After I graduated from medical school, my very first real ward rotation as an internal medicine intern was at the VA.  Therefore, I can say with absolute certainty that all the stuff being said about the VA health system is true.  The place is a mess. Let’s start with the computer system.  The VA medical record system has been held up as an example of an effective EMR system, in which ...

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Carrie is a 72-year-old retired real estate agent with a high school education. She raised three kids, but they do not talk to her anymore.  Since her husband died, Carrie has lived alone.  A melanoma was removed from her right shoulder 2 years ago.  In my office, we stare at the CT scan display of a mass in her right lung. “What does that mean?” “Well, we wouldn’t know for sure until ...

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The prevailing sentiment in pop-culture nutrition -- propagated in books, blogs, and blather; documentaries and diatribes -- is that everything we thought we knew about diet and health until yesterday is wrong. Actually, we have a much bigger problem than that. To one degree or another, everything we thought we knew about nutrition is right -- and we are obligated to do something about it, or stay fat and sick. That's ...

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Recently in one of the Johns Hopkins Hospital's intensive care units, a patient was dying from cancer and sepsis, and there was nothing that I, nurse Mandy Schwartz or anyone else could do to stop it. Yet as the patient’s family -- two daughters and a husband -- suffered at her bedside, Mandy saw their need for comfort, and she responded. Although she was busy with nursing tasks, she delved ...

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After I left my position as a staffer for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in November 2010, it was three years before I was tapped for another guideline post, this time at the American Academy of Family Physicians. Recently I joined the AAFP's Commission on Health of the Public and Science, which formulates guidance for family physicians on a variety of topics, including clinical preventive services. My appointment coincided ...

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I have long been a fan of the Case Records of the Massachusetts General Hospital, which is published weekly in the New England Journal of Medicine. For many years, I made a point of recommending them to medical students and internal medicine residents as a model of concise yet comprehensive case presentations. No wasted words, no missing information, and none of the filler that trainees often added when they presented cases, such ...

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Painful wait times at the doctor’s office.  It’s an old story with few exceptions. As a dad, I have to deal with many of the same issues of parenting that you deal with: sleepless nights , fevers and holding my kids down for shots (my wife did it once, I think, then she promptly retired from this job).  However, waiting at the pediatrician is not something I have to do.  So, I can’t truly empathize ...

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Next in a series. Years ago while in oncology training, I was on night duty when a patient of one of my colleagues was having severe penile pain. He had received a new investigational chemotherapy and it turned out to have an unexpected property of damaging the lining of the bladder and urethra. It gave him a strong uncontrollable urge to urinate yet each time the burning was excruciating. Oral ...

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Palliative surgery is tough stuff. Nobody wins much, and it often challenges one's ability to think clearly, let alone to tell the truth. Sometimes, I think, it borders on the deceptive; it makes me wonder who's the object of comfort. And yet, when there's nothing else to do, it's often just the right thing. I hate it. To be clear: We're talking about surgery to relieve some sort of specific problem, ...

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It is unethical not to be compassionate when you are a physician.  Treating people or their families poorly isn't helpful to anyone in a stressful situation.  But a big problem exists there - ethics is not taught in medical school.  Then again, neither is compassion.  So where do you learn them?  Can you learn compassion, or is it something you just have? Or don't have? She could have been anyone's grandmother.  White ...

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