Ben Stiller—one of the few comedians on this side of the pond who can make me laugh—said prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing saved his life. I suspect he wasn’t being funny. Stiller had Gleason Grade 7 localized prostate cancer. Is he right? The honest answer is that we don’t know for certain. Before I get granular, we must visit proof, level of proof and burden of proof. The statement, “there’s no ...

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Publishing in the BMJ, Vinay Prasad, an oncologist and health care’s leading evidence-based iconoclast, found that over half of medical reviewers who leave the FDA work for device and pharmaceutical industries. Prasad’s findings created disquiet amongst purists of various stripes. The media was shocked and tried shocking people by showing how shocked it was. The ...

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It is the beauty of evidence-based medicine (EBM) that a scientist can at once be a Pope and a Galileo. His transmutation is as effortless as it is discretionary. If you think you’ve met Galileo -- a rebel, a free thinker, a rocker of the establishment -- the following week he is a Pope, castigating detractors, censoring critics, and celebrating uniformity. He changes by a roll of the dice. His ...

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It is selfish of a leader of a nation to drop dead during office. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, died suddenly at 74, apparently from a ruptured aneurysm. His aneurysm, allegedly, had something to do with Edwina Mountbatten, the wife of Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India. Shortly after Nehru’s death, Pakistan attacked India. Nehru’s replacement, Lal Bahadur Shastri, died mysteriously in Tashkent two years after Nehru’s death, ...

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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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In times of shortage, we find out what we value most. And in these times of relative penury in the job market for radiologists, it appears that employers value -- above and beyond anything else -- the general radiologist. Yes, the general radiologist. The radiologist who is able and willing in one shift to perform a barium enema, follow the intricate anatomy of the inner ear on an MRI of the ...

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The iconoclastic psychiatrist Thomas Szasz said that mental illness was metaphorical, not real, because mental diseases lacked biological substrates. The absence of a substrate predisposes psychiatry to overdiagnosis and avoiding overdiagnosis is psychiatry’s biggest challenge. This challenge has been taken up by Allen Frances in Saving Normal. Like Szasz, Frances writes in cultured, erudite prose. Unlike Szasz, Frances believes that psychiatric illnesses are real. To save the mentally ill, to save ...

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Britain’s health secretary wants to uncharm his way to a revolution. To galvanize support for a seven-day National Health Service (NHS), which the NHS was before Jeremy Hunt’s radical plans, and still is, he asserted that thousands die because there is a shortage of senior doctors during weekends. This is an expedient interpretation of a study which showed that mortality was higher in patients admitted on weekends. Hunt ignored the
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Recently, I was dining with elite radiologists. In that uncomfortable silence between dessert and the check, I said, “radiology must shift the traditional paradigm by creating value streams using disruptive innovation to leverage population health to build strong ecosystems and a robust ectoplasm.” I was experimenting if excreted verbiage hastens the check. Instead, it sparked a vigorous conversation about disruptive innovation, compelling me to drink more cognac. In health care, no two ...

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The Lown Institute advocates rational use of medical resources. This is a noble goal and worthy of the attention of radiologists. It was recently RightCare Action Week: Here are five simple things any radiologist can do that week, and the following weeks. This will improve patient care by avoiding unnecessary tests. 1. Speak to the referring clinician, at least sometimes, if not often, perhaps twice a day. The conversation need ...

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Recently, I was speaking with a less is more advocate. He used his superior knowledge of statistics -- he had an MPH -- to debunk randomized controlled trials. We discussed overdiagnosis, overtreatment, and the shakiness of medical sciences. We spoke about measuring the quality of physicians. I remarked that quality metrics have as much evidence as Garcinia Cambogia -- we had just laughed about Dr. Oz. I expected a chuckle. Instead, ...

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