs?

There’s an article in the New England Journal of Medicine entitled the “Unintended Consequences of Four-Dollar Generic Drugs.“ Ever one to hone in on unintended consequences of all stripes, I quickly clicked through. Oh, dear! What bad could possibly come of making drugs significantly more affordable?

Were more people demanding prescriptions for drugs they didn’t really need now that they were so cheap? (Dream on. I’m still twisting arms to get my high-risk cardiac patients to take their generic statins.) Were pharmacies going out of business, no longer to make ends meet without massive markups on brand name drugs, contributing to skyrocketing unemployment and otherwise adding to the country’s general economic malaise? Were cardiologists’ incomes plummeting because of sagging rates of coronary disease now that everyone could easily afford their beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and statins?

Or maybe it was something good. I guess, technically, “unintended” doesn’t automatically equal “bad.” What could it be? So I read. And what did I discover? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Dinosaur*

HRT And Breast Cancer: The Confusion And Debate Continue

A new analysis of long-term data from the Women’s Health Initiative confirms what we already knew the first time around: Use of combination hormone replacement (HRT*) is associated with a small, but real, risk of breast cancer. This new 11-year followup data carries that knowledge out to its not unexpected conclusion — namely, that some (although not most) breast cancers can be fatal, and therefore the the use of HRT can increase breast cancer mortality.

While it may seem a bit of a “duh,” this study was, in fact, necessary to quell the WHI critics who continued to argue that the breast cancers caused by HRT were somehow less aggressive than those occurring off HRT (which they are not.) It was also a wake-up call for many women who were continuing to use HRT and thinking that somehow its risks did not apply to them. A fair number of these women appear to be coming off of HRT, at least in my practice. Others are staying the course and accepting the risks as they have been defined. Either of which is fine with me.

The spin going on around this study — both for and against HRT use — is tremendous and ultimately confusing to women. The pro-HRT crowd (some of whom have relationships to Pharma) is using language like: “The increased risk from using HRT for five years is the same as if your menopause occurred five years later,” which is technically true, but so what?  The bioidentical hormone crowd (usually also selling the same) are using the study to further hype how their regimens are safer than the evil Big Pharma products — based on no data. Which leaves the rest of us to try to find ways to help our patients understand the risks, place them into perspective for themselves, and make a decision about how and if to treat their menopausal symptoms. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at tbtam*

Is Looking At “Long Term” Impossible In Our Healthcare System?

I spent last week in Gothenburg, Sweden covering the European Committee for the Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis (ECTRIMS) meeting. Lots of good science, lots of excitement over the new oral and targeted therapies coming on the market to treat this awful disease. But what I want to write about isn’t the science, but about how it will play out in the brave new world of healthcare in which we all live in today.

For instance, consider the first oral therapy to hit the market: Gilenya (fingolimod), which the FDA approved in September. Last month Novartis announced the price: $48,000 a year.

This is not a rant against the high cost of drugs, however. It is a rant against the inability of our healthcare system to take the long view of the impact of such drugs, a view that is particularly important with a chronic disease like MS that strikes healthy young adults in their early 20s and 30s. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at A Medical Writer's Musings on Medicine, Health Care, and the Writing Life*

“Dollars For Doctors”: Is Your Doctor Being Paid By A Drug Company?

An historic piece of journalism was published today. Six news organizations partnered on the “Dollars for Docs” project — ProPublica, NPR, PBS’s Nightly Business Report, the Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe and Consumer Reports. They examined $258 million in payments by seven drug companies in 2009 and 2010 to about 18,000 healthcare practitioners nationwide for speaking, consulting, and other tasks.

This webpage can be your gateway to the project, with links to a database searchable by doctor’s name or by state, and links to the journalism partners’ efforts:

Boston Globe
“Prescription for Prestige”
The Harvard brand, unrivaled in education, is also prized by the pharmaceutical industry as a powerful tool in promoting drugs. Its allure is evident in a new analysis of all publicly reported industry payments to physicians.

Consumer Reports
“Consumers Wary of Doctors Who Take Drug-Company Dollars”
Most Americans are skeptical of financial relationships between doctors and companies, according to a new, national from the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

Chicago Tribune
“Doctors Draw Payments From Drug Companies”
Follow drug company money in Illinois, and it leads to the psychiatry department at Rush University Medical Center, a prominent headache clinic on the North Side of Chicago, a busy suburban urology practice and a psychiatric hospital accused of overmedicating kids.

PBS
“Nightly Business Report”
A doctor talks about quitting drug company money when their marketing tactics crossed the line.

NPR
“Drug Companies Hire Troubled Docs As Experts”

*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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all book reviews »