Health care

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.

How is the Affordable Care Act doing?

Updates in Slow Medicine
Updates in Slow Medicine, Contributing Editors

A recent summary paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine outlines where the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has succeeded and where it has fallen short. Although health care is now more accessible and affordable than before, many still lack coverage, and the available plans have some drawbacks. Rather than expanding insurance coverage, it will take a culture shift in how we provide care to truly improve the health of our nation.

Taking new aim at cancer

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Last year, only months after announcing that he had an aggressive form of melanoma, former President Carter declared that he was cancer free — thanks at least in part to a recently approved immunotherapy drug. Immunotherapy is a type of targeted therapy that helps boost the body’s own immune response to cancer. It does so while sparing healthy cells, thus minimizing side effects.

Retail health clinics: The pros and cons

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Retail health clinics are popping up everywhere, from drugstores and supermarkets to large retailers like Target and Walmart. Staffed by nurse practitioners or physician assistants, retail health clinics can be a great option, particularly if you’re younger and in generally good health. These clinics list their prices up-front and tend to be cheaper than a doctor’s visit. They’re convenient too: usually open extended hours, with no need for an appointment.

Where is best for birth: Hospital or home?

Jeffrey Ecker, MD
Jeffrey Ecker, MD, Contributing Editor

By the mid-20th century, most births took place in the hospital. But increasingly, some women are choosing to have their babies at home in an effort to avoid seemingly unnecessary interventions and find an alternative to hospital environments. We don’t have the best data to assess the safety of home birth. But a recent analysis offers insights that can help women make choices based on what they value the most.

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.