Health care

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.

When “life” gets in the way of good health

Lori Wiviott Tishler, MD, MPH
Lori Wiviott Tishler, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

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.

The opioid crisis and physician burnout: A tale of two epidemics

Steven A. Adelman, MD
Steven A. Adelman, MD, Contributor

Like many of us these days, doctors are feeling the pressure of being asked to do more work in less time. This burnout is a big problem for both doctors and their patients, and it has big consequences — some obvious, some less so. In this post, Dr. Adelman explores the relationship between physician burnout and another big problem facing the country — the opioid epidemic.

Avoid this common hazard of being in the hospital

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

A hospital stay can be confusing and disorienting for anyone — but especially for older people, who are prone to episodes of delirium when in the hospital. Several hospital-based programs exist to help identify people at risk for delirium and prevent episodes before they happen. We’ve discussed one such successful program, plus listed tips to help you or your loved one avoid delirium during a hospital stay.

High blood pressure: Why me?

Naomi D. L. Fisher, MD
Naomi D. L. Fisher, MD, Contributor

It can be tough to accept a diagnosis of hypertension. It often causes no symptoms, and when doctors diagnose it, they often mention the consequences that may someday happen if it isn’t controlled. This can be a lot to take in if you’re feeling fine! Fortunately, hypertension is easily controlled — and staying on top of the treatment is the first step toward taming this “silent killer.”

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.

The latest ways to relieve the burden of decision-making at life’s end

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

A POLST order goes beyond what a DNR can cover: it allows you to set your preferences for treatments such as nutrition, pain medicine, and antibiotics at the end of life, and it applies both inside and outside the hospital. However, it’s not without its drawbacks. Ultimately, it’s safest to draw up not only a POLST, but other types of tried-and-true directives, to ensure you get the end-of-life care you want.

Why are doctors writing opioid prescriptions — even after an overdose?

Joji Suzuki, MD

A recent study of nearly 3,000 patients who had an overdose during long-term opioid treatment found that more than 90% of these patients continued to receive opioids — even after their overdose. Poor communication between emergency rooms and prescribing doctors is likely the culprit. What’s more, doctors receive little training in recognizing patients at high risk for overdose, or in treating addiction when they do spot it. An important strategy to address the current opioid crisis is to improve how doctors are educated about opioids.

The empowering potential of end-of-life care

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

There’s almost always something we can do to improve our health and well-being — even at the end of our lives. Palliative care is designed to improve the quality of life for people with life-threatening illnesses and their families by keeping a person comfortable and making sure his or her values and preferences guide the medical team’s actions. For this reason, good communication with your care team — and your loved ones — is essential, even before you or a loved one has developed a serious illness.