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Why Is Healthcare Reform So Complicated?

A common question that I get as a practicing physician with a public health background is: “Why is healthcare reform so complicated?” I feel that the question of who’s responsible for healthcare payment is not always an easy one to answer. An example from my most recent weekend on call covering an academic pediatric endocrinology practice demonstrates this point:

“Bill” is a 16-year-old African American male on state Medicaid insurance with type 1 diabetes since the age of 10.  He is followed regularly every three months by another colleague in the endocrinology clinic. Review of his last several clinic notes on the electronic medical record reveal that he has been in moderate control of his diabetes on NPH/Novolog twice-daily insulin regimen. Approximately one year prior he was changed to this insulin regimen due to concerns with missed insulin shots on another insulin regimen that provided superior control but which required four shots of insulin daily rather than the two shots daily on his current regimen. Read more »

The Simple Truth About Cholesterol

The New York Times recently ran a piece that wondered if doctors were treating patients with cholesterol-lowering medication unnecessarily because a web-based calculator over estimated a person’s risk. The program was proudly sponsored by the pharmaceutical roundtable and was available at the American Heart Association.

The implication was obvious. Simple tool determines an individual’s risk for heart attack or death from heart attack. It over estimates risk. Patients treated unnecessarily. To be also clear, the program did underestimate risk as well.

Unfortunately, the article missed an important point. While the simplified calculator may not be as accurate as the more complex algorithm used by the National Cholesterol Education Program, the truth is doctors are likely to be overtreating patients not because the former program is presented by the pharmaceutical roundtable, but for another reason. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*

Minnesotans Get More Lower-Back MRIs: Why?

Kudos to Christopher Snowbeck and the St. Paul Pioneer Press for digging into new Medicare data to report that the state the newspaper serves is out of whack with the rest of the country in how many expensive MRI scans are done on Minnesotans’ bad backs.

Snowbeck artfully captures the predictable rationalization and defensive responses coming from locals who don’t like what the data suggest. Because what they suggest is overuse leading to overtreatment. So here’s one attempt a provider makes to deflect the data:

“The Medicare billing/claims data, which this report is generated from, would not capture conversations between a patient and provider that may have addressed alternative therapies for lower back pain,” said Robert Prevost, a spokesman for North Memorial Health Care. “It’s important to recognize the limitations of this data.”

No, data don’t capture conversations. But wouldn’t it be fascinating to be a fly on the wall during those many patient-physician encounters that led to an MRI to see what level of truly informed shared decision-making (if any) took place? Read more »

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

The Male Menopause Story: Journalists All Over The Map

An article on the Knight Science Journalism Tracker comments on German media coverage of the “Is there male menopause?” question. An excerpt:

One study, but very different types of headlines: “‘Male Menopause’ discovered” and “Men have no Menopause.” Both types of headlines are based on one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which analyzed 3219 European males between 40 and 79. Blood samples provided testosterone levels and questionnaires (!) asked about the “general, sexual, physical, and psychological health.”

What the scientists found was nothing more and nothing less than a correlation between a low testosterone level and three clinical symptoms (“decreased frequency of morning erection, decreased frequency of sexual thoughts, and erectile dysfunction”). So, one could call it an age-related testosterone deficiency, affecting only a minority (about 2%) of elderly men.

But one shouldn’t name it “andropause” or “male menopause” — and the scientists themselves did NOT use the term in the whole article — because this term immediately suggests a relation to menopause, which is a completely different and natural developmental phenomenon for every woman above the age of 50. Read more »

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

Too Much Testing And Treatment? Try Superb Primary Care

The Associated Press has been running a fantastic series of must reads with the latest article highlighting the consequence of too many imaging studies, like X-rays and CT scans, which are the biggest contributor to an individual’s total radiation exposure in a lifetime. Americans get more imaging radiation exposure and testing than people from other industrialized countries.

Reasons for doing too many tests include malpractice fear, patient demands for imaging, the difficulty in obtaining imaging results from other doctors or hospitals, as well as advanced technologies, like coronary angioplasty, which have increased radiation but avoid a far more invasive surgery like heart bypass. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*

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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