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Talk To Patients Before Running Tests

The Associated Press ran a provocatively-titled piece recently, “Family health history: ‘best kept secret’ in care”, which noted how a geneticist at the Cleveland Clinic discovered that asking about family members and their history of breast, colon, or prostate cancer was better than simply doing genetic blood testing.

Surprising? Hardly. This is what all medical students are taught. Talk to the patient. Get a detailed history and physical. Lab work and imaging studies are merely tools that can help support or refute a diagnosis. They provide a piece of the puzzle, but always must be considered in the full context of a patient. They alone do not provide the truth. Read more »

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

How Your Health Insurance Can Save Your Life

The Sacramento Bee recently ran the following opinion piece of mine below. A couple of additional comments not published follow. Enjoy. 

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Viewpoints: Choice of health plan can be a lifesaver

It’s that time of year when most of us pick a health insurance plan based simply on cost. It’s a belief that is often perpetuated by friends, family, and advice dispensed by many articles in magazines and newspapers. As a practicing primary care doctor, I can tell you that the advice is frankly wrong.

Health insurance isn’t a commodity like auto insurance. It’s not just about the price. They aren’t all equally good at keeping you healthy and well. The recent annual report by the National Committee of Quality Assurance, which has been evaluating health plans for twenty years, continues to report tangible differences among health insurance plans across the country as well as in California.

In a ranking of 227 HMO plans nationwide in important areas like immunization rates for children, appropriate use of antibiotics, blood pressure and cholesterol control, cancer screening in adults for breast cancer, cervical cancer, and colon cancer, only two of nine California HMO health insurance plans ranked in the top 15 percent. The remaining seven were in the bottom half. If all health plans across the country performed at the level of the top 10 percent, 186,000 Americans would be alive today. They would have consistently and routinely received the preventive care and medical interventions that have proven to save lives. Read more »

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

Dr. Abraham Verghese: The “Top Gun” Of American Medicine

The first-year medical students I precept were too young to see Tom Cruise’s alter ego Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell grace the big screen in the 1986 blockbuster film “Top Gun.” Yet, the story has a relevant analogy to medicine. 

According to the film, during the Vietnam war American pilots were relying too much on technology to bring enemy fighters down. They weren’t as skilled in taking out the opposition. They fired their technologically advanced missiles to try and get the job done. They didn’t think. It didn’t work. They forgot the art of dogfighting.

The military discovered that technology alone wasn’t going to get the job done. The best fighter pilots needed the skills, insight, and wisdom on when to use technology and when not to. As a result, the Navy Fighter Weapons School, known simply as Top Gun, was created to retrain the military pilots on this vital lost skill. The goal of the program was specifically to make the best of the best even better.

Like the military, the country is discovering that the healthcare system enabled with dazzling technology isn’t getting the job done either. Read more »

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

How To Pick Good Health Insurance

Unless your doctor is a policy expert, in healthcare administration, a researcher, an author or blogger, I seriously doubt he will be reviewing an important report card that helps you pick the best health insurance plan that keeps you healthy. Published annually by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), this year’s report card ranks 227 health plans across the country on their ability to keep you healthy and well, treat you quickly, and how patients feel about their insurance coverage.

Because unlike banking or airlines where there is not much difference in ATM machines or planes, there is a big difference in whether a health insurance plan helps in keeping its enrollees healthy. Do children get their vaccinations? Do healthy mothers get screened for breast cancer or cervical cancer with mammograms and pap smears respectively? Do kids only get antibiotics appropriately for strep throat and not overtreated and unnecessarily when they have a viral illness or cold? Are adults over 50 screened for colon cancer (something Dr. Oz can relate to). Read more »

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

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*

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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