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Organizing And Administering Our Own Care

Emerging from a foggy year of treatment for stomach cancer, I am vividly aware of how much time and energy it takes to meet the daily demands of a serious illness. When I think back over the past 35 years and my treatment for now four different cancer-related diagnoses, I am amazed by how much has changed. The diagnostic and treatment technologies are light years more sophisticated and effective.

I am also taken aback by how much more we, as patients, and our loved ones who care for us, must know and do to organize and administer our own care in response to a serious diagnosis.

From an economic standpoint, this makes sense: the marketplace drives innovations to become simpler and cheaper. In modern American health care, this means that new drugs, technologies and procedures are re-engineered so they can be offloaded from expensive professionals to patients and those who care for them – and who work for free.

Think about it: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

Herb Adulteration: What’s Really In That Supplement?

As early as 2006, I used to be able to write monthly about US FDA warnings on erectile dysfunction supplements being found adulterated with prescription drugs such as sildenafil, the phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor found in Viagra. These adulteration episodes raised the question of how many anecdotal reports of herbal products “working” had to do with them containing approved medicines.

So common was this practice that FDA created a site in 2008 that was dedicated to this problem: Hidden Risks of Erectile Dysfunction “Treatments” Sold Online. Indeed, these products were more commonly encountered from online retailers and not in health food stores. Other similar practices include bodybuilding supplement being spiked with anabolic steroids and weight loss supplements being adulterated with sibutramine (formerly Meridia), an anorectant removed from the market last year after showing increased incidence of heart attacks and stroke in patients with preexisting cardiovascular disease.

The herbal industry, led by the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), aimed to clean up this problem and launched an initiative called, KeepSupplementsClean.org. Spurred by an FDA letter to the industry on 15 December 2010 of increased scrutiny on the adulteration problem, AHPA actually encouraged FDA to Read more »

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

Managing The Drug Shortage: Many Hospitals Are Buying “Gray Market” Drugs

Severe shortages for life-saving medications have driven a “gray market” in the wholesale drug supply industry, a watchdog group reports.

And the mark-up on gray market drugs is a budget-buster, reports the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization devoted entirely to medication error prevention and safe medication use. Purchasing agents and pharmacists at 549 hospitals responded to a survey on gray market activities associated with drug shortages.

The report includes chilling anecdotes from the respondents about pressure from physicians and administrators to ensure drugs are available, and drastic price gouging from the gray market suppliers. Price mark-ups of 10 times or more than the contract price were reported by about a third of respondents from critical access hospitals and community hospitals, and more than half of university hospitals. Examples include a box of calcium gluconate that cost $750 instead of the contract price of $50 (1,400% mark-up), and a supply of propofol that cost $25,000 instead of $1,500 (1,567% mark-up). Oh, and there’s exorbitant shipping and handling fees, too. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Hospitalist*

Should Pharmacies Limit Teen Access To Protein Supplements?

A strange thing happened to me at a CVS pharmacy two days ago. I was attempting to purchase a protein drink when the girl at the counter asked me to show her my I.D. card. I assumed she meant my CVS savings card and was sincerely confused when she rejected it, saying, “No, your picture I.D.”

I dug through my purse to find my driver’s license while the girl explained,

“You have to be 18 years old to buy this product. I need to type in your date of birth into the computer.”

I wondered if the girl was partially visually impaired – at age 39 I didn’t think anyone would confuse me for a teen (though of course, I would enjoy it if they did), but beyond the amusement of being carded for the first time in over a decade, I was taken aback by the age restriction placed on protein. “I must be really out of the loop,” I thought to myself. “How on earth are teens abusing whey protein? And how did this become so common that CVS instituted a policy against it?”

As it turns out, Read more »

Article Reviews The Effectiveness Of NSAIDs For Arthritis Pain

Recently I gave in and went to see a rheumatologist after more than 3 months of intense morning stiffness and swelling of my hands (especially around the PIPs and MCPs) and wrists which improved during the day but never went away.  It had gotten to the point where I could no longer open small lid jars (decreased strength), do my push-ups or pull ups (pain and limited wrist motion), and OTC products (Tylenol, Advil, etc) weren’t working.  I can’t take Aleve due to the severe esophagitis it induces.  I didn’t want to write a prescription for my self-diagnosed (without) lab arthritis.

BTW, all the lab work came back negative with the exception of a slightly elevated sed rate and very weakly positive ANA.  The rheumatologist was impressed with the swelling, pain, and stiffness and was as surprised as I by the normal lab work.  He thinks (and I agree) that I am in the early presentation of rheumatoid arthritis.  He wrote a prescription for Celebrex and told me to continue with the Zantac I was already taking (thanks to the Aleve).  The Celebrex is helping.

So I was happy to see this article (full reference below) come across by twitter feed.  H/T to @marcuspainmd: Useful review of NSAIDs effects & side effects for arthritis pain: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*

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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