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Latest Posts

A New Way To Wash Your Hands?

Forget the debate over soap and water vs. alcohol sanitizers. Soon you may be cleaning your hands with plasma. The New York Times is reporting on research into plasma as a method of hand cleaning. Basically, you’ll stick your hand in a little box for a few seconds and then the plasma will zap all the germs, including MRSA. The technology is not ready for action yet, but sounds pretty cool. Except for one thing–if you look at the photos that accompany the article, you’ll notice that a normal-looking human hand is inserted in the box, but the hand that comes out the other side (in the next photo) looks creepy and synthetic. What else is that plasma doing?

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Hospitalist*

Walking While Texting And The NYT’s Typo

Today the NY Times printed a piece that pokes fun at, and highlights the dangers of, the new habit of texting-while-walking:

This summer, the American College of Emergency Room Physicians released a statement expressing concern about the issue, citing a Chicago doctor who was seeing a lot of face, chin, eye and mouth injuries among young people who reported texting and tumbling.

Hmm… I’m a member of ACEP, but I’ve never heard of ACERP. Is it some rival organization of emergency physicians whose practice is confined to four walls? Or, in its rush to condemn new technologies that enable communication on-the-go, has the New York Times abandoned the traditional practices of editing and fact-checking? 

*This blog post was originally published at Blogborygmi*

Drugs To Prevent Cancer? The NYT Misses The Devil In The Details

In yet another article addressing the war on cancer, The New York Times today tackles cancer prevention, focusing on alternative and mainstream Pharma products marketed to reduce the risk for cancer.

While author Gina Kolata seems to have done her homework when it comes to the failure of alternative medicine to prevent cancer, she has missed the story completely when it comes to telling why the medical profession and patients may have failed to embrace Big Pharma’s push to use their drugs to prevent breast and prostate cancer. Of course, that’s not surprising since almost exclusively, the experts she interviewed were those who conducted the clinical trials of these drugs. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Blog that Ate Manhattan*

What Do Americans Want From Their Healthcare System?

I read a good post from NYT about Health Care Reform and ‘American Values’ and it got me a thinkin’…just what are American Values when it comes to health care? Usually I get a little anxious when I see “American Values” in a sentence, because what usually follows is something about rugged individuality, pulling oneself up by bootstraps, getting the damn government out of our lives and those damn immigrants and welfare mothers who won’t work and want to live off others.

But I have listened to about ten thousand patients over the past 25 years, and I have a good idea of what these Americans want for health care. They are the silent majority…the people who work, study, raise their kids and seldom call into a radio talk show. They don’t have time to go to town hall meetings and shout slogans.

They range from age 17 to 101 and most of them are middle class. They come in all races…Asian, Black, White, Pacific Islander and mixes of all.

Some are wealthy enough to have multiple homes and private planes.
Some are uninsured and watch their health care spending very closely. Most were thrilled to get Medicare and I’ve never heard a complaint from a Medicare patient.

Here is my list of what these Americans think about Health Care:

  • They do agree that everyone should be covered for basic health care and would pay higher taxes if they could believe that there would not be fraud and waste. (The recent banking meltdown has destroyed all confidence that government can regulate or be independent from special interests)
  • They want choice of physicians and hospitals
  • They are sick of insurance companies and all feel like they have been screwed in one way or another. They are shocked at how little insurance companies pay toward the doctor visit and the way those fees are discounted.
  • They are technocentric and want tests, imaging, referrals and think “more is better” when it comes to health care. They think tests are cures. Because of the perverse incentives, the “more is better” philosophy benefits doctors and hospitals, but not necessarily patients.
  • They fear losing insurance if they have it.
  • They are confused about the current reform debate and mostly fear losing whatever coverage they now have, because they know how impossible it is to get by without any coverage at all.

There are no such thing as “American Values” because we are a diverse group of people. But we all have certain things in common. We want to be healthy. We don’t want to be screwed by anyone (big business or the government).

We want to be able to manage our own health care but we don’t want to have to decide between numerous health plans every year with pages of information that cannot be understood. We are tired of not knowing where all the $trillions really are being spent.

We want to know the price of a service up front, and we want a trusted physician to help us decide if that is how our money should be spent. We want smart, committed physicians to know us, and not hurt us.

Sounds American to me.

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

Accepting The Death Of My Mother

20010921-babbaFor years my friends and patients have told me how surprisingly shocking the death of an elderly parent can be.  We know it’s inevitable yet the finality is jarring.  But knowing and KNOWING are two different things.  So her son the doctor reacted just like so many others when my mother died unexpectedly last March at 86 after falling and striking her head.  I found it hard to get my arms around the idea that my mother was no longer alive.

I received an outpouring of beautiful condolence letters and contributions but have only written a handful of thank you notes.  My undoubtedly over-simplistic armchair psychiatrist explanation is that if I don’t write the notes then maybe she didn’t die.  And I’m not alone in my behavior.  My 90-year-old father, married to my mother for over 66 years, asked me a few months after her death if it was ok that he was pretending she was still alive.  “Absolutely,” I replied.  “That’s why God invented denial.”

My mother lived totally in the moment.  She’d start to peel an orange and would say “at this moment this orange hasn’t seen the light of day.”  Every morning she would look out the window at our breakfast table and say, “Good morning, dogwood tree.”  More often than not, whatever she was experiencing was “the best ever.”  The best ever sunset was the one she was watching.  The best ever salad was the one she ordered at our last lunch alone together a few weeks before she died.  Her best ever meal was the one she had just finished.  She did not want to waste a single second, as was reflected in a hilarious essay she submitted to the New York Times upon turning 75.  It was rejected; so here is the world premiere {link to NYT submission below}.

My wife had the idea to plant a dogwood tree on the top of the beautiful Vermont hill where we had sprinkled my mother’s ashes.  Yesterday my family gathered under cloudy skies for the ceremony.  One of my two sons sang a beautiful song he had composed using the lyrics of a poem called “Growing” that my mom had written when my three sisters and I were little.


Goodnight sweet baby and goodbye
I’ll see you as you are no more.
For dusk has settled in the sky
And you have wondrous dreams in store.
As you sleep, a magic hand will touch you
And you’ll grow more wise.
Tomorrow morning you’ll awaken
New and different in my eyes.

This morning my father admitted that he still finds it hard to accept she’s gone and sometimes imagines that “she’s just out shopping.”  But we’re both starting to accept that we’ll see her as she was no more.  This afternoon I’m going to start writing thank you notes in earnest.  Well, maybe tomorrow.


Dear Editor:

I just celebrated my 75th birthday, and do you know what?  I’m better than ever!  Well, I guess you could say I’m stronger than ever.  No, not in my muscles, which can be developed and maintained during regular workouts in the gym, but in my mind, which gets a daily ongoing on site workout.  I now have the strength of my convictions, something I never had when I was young because in those days I always aimed to please, so that everyone would like me.  I have now become much more assertive, more determined, more stubborn, and more aware of the passage of time, and as I calculate how much of it I have left, I have made a firm decision not to waste one moment of it.

With that thought in mind, here are some resolutions I’ve made to myself for the New Year:

1. I will not open unsolicited advertisements in the mail.  This includes 10 million dollar lotteries and free trips to the Caribbean.  Into the garbage they go!

2. I will not make dinner dates with boring people.  This includes people who didn’t used to be boring but are now.

3.  I will not put off doing things that I want to do.

4.  I will not attend meetings out of a feeling of obligation.

5.  I will not play singles rather than doubles in tennis or play an extra hour because I’m afraid to say no.

6.  I will not ride when I can walk or walk when I can ride, depending on how I feel at the time.

7.  I will not take part in long phone conversations with talkative people who are boring.

8.  I will not dress up to go out if I feel like wearing a shirt, sneakers and jeans.

9.  I will not shop ’til I drop.  I never did and I certainly won’t start now.

10.  I will not agree with someone unless I really do.  I won’t be afraid to express my opinion.

11.  I will hang up instantly on phone solicitors with no apology whatsoever.

12.  I will remove the tag from each and every mattress that I own with absolutely no fear of penalty of the law, and when I make the bed I won’t always do hospital corners.  Sorry, Mom!

13.  I won’t be afraid to break a date if something better comes along.

14.  I plan to make a lot of money selling something on Internet.  Don’t know what yet.

15. I will not be intimidated by a surly maitre d’ or waiter. I won’t be afraid to send something back if it’s not to my liking, and if the rolls aren’t hot, back they’ll go.

16.  I’ll squeeze the toothpaste from the top of the tube–so there!

17. I’ll watch every Seinfeld rerun, all Frasier episodes and all Woody Allen movies.

18. I will wear white before Memorial Day and after Labor Day if I want to.

19.  I will always remember that health takes priority over everything, and I will guard it carefully.

20.  I will keep smelling the roses and seeing, tasting, touching and hearing the world about me for a long, long time.

Happy New Year!!

Elsa LaPook

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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