Health care

Guns and your health

Wynne Armand, MD
Wynne Armand, MD, Contributing Editor

Many people choose to own guns for sport or protection. But from a physician’s standpoint, guns create as many — or more — problems than they solve. Several studies have found that guns injure or kill far more people, often unintentionally, than they’re intended to protect.

New cures for hepatitis C — but are they affordable?

Gregory Curfman, MD
Gregory Curfman, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publications

Recently, several new drugs have been developed to treat hepatitis C, a serious viral infection that can cause severe liver damage if allowed to run unchecked. But these new drugs are incredibly expensive, and are unaffordable for many people who need them. Until drugs for hepatitis C (and other high-cost drugs) are priced at affordable levels, many people will be left unable to benefit from modern advances in drug therapy.

Does fewer PSA tests mean less prostate cancer?

Charlie Schmidt
Charlie Schmidt, Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Disease

Fewer men are being given PSA tests to screen for prostate cancer. As screening rates have fallen, so have the number of prostate cancer diagnoses. This probably also means that fewer men are receiving potentially unnecessary treatment, with its attendant negative side effects. At the same time, it isn’t yet clear whether that comes at the cost of more aggressive cancers being caught at an incurable stage. Better screening tests may make the difference in helping strike the right balance between limiting harm and preventing prostate cancer deaths.

Medicare Advantage: When insurance companies make house calls

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

Home visits from insurance companies reimbursed by Medicare are intended to help ensure that patients who are frail or have chronic health conditions can still get coverage. However, these visits may also contribute to higher health care costs. Before you welcome your health plan’s clinician into your home, here’s what you should know.

Imaging tests: Using them wisely

Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH
Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans are among the many advanced imaging options available to doctors and patients today. Although these tests have revolutionized medical care, they also come at a cost. But not only are these tests expensive — many of them expose patients to radiation, and all of them can reveal potential problems that turn out to be harmless, but require follow-up tests to be sure. Rather than have insurance companies act as gatekeeper, it may be more effective to have clinicians consult with imaging experts when deciding on which, if any, tests are necessary.

The myth of the Hippocratic Oath

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

Many people think of the Hippocratic Oath as the embodiment of ideal medical ethics. But today, the original oath is rarely a part of the initiation of new medical students. And despite its original good intentions, it no longer offers adequate guidance for the complex scientific and ethical challenges that arise in the modern practice of medicine.

Yoga and meditation offer health care savings—and you can do them at home

Marlynn Wei, MD, JD
Marlynn Wei, MD, JD, Contributing Editor

Results from a recent study show that people enrolled in a mind-body relaxation program (that included yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral skills) used 43% fewer medical services than they did the previous year, saving on average $2,360 per person in emergency room visits alone. But you don’t need to participate in a formal program to reap the many benefits of these practices. Many of them can be learned and practiced at home.

Compassionate veteran care: Embracing respect for the individual

Sigmund Hough, PhD, ABPP/rp
Sigmund Hough, PhD, ABPP/rp, Contributing Editor

The need to support injured soldiers dates back to our country’s earliest days. That mission remains essential today. Those who may be eligible for VA benefits and services — veterans and their family or survivors — make up a quarter of the United States’ population. Individuals seeking care through the Department of Veterans Affairs deserve a thoughtful and compassionate evaluation to not only compensate them for their service, but connect them with the care they need.

A checkup for the checkup: Do you really need a yearly physical?

Amy Ship, MD
Amy Ship, MD, Contributing Editor

Many people believe the annual physical is the cornerstone of preventive care and crucial to staying healthy. While it can be comforting to have your doctor check you over once a year, research suggests that a yearly checkup doesn’t actually help people stay healthier or live longer. But a shift away from regular exams doesn’t have to weaken your relationship with your doctor or leave gaps in preventive care. A shift in how primary care doctors take care of patients, and in how patients interact with their physicians, can keep the benefits of the annual checkup intact in other ways.

Doctor-rating websites offer helpful but limited advice

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Websites that rate doctors and their practices can offer valuable information, but it’s often incomplete. Narrative reviews, in which patients describe in their own words their experiences with clinicians, are usually the most helpful — but could be even more so if they were collected in a standardized format. What’s more, only 40% of doctor-rating sites list information on how well a provider performs in terms of offering timely appointments and following guidelines for preventive screening tests. If you’re looking for a new clinician, it may be most helpful to ask trusted friends and family members for recommendations.