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Showing posts from November, 2009

Framing a conference on making health care affordable

Tomorrow will be my first attempt at bringing the health care providers from my community together to discuss how we can change our practices to make health care more affordable.I approach it with some level of trepidation due to the fact that doctors can be pretty defensive about change. Nevertheless in many one on one conversations I’ve noticed that all of us are to some extent disgusted by how much health care costs, and by the fact that this means that many people don’t have access to good care.So what will I say to a group of internists, nurses, family practitioners, radiologists, orthpedists and surgeons (if they show up)?I hope that it won’t be me talking at them, since I already know what I think. But I will have to get the whole thing rolling.I am co-facilitating this with a radiologist who is motivated to change our doctors’ ordering habits for radiological procedures so they are at least ordering the right tests and not repeating tests unnecessarily.I intend to say:I’ve t…

We the people who love food too much

We the people who love food too muchNovember 23, 2009 by janiceboughton Every year we tell the story of pilgrims, coming to a new land to seek religious freedom, nearly wiped out by hunger and disease, and saved due to their resolve and some good advice by native Americans. I will not speculate on how much of that is true, but it is our story. We then tell the story of a meal shared to celebrate and express gratitude for their survival.The original Thanksgiving feast was probably not much of a spread. We have gone far in the last 200+years to make amends for that. I personally never remember a Thanksgiving celebration when it was possible to fit all of the food I wanted on one plate.Corn was one of the reasons that our predecessors survived. It grew easily, was forgiving of nasty weather and inadequate soil, and now is our major cash crop. We produce huge amounts of it, and so we make all kinds of stuff out of it, and instead of scrawny pilgrims, we are now round, well fed, and increas…

Pap smears and mammograms: what's the story?

If you've been watching the news, you may have seen some historic changes in recommendations about cancer prevention. There have been news releases regarding a change in the recommendations for mammogram screening by the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). Women in the 40-50 year old age group are now only encouraged to have regular mammograms if they are at increased risk of breast cancer, due to the fact that this test often finds non-existent of unimportant abnormalities in this age group that, on the whole, makes them less, not more, healthy. This will save women thousands of dollars and countless hours of time and energy at a time in their lives when that time and energy is a real gift.

Today I read that the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology now recommends starting pap smear screening at 21 for most people, and reducing the frequency in that first decade to every 2 years. I have studied evidence based recommendations for pap smears for years, and the formu…

cool things we should all want (not)

Three articles in the most recent New England Journal of Medicine describe more new medical technology, and have made me curl my toes in mental conflict.1. A pacemaker that goes into both the right and left chambers of the heart, rather than just the right side, preserves heart function better, according to ultrasound tests. It is a much trickier (read inaccessible, expensive, desirable) procedure than the standard one, and the patients don’t actually feel any better or act any healthier than with the standard kind of pacemaker.2. Giving an intravenous iron supplement that I’ve never heard of before (new) (they didn’t test the ones I have heard of before) can improve heart function and health in patients who have congestive heart failure and are iron deficient. How odd that they didn’t evaluate oral iron supplements which have been generic since before I was born and are the standard treatment for iron deficiency. Is it just possible that the new product will be the only product appr…

Sermon to Unitarians on health care reform: Healing America's health care system

(this is really long compared to my usual stuff, but some people may want to read it anyway. It is a compressed synopsis of my many mini-essays that I delivered today at church.)

I love my job. It is possibly the best job that anyone could ever have. I get the chance to meet people of incredible diversity, and participate in decisions that they make about some of the most important aspects of their lives. I hear amazing stories. I get to solve mysteries, or at least try to solve mysteries. I get to interact with other doctors, who are some of the most interesting and committed people I know.

In the years I have practiced medicine I have been impressed often with the compassionate and effective care we can give to people regardless of their ability to pay for it, regardless of their social status, race or nationality.

So when I say that the American health care system is broken, I say it with love, and with the frustration that comes of knowing how good it can be.

The major problem that I…

unthinkable thoughts about preventive medicine

Of course it’s true that preventing disease is less painful and less costly than treating disease. Or is it?Take the recent New York Times article ( addressing mammogram and prostate cancer screening. Apparently over the last 20+ years of screening with mammograms, we have been able to discover many more breast cancers that are small, and might never have been noticed, and probably never would have progressed to the point of hurting anybody. This has given rise to alarming statistics, such as the one that breast cancer incidence has risen 40%.We have long known that detecting prostate cancer early, especially in older men, finds many cancers that would never have caused any injury and would never have been noticed had we not screened the men. When we find cancer, we usually remove it, and for women with breast cancer this means amputation of a breast or radiation therapy, and often chemotherapy. For men with prostate cancer th…