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Light Shed On The Corruption Of The RUC

Interesting [recent] front-page article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) about the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Relative Value Scale Update Committee (RUC). From the WSJ:

Three times a year, 29 doctors gather around a table in a hotel meeting room. Their job is an unusual one: divvying up billions of Medicare dollars.

The group, convened by the American Medical Association, has no official government standing. Members are mostly selected by medical-specialty trade groups. Anyone who attends its meetings must sign a confidentiality agreement. […]

The RUC, as it is known, has stoked a debate over whether doctors have too much control over the flow of taxpayer dollars in the $500 billion Medicare program. Its critics fault the committee for contributing to a system that spends too much money on sophisticated procedures, while shorting the type of nuts-and-bolts primary care that could keep patients healthier from the start — and save money.

I’m glad to see the RUC getting some much-needed scrutiny, and skeptical scrutiny at that. But they miss the point with the “fox watching the henhouse” angle, or at least they paint with too broad a brush. Read more »

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

Traditional Science Vs. Public Health Quackery: Does Health Lose?

I recently read an article by Heather MacDonald entitled “Public Health Quackery” that has not left my thoughts since. The truth in regards to what determines health is being argued in the article.

At the heart of the article, MacDonald seeks to contrast the traditional science approach with the miasmatician approach to the fundamental question of the role of individual behaviors vs. socioeconomics on the determinants of health. MacDonald summarizes the miasmaticians’ beliefs of health determinants as being exclusively influenced by socioeconomics thereby dismissing any and all influences on health by individual behaviors.

Her primary argument in favor of the traditional science belief in individual behaviors as determinants of health is as follows: Traditional science bases assumptions of truth on data that is valid by scientific standards vs. miasmaticians’ assumptions of truth from biased, “flimsy” data. In other words, “quacky” ideas come from “quacky” data thus are not likely to be true. Read more »

Health Insurance: New Survey Reveals Record Number Of Uninsured

Last month the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual survey on health insurance coverage. The results were startling, yet few politicians seemed to take notice:

— The number of people with health insurance declined for the first time ever in almost two decades. In fact, as reported by CNN this is the first time since the Census Bureau started collecting data on health insurance coverage in 1987 that fewer people reported that they had health insurance: “There were 253.6 million people with health insurance in 2009, the latest data available, down from 255.1 million a year earlier.” The percentage of the population without coverage increased from 15.4 percent to 16.7 percent.

— Almost 51 million U.S. residents had no health insurance coverage at all, a record high, and an increase of almost five million uninsured from 2008.

— Fewer Americans received health insurance coverage through their jobs, continuing a decade-long trend. The number covered by employment-based health insurance declined from 176.3 million to 169.7 million, reports the Census Bureau. Based on the Census numbers, the Economic Policy Institute observes that “the share of non-elderly Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance declined for the ninth year in a row, down from 61.9% in 2008 to 58.9% in 2009, a total decline of 9.4 percentage points since 2000.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The ACP Advocate Blog by Bob Doherty*

Does It Matter What The Hospitalist Thinks?

I read this article about a young child with heterotaxy syndrome with great interest. Not because I find heterotaxy syndrome something of great fascination, but because of the lack of communication — on both ends of the spectrum:

Even though 5 other Dr. all came in and listened to his lungs and said that he didn’t sound like he was wheezing and that his lungs sounded really good. But because this hospital is overly political, process driven, bureaucratic, and in a constant state of litigious fear they are unable to make any conclusions based on actual medicine and patient care. Common sense is blown out the window when you  have a system were a hospitalist one year out of medical school has an opinion that is as valuable as a cardiologist with 25+ years experience.

But in fairness, they all had to “really consider her opinion.”

So they went and got a pulmonologist to evaluate him, which Scott and I were very happy about because there was nothing in the world that would’ve made me more happy in that moment than to have her proven wrong. Which she was.

The whole article is a case study in stress, distrust, and legalism. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Happy Hospitalist*

In The News: Political Doctors, Antibiotic Resistance, And Stem Cell Research

Medical organizations are donating heavily to doctors running for the U.S. House. Dentists, ophthalmologists, radiologists, surgeons, neurologists and ENTs have contributed heavily. The goal is to get doctors onto committees where they can have the most impact. So far, the candidates have trended heavily Republican and have, in at least one campaign, vowed to overturn healthcare reform. The stakes are high if opposing legislators succeed, because they could underfund or block portions of reform to the point that it works poorly or not at all. (Politico, New England Journal of Medicine)

Spurred by antibiotic resistance seen in almost every drug class, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, FACP, is turning the agency’s attention toward animal feed. With little to no development of new antibiotics in the pipeline, the agency is discussing regulations for animal feed and guidelines for human use. (Wall Street Journal)

Scientists should be able to use stem cells for biomedical research, according to a recent Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll. Almost three quarters of adults surveyed are in favor of using embryonic stem cells left over from in-vitro fertilization. These poll results remain consistent with a similar survey released in 2005. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

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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