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Book Review: “Tabloid Medicine: How The Internet Is Being Used To Hijack Medical Science For Fear And Profit”

This was the Guest Blog at Scientific American on February 23rd, 2011. 

In his new book, “Tabloid Medicine: How The Internet Is Being Used to Hijack Medical Science for Fear and Profit,” Robert Goldberg, PhD, explains why the Internet is a double-edged sword when it comes to health information. On the one hand, the Web can empower people with quality medical information that can help them make informed decisions. On the other hand, the Web is an unfiltered breeding ground for urban legends, fear-mongering and snake oil salesmen.

Goldberg uses case studies to expose the sinister side of health misinformation. Perhaps the most compelling example of a medical “manufactroversy” (defined as a manufactured controversy that is motivated by profit or extreme ideology to intentionally create public confusion about an issue that is not in dispute) is the anti-vaccine movement. Thanks to the efforts of corrupt scientists, personal injury lawyers, self-proclaimed medical experts, and Hollywood starlets, a false link between vaccines and autism has been promoted on a global scale via the Internet. The resulting panic, legal feeding frenzy, money-making alternative medicine sales, and reduction in childhood vaccination rates (causing countless preventable deaths), are sickening and tragic.

As Goldberg continues to explore the hyperbole behind specific “health threats,” a fascinating pattern emerges. Behind the most powerful manufactroversies, lies a predictable formula: First, a new problem is generated by redefining terminology. For example, an autism “epidemic” suddenly exists when a wide range of childhood mental health diagnoses are all reclassified as part of an autism spectrum. The reclassification creates the appearance of a surge in autism cases, and that sets the stage for cause-seeking.

Second, “instant experts” immediately proclaim that they have special insight into the cause. They enjoy the authority and attention that their unique “expertise” brings them and begin to position themselves as a “little guy” crusader against injustice. They also are likely to spin conspiracy theories about government cover-ups or pharmaceutical malfeasance to make their case more appealing to the media. In many cases the experts have a financial incentive in promoting their point of view (they sell treatments or promote their books, for example).

Third, because mainstream media craves David and Goliath stories and always wants to be the first to break news, they often report the information without thorough fact-checking. This results in the phenomenon of “Tabloid Medicine.” Read more »

Personalized Medicine: A 2011 Resolution For You

You are an individual right? To your mom and dad you are/were like no other. Hopefully your family and friends continue to see you as one-of-a-kind. Had you considered your doctor should see you that way too? Not as yet another one with diabetes, or heart disease, or cancer, but as a singular human being with biology that may be different from even the next person through the door with the same diagnosis.

This is the age of “personalized medicine” and it will accelerate in 2011. It is our responsibility as patients to ensure the power of this concept is leveraged for us each time we interact with the healthcare system. This is especially true as we manage a serious chronic condition or a cancer.

Now, in research and in clinical practice there are refined tests to determine what our specific version of a disease is and there are tests to see how a targeted therapy is working in our bodies. In other words, there’s the opportunity to see which therapy might be right for us that might be different than what is right for another person, and then there is the opportunity to monitor the therapy early on to see if it is doing its job. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

Patient Engagement: How Empathy Can Empower Your Patients

In my recent post on KevinMD, “Deeply Connect and Engage Your Patients With Empathy,” I write about how empathy is essential to help empower our patients: “It is with empathy that we can engage and empower our patients.”

Doctors and nurses are leaders in health care.

Being a great leader means having a clear vision, mission or goal. It means being committed, and knowing how to listen and communicate, but it involves much more. It’s about having heart, empathy, and an uplifting spirit.

I value and respect a well written post by Thomas Goetz, author of The Decision Tree: Taking Control of Your Health in the New Era of Personalized Medicine recently published on KevinMD, “How can doctors successfully engage their patients?” Goetz writes about “Five things they should seek to give every patient, strategies to tap the most underutilized resource in medicine, their patient,” however I feel the most critical ingredient is missing, empathy.

Empathy

It is with empathy that we can engage and empower our patients. With empathy and heart we can help our patients feel good, valued and respected. Empathy allows us to engage and empower our patients to take charge of their health and well-being. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Health in 30*

Disease Detected In Exhaled Breath?

A new sensor developed at Stony Brook University may become a clinically useful tool for detecting disease biomarkers in breath. The nanoprobe-based technology is currently able to detect acetone, but should be modifiable to spot other compounds.

From the study abstract:

This paper describes a sensor nanotechnology suitable for non-invasive monitoring of a signaling gas, such as acetone, in exhaled breath. This is a nanomedicine tool comprised of a selective acetone nanoprobe working on the principle of ferroelectric poling sensing, and a microelectronics circuit for comparing the actual sensor signal to a predetermined threshold value, displaying the result using LED signals. This on/off type non-invasive diagnostics platform technology is based on nanotechnology, gives a fast response, it is simple to operate and inexpensive to manufacture, and may truly revolutionize personalized medicine.

Full story: New Sensor Nanotechnology Developed by Stony Brook University Researchers Simplifies Disease Detection…

Abstract in Sensor Letters: Nanosensor Device for Breath Acetone Detection

*This blog post was originally published at Medgadget*

Should Patient Engagement Be Regulated?

Last month in Cambridge I met Twitter friend Bryan Vartabedian, M.D. (Twitter @Doctor_V) at a meeting at Vertex Pharmaceuticals. We’ll cross paths this fall on the conference speaking circuit. [Recently] on his blog he raised a rowdy, rough, but valid point: As e-patients (obviously including me) get into the business, should they/we be regulated? He said:

  • Will industry be required to publicly list monies used for sponsorship, travel and swag support of high profile patients in the social sphere?
  • Should high visibility patients who serve as stewards and advocates disavow themselves of contact with pharma just as many academic medical centers have begun?
  • As is often the case, I don’t have an answer. I’m just raising the questions. Smart questions. My short answer:

    • Fine with me if industry discloses those payments. Nothing to hide.
    • On the other hand, I think it’s nuts and counterproductive for consumers in any industry to disconnect.

    Academic medical centers have tons of evidence of influence corrupting the academic processes that are at the core of (supposed) science. For patient advocates I don’t see that there’s currently a problem that would justify adding regulators, the ensuing budget impact, etc.

    Besides, there’s a key difference: Academics are supposed to vet industry. It’s their job in this context. Patients, on the other hand, are the consumers — the ones the industry’s supposed to serve. Read more »

    *This blog post was originally published at e-Patient Dave*

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