To paraphrase Tolstoy, all competence is alike, but every incompetence is incompetence in its own way. Every time I think I’ve seen the horizon of incompetence, I’m dealt a surprise. The sun never sets on incompetence. In health care, incompetence can be found in odd places, such as three recent examples I encountered with third-party payers. Case 1: Downgrading caviar to boiled salmon A patient was referred for a CT angiogram run ...

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When diagnosed with abdominal mesothelioma, a rare cancer with a blighted future, evolutionary biologist and writer, Stephen Jay Gould, turned his attention to the statistics; specifically, the central tendency of survival with the tumor. The central tendency -- mean (average), median and mode -- project like skyscrapers in a populated city and are the summary statements of a statistical distribution. The “average” is both meaningful and meaningless. The average utility of ...

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Diagnostic tests such as CT scans are not perfect. A test can make two errors. It can call a diseased person healthy: a false negative. This is like acquitting a person guilty of a crime. Or a test can falsely call a healthy person diseased: a false positive. This is like convicting an innocent person of a crime that she did not commit. There is a trade-off between false negatives and false positives. To ...

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Josef Stalin famously said: "One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic." Perhaps 250,000 preventable deaths from medical errors, according to an analysis by Makary and Daniel in the BMJ, maketh a Stalin. The problem with Makary’s analysis, which also concluded that medical errors are the third leading cause of death, isn’t the method. Yes, the method is shaky. It projects medical errors ...

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Of life’s two certainties, death, and cataracts, it seems statins defer one and prompt the other, although not necessarily in the same person. If you blindly love life, you may be blinded by your love for life. In the HOPE-3 trial, ethnically diverse people without cardiovascular disease were randomized to 10 mg of rosuvastatin daily and placebo. The treatment group had fewer primary events: death from myocardial infarction (MI), non-fatal ...

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It is possible that in a few months from now, only Nate Silver’s prediction models will stand between Donald Trump and the White House. I will leave it to future anthropologists to write about the significance of that moment. For now, the question, “What will President Trump be doing when he is not building a wall?” has assumed salience. This is relatively easy to answer when it comes to health policy. ...

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"'Normal' is one of the most powerful words a radiologist can use." - Curtis P. Langlotz, professor of radiology, Stanford University After I used “clinically correlate” thrice in a row in my report, the attending radiologist asked, “How would you feel if the referring clinician said on the requisition for the study 'correlate with images'? When you ask them to clinically correlate, you’re reminding them to do their job.” I had been a ...

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Thomas Hobbes described life as pitifully “nasty, brutish, and short.” Thanks to the free market and the state, life is no longer a Hobbesian nightmare. But death has become nasty, brutish, and long. Surgeon and writer, Atul Gawande, explores the medicalization of ageing and death in Being Mortal. Gawande points to a glaring deficiency in medical education. Taught to save lives and fight death, doctors don’t bow out gracefully and ...

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I enjoyed Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Not only did the ingenious Belgian solve the murder so artfully. But someone identifiable is killed, and someone identifiable is the killer. Epidemiological studies are whodunits, too. Except you don’t know who has been killed, what the murder weapon is, or who the killer is. You only know that a murder may have happened. A study found a higher incidence of breast cancer with ...

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I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories. I never believed a second shot was fired. Nor do I believe that Bill Clinton was stalked on the grassy knoll. So I won’t speculate that Martin Shkreli’s arrest for alleged securities fraud that happened years ago is related to his raising Daraprim’s price by 5,500 percent. Just because something isn’t suspicious doesn’t mean that it isn’t odd. Shkreli is a perfect poster child for rapacious ...

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