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Latest Posts

Medicare’s Deficit Effect On The Economy

Medicare poses a deficit problem, note some very influential analysts. A former Congressional Budget Office head and a former Medicare chief chime in on the scope of the program’s impact on the economy, and the difficulties of trying to scale it back.

Yet, a presidential commission is considering just that among other measures. The 18-member, bipartisan commission released its report weeks ago and was scheduled to have voted today on a shocking scope of deficit-trimming measures that included changes to military spending, Social Security and Medicare, among other areas. But they deferred the vote until Friday to try to garner more votes from members who are also currently elected officials. The panel needs 14 votes and substantive approval from its roster of Congress members to gain serious attention.

In related news for Medicare recipients, the Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that seniors will need hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings to cover health insurance and other out-of-pocket health needs. (NPR, The New York Times, ACP Internist, The Washington Post, Reuters)

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Improving Health For Older Adults

New clinical trials and published research are giving us information on how to improve health in elderly patients. Here are some brief points from the Cleveland Journal of Medicine that were surprising to me:

— Each year 30 percent of people age 65 or older fall and sustain serious injuries so preventing falls and fractures is important. Vitamin D prevents both falls and fractures, but mega doses of Vitamin D (50,000 mg) might cause more falls. A better dose is 1,000mg a day in people who consume a low-calcium diet. 

— Exercise boosts the effect of influenza vaccine.

— The benefits of dialysis in older patients is uncertain, as it does not improve  function in people over age 80. We don’t even know if it improves survival. Older patients who receive dialysis for kidney failure had a decline in function (eating, bed mobility, ambulation, toileting, hygiene, and dressing) after starting treatment.

— Colinesterase inhibitors (Aricept, Razadyne and Exelon) are commonly used to treat Alzheimer disease, but they all can have serious side effects. Syncope (fainting), hip fractures, slow heart rate, and the need for permanent pacemaker insertion were more frequent in people taking these drugs. The benefits of these drugs on cognition is modest.

— A new drug called Pradaxa (dabigatran) will likely prove to be safer than Coumadin (warfarin). Over two million adults have atrial fibrillation and the median age is 75. The blood thinner warfarin is critical for prevention of strokes but it caries a high risk of bleeding and drug levels have to be monitored frequently. Dabigatran will probably replace warfarin, but it will probably also be a lot more expensive.

As I often say, medicine and science are constantly changing and evolving. As new evidence comes forth, physicians and patients need to re-evaluate they way we do things.

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

Progressive Healthcare Rationing: What Will It Look Like?

In prior posts, DrRich introduced his readers to Ezekiel Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., brother of Rahm, eminent medical ethicist, and one of the White House’s chief advisers on healthcare policy. Dr. Emanuel was one of the authors of that recent paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine which admonished American physicians that resistance is futile. He has also famously called upon American physicians to abandon the obsolete medical ethics expressed in the Hippocratic Oath.

The reason the ideas (and pronouncements) of Dr. Emanuel are important is that he presumably will be a major “decider” in determining who will serve on the GOD panels, and how those panels will operate to advance his (and Mr. Obama’s) program of healthcare reform.

So, before we leave Dr. Emanuel to his important duties, let us take one more pass at the views he has expressed, regarding the direction of American healthcare, which we can expect to see manifested in government guidelines and policies in the coming years. In particular, and especially relevant to the subject of this blog, let us view how Dr. Emanuel would direct the rationing of our healthcare. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing Blog*

Prescription Use On The Rise, More Awareness Of Side Effects Needed

Eighty eight percent of Americans 60 years or older take at least one prescription drug and more than two-thirds of this age group take five or more, according to a report by the National Center for Health Statistics. Spending for prescription drugs totaled $234.1 billion in 2008 — more than double what was spent in 1999.

The National Center for Health Statistics excerpted elements of its National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys to prepare the report:

Gu Q, Dillon CF, Burt VL. Prescription drug use continues to increase: U.S. prescription drug data for 2007-2008. NCHS data brief, no 42. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2010.Other key findings include:

— Over the last 10 years, the percentage of Americans who took at least one prescription drug in the past month increased from 44 percent to 48 percent. The use of two or more drugs increased from 25 percent to 31 percent. The use of five or more drugs increased from 6 percent to 11 percent. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

High-Dose Flu Vaccine For Older Adults

Dr. Novella  has recently written about this year’s seasonal flu vaccine and Dr. Crislip has reviewed the evidence for flu vaccine efficacy. There’s one little wrinkle that they didn’t address — one that I’m more attuned to because I’m older than they are.

I got my Medicare card last summer, so I am now officially one of the “elderly.” A recent review by Goodwin et al. showed that the antibody response to flu vaccines is significantly lower in the elderly. They called for a more immunogenic vaccine formulation for that age group. My age group. One manufacturer has responded. Read more »

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

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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