It is sadly true that people of color cannot necessarily expect to receive the same quality of medical care in this country as whites. And unfortunately, discrimination by patients toward doctors is another problem that the medical community needs to address. To overcome the racism and discrimination that lead to health care disparities, doctors and patients need to identify and manage our own implicit biases.
One of the biggest challenges for doctors and their patients is making decisions without complete certainty, so they must work together to determine the point at which the risk of further testing ceases to be acceptable. A patient’s personal values and health goals are important factors in health decisions, especially in the face of uncertainty.
As the practice of medicine evolves, electronic medical records can simplify care and help make it more thorough, but the tools that help make doctors more efficient, have real consequences for how doctors interact with their patients, and one another. Doctors must work harder to maintain good communication and relationships with their patients and colleagues.
Researchers compared the diagnostic accuracy of human doctors with various symptom-checking services available online, but online diagnostics won’t be replacing humans anytime soon. While the doctors weren’t perfect, they consistently did better than the computer programs. The study investigators suggest that eventually such programs might be able to help physicians to improve their diagnostic accuracy.
Medical errors are responsible for several hundred thousand deaths per year, and the tendency has been to keep quiet about them. Doctors and institutions should embrace greater openness about errors in order to learn from them and improve healthcare for everyone.
In April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new screening test for colon cancer, making it the first blood-based test for this type of cancer. While this test does make it more convenient for people to get screened for colon cancer, it is also less exact than the current screening methods. It is important to discuss your risk factors and screening options with your doctor.
Generic versions of drugs are just as effective as their name-brand counterparts, and they cost less than the brand names. Although there are various reasons why your doctor might not always recommend switching to the generic version, it is important to speak with your doctor about the cost of your prescriptions and ask if there is a generic version available.
Although the United States spends more on healthcare than other developed countries, it has the lowest life expectancy and performs poorly in terms of health outcomes. In order to address the problems with the current healthcare system, some doctors and health policy experts suggest transitioning to a single payer healthcare system, where a single public agency would take control of financing healthcare for all residents. Proponents of this system suggest it could better control overall healthcare costs, improve health inequalities and a move towards a universal healthcare system that would provide better care for uninsured or under-insured Americans.
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.
As it turns out, the things your doctor spends so much time focusing on at your yearly check-up account for just 10% of your health needs. Over half of the total “picture” of your health comes from social, environmental, and behavioral factors. This means that people who have unmet environmental needs — such as being unable to afford healthy food — suffer real consequences to their physical health. We’ve described one initiative that aims to change that.