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Expensive Medications: Is The Benefit Worth The Cost?

The concept of cost-effectiveness in medicine is elastic. One’s view on this issue depends upon who is paying the cost. Of course, this is true in all spheres of life. When you’re in a fine restaurant, you order differently when the meal will be charged to someone else. Under these circumstances, the foie gras appetizer and the jumbo shrimp cocktail are no longer luxuries, but are considered as essential amino acids that are necessary to maintain life.

In the marketplace, except in the medical universe, goods and services are priced according to what the market will bear. If an item is priced too high, then the seller will have fewer sales and a bloated inventory. Consumers will not pay absurd prices for common items, regardless of supernatural claims of quality.

  • Would you pay $100 for an ice cream sundae that boasted it was the best in the world?
  • Would you pay $1000 for a tennis racket that promised performance beyond your ability?
  • Would you pay $500 for a box of paper clips that never lose their tension? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

Medical Students Deterred From Primary Care

Primary care physicians are getting paid more, two surveys agree, while hospital employment is rising.

Internists earned $205,379 in median compensation in 2010, an increase of 4.21% over the previous year, reported the Medical Group Management Association’s (MGMA’s) Physician Compensation and Production Survey: 2011 Report Based on 2010 Data. Family practitioners (without obstetrics) reported median compensation of $189,402. Pediatric/adolescent medicine physicians earned $192,148 in median compensation, an increase of 0.39% since 2009.

Among specialists, anesthesiologists reported decreased compensation, as did gastroenterologists and radiologists. Psychiatrists, dermatologists, neurologists and general surgeons reported an increase in median compensation since 2009.

Regional data reveals primary and specialty physicians in the South reported the highest earnings at $216,170 and $404,000 respectively. Primary and specialty-care physicians in the Eastern section reported the lowest median compensation at $194,409 and $305,575. This year’s report provides data on nearly 60,000 providers.

Recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins reported that general internal medicine was one of its top two most requested searches for the sixth consecutive year. Family physicians were the firm’s most requested type of doctor, followed by internists, hospitalists, psychiatrists, and orthopedic surgeons.

Average compensation for internists Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Hospitalist*

Cardiac Defibrillators: Is Research Supporting Their Use Tainted By Financial Interests?

I’ve been working for a couple of months on an in-depth article on personal defibrillators that are implanted beneath the skin of a person’s chest to shock a heart that starts shaking, thereby restoring its normal beating and preventing sudden death.  Discussing these defibrillators is extremely complex, which is why I am spending so much time on researching and writing the article intended to help patients and their families make an informed decision by learning the truth about the devices known as implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) — the good and the bad, your life saved vs nothing happening or the accompanying risks and harm you may receive.  So when I heard that a new study would be presented at the annual scientific meeting this week of the Heart Rhythm Society, a professional organization of cardiologists and electrophysiologists who use cardiac devices in their patients, I made sure to get an advance copy of what would be presented and interview the lead author.

Potentially such a study would be of interest to physicians and to patients considering getting an ICD because it looked at all shocks the defibrillators gave the heart in patients who took part in the clinical trial, including those sent for life-threatening rhythms and in error.  For several reasons, I felt the study is not ready to report to the public.  It is only an abstract.  The full study has not yet been written, let alone published in a peer-reviewed journal or even accepted for publication.  Patients with defibrillators who received shocks were matched to only one other patient who was not shocked, but the two patients were not matched for what other illnesses or poor quality of health they had.  Yet they were matched to see who lived the longest and the study looked at death for all causes, not just heart-related. One critical question the study sought to answer was this:  Do the shocks themselves cause a shortened life (even if they temporarily save it) or is a shortened life the result of the types of heart rhythms a person experiences? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at HeartSense*

Spinal Fusion Device: “From Revolutionary Advance To Public Health Alert”

There are many stories journalists could report on about conflicts of interest and questions about evidence in the treatment of low back pain, perhaps especially with spinal fusion. We talked about many of these with journalists from the American Society of News Editors in a workshop at the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making in Boston in May.

John Fauber of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel hammers one of these issues, looking at how Medtronic’s Infuse product “went from revolutionary advance to public health alert.”

Here’s his story on MedPageToday: “Spinal Fusion Device: A Bone of Contention for FDA.” 

His entire series entitled “Side Effects: Money, Medicine and Patients” is indexed on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel website. The image below is from the Journal-Sentinel’s online story:

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

Waste In The Healthcare System: An Allegory

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am very frustrated with a system that increases cost dramatically and yet reduces what I get paid. The rest of the money is going somewhere, and since it is not improving the overall quality of care, it is mostly waste. We are enamored with MRI scans, stents, and expensive cancer treatments, with little to show for them except increased expenses and a lot of third parties getting rich off of this waste: drug and device manufacturers, medical imaging companies and other para-healthcare industries. This story, which originally appeared at Musings of Distractible Mind, is prompted by my frustration with waste and how it spurs unneeded health care delivery.

Once upon a time there was a land on the ocean. The people lived off of the food from the ocean and were very happy. But as they grew bigger, they had a problem: They made a lot of waste! Yuk! Nobody likes waste. What could they do about all of this that stuff that nobody needed? 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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