Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Robert Shmerling, M.D., is associate physician and clinical chief of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an associate professor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is an active teacher in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, serving as the Robinson Firm Chief. He is also a teacher in the Rheumatology Fellowship Program and has been a practicing rheumatologist for over 25 years.


Posts by Robert H. Shmerling, MD

The U.S. longevity gap

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

It may surprise some to realize that life expectancy in the United States is lower than in other developed countries. The reasons include higher rates of motor vehicle accidents, drug overdoses, and gun violence. They have a large effect on longevity because they predominantly affect young people. If there is good news, it’s that these contributors are preventable. Other factors that may be more difficult to tackle include inaccessible or unaffordable health care.

What Michelangelo’s hands (can and can’t) tell us about arthritis

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

A recent journal article describes Michelangelo’s hands as depicted in an attempt to figure out potential joint diseases he may have had. Theories suggest some myths and misconceptions about the causes and symptoms of osteoarthritis and gout. This report has implications for today’s medical care. While a picture may tell a story, there is nothing like a thorough, in person exam to know accurately make sense of signs and symptoms.

The times, they are a-changin’ (and bringing new syndromes)

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

If you spend lots of time looking at a screen, you may be at risk for “computer vision syndrome,” a cluster of eye-related symptoms that tend to afflict computer users. But is this really a new “syndrome,” or just a fancy name for eye strain? Here, we explore exactly what a syndrome is — and give you some tips to combat this newest addition to the list of technology-related “syndromes.”

Taking advantage of incidental findings

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

As imaging tests like CT scans and MRIs have become more commonplace, so have incidental findings — abnormalities picked up by the test that weren’t what the test was looking for. In some cases, such as finding calcium deposits in the blood vessels during a routine mammogram, these findings may lead to earlier, potentially lifesaving, treatment for another condition. But in many other cases, these “incidentalomas” are more stressful than helpful.

Tai chi may be as good as physical therapy for arthritis-related knee pain

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Treatment options for osteoarthritis of the knee are limited, and many people turn to surgery as a last resort — so there’s a lot of interest in non-invasive treatments for this common condition. Researchers have just completed a head-to-head trial of standard physical therapy versus the traditional Chinese practice of tai chi, and they’ve found the latter is just as good as the former. If it’s something you’d like to try, go for it!

Here’s something unexpected: Sunbathers live longer

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

You’ve probably been told all your life that spending lots of time in the sun can be bad for you. Surprisingly (and just in time for summer), a new study has reported health benefits — including an extended life span — from sun exposure. But before you shut off the computer and head for the beach, you should know that this study also comes with some important caveats.

The truth about tequila and your bones

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

You may have seen the recent headlines proclaiming that tequila is good for bone health. While that sounds appealing to many, the truth is that there are many caveats to the study behind those headlines. This latest story is just one example of news articles that proclaim our favorite foods, like coffee and chocolate, are actually good for us. As with all these stories, it’s important to look deeper than the flashy headline.

Physical therapy after hip replacement: Can rehab happen at home?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Hip replacement surgery is becoming increasingly common. After this type of surgery, people are required to undergo rehab to help them become stronger and steadier with their new joint. Traditionally, this has involved lots of back-and-forth to physical therapy appointments. But a new study suggests that many people may be able to do their exercises at home instead — with nearly identical results.

Taking your medications as prescribed: Smartphones can help

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Many people don’t take their medications exactly as prescribed. While some do this purposefully, plenty more simply forget. Researchers have studied several different methods to help people remember their medication, but a new study has revealed one that stands out among the rest: texting. While the study does have some limitations, it’s an impressive reminder that the technology sitting in many people’s pockets and purses can be a powerful tool to help them improve their health.

Medical news: A case for skepticism

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Stories about medical research are often presented in a manner that makes the findings seem more significant than they really are. It is important to approach such stories with a degree of skepticism, and appropriately tempered expectations.