The first instinct of a bureaucracy is self-preservation, and health care bureaucracies are no exception. This rule applies not only to government agencies, but to academic and industry settings as well. This was the conclusion I came to after listening to a panel of scientist and physician "whistleblowers" at the Selling Sickness 2013 conference in Washington, DC. One by one, they described their painful discoveries that widely prescribed medications ...

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An editorial by two oncologists in the New Year's issue of Annals of Internal Medicine discusses overdiagnosis, a controversial health problem that some have called "a modern epidemic" but others, including the editorialists, feel is a minor concern. Although many chronic conditions are overdiagnosed, cancer is the most thoroughly studied, as well as the most emotionally charged. I am a generally healthy man with no family history ...

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When I heard in October that Superstorm Sandy was projected to make landfall somewhere in the vicinity of DC and Maryland, I prepared for the worst. I stocked up on non-perishable goods and evacuated to higher ground. (The rest of my family was already coincidentally out of town and harm's way.) I put fresh batteries into two flashlights and installed a flashlight app on my smartphone for good measure. Although I ...

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Flu season has begun in the U.S., and in addition to familiarizing themselves with the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice's vaccination guidelines for the 2012-13 season (offer influenza vaccine to everyone 6 months of age or older), physicians should consider how they plan to diagnose patients with suspected influenza. Despite the availability of multiple antiviral medications for influenza, whom to treat remains a ...

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The American Cancer Society designated an October weekend weekend "Suits and Sneakers Awareness Weekend" as part of its annual Coaches vs. Cancer program that featured well-dressed basketball coaches wearing "sneakers instead of dress shoes with their usual game attire during weekend games to demonstrate their support for the Society and the fight against cancer." The idea is to encourage people to exercise and eat a healthy diet to reduce ...

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Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finalized new recommendations for one-time screening for the hepatitis C virus (HCV) in all persons born between 1945 and 1965, a generation better known as the "Baby Boomers." The CDC's new recommendations were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Previously, the CDC only recommended that persons with behavioral or medical risk factors for HCV be routinely tested. Its rationale for expanded ...

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Public health leaders must often tell people things that they don’t really want to hear. “Stop smoking.” “Eat a healthier diet.” “Exercise for at least 30 minutes each day.” To motivate people to heed these messages, leaders construct simple narratives to communicate the potential harms of undesired health behaviors and the benefits of desired ones. Who wants to spend their golden years tethered to an oxygen tank for every moment ...

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Enthusiasm for lung cancer screening has never been higher, following last year's report from the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) that heavy smokers who underwent 3 rounds of low-dose computed tomography (CT) screening were 20 percent less likely to die from lung cancer compared to a similar group that was screened with chest x-rays (a "placebo" intervention that another study found to be ineffective). My own institution, Georgetown University Hospital, was one of the ...

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Doctors of my generation have experienced dramatic changes in the way we access the information we need to care for patients. As a medical student 15 years ago, my "peripheral brain" consisted of fat textbooks sitting on office bookshelves or smaller, spiral-bound references stuffed into the bulging pockets of my lab coat. As a doctor-in-training, I replaced those bulky references with programs loaded onto PDAs. Today, smartphone apps allow health ...

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In "Big Med," his latest article on health care in The New Yorker, surgeon-writer Atul Gawande added the Cheesecake Factory to his running list of health care analogies (which have included, among others, farming, pit crews, and airline safety). Observing that the Cheescake Factory and other upscale restaurant chains successfully lower costs and improve quality by "studying what the best people are doing, ...

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