Managing your health care

Home remedies that may be worth a try

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

Sometimes a home remedy (one making use of inexpensive items already on hand or easy to obtain) can be as effective as a medical treatment, and far less costly. Because seemingly benign home remedies can have dangerous side effects you may want to check with your doctor to see if there are any risks involved.

Can you virtually improve your knee pain?

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

A study of people with osteoarthritis of the knee found that at the end of the study period, those participants who received more personalized attention via the web (including physical therapy sessions and information about pain management) had less pain and better movement function.

How good is my doctor? Awards, acronyms, and anecdotes…Oh my

Paul G. Mathew, MD, FAAN, FAHS

It’s already hard enough to pick the right doctor for yourself without all these awards and designations to pull apart. Which ones actually mean something and which ones don’t? These awards and the acronyms following a doctor’s name might be easier to interpret than you think. Just make sure not to judge a book by its cover – or a doctor by his or her labels.

Making health social: Friends and family as part of the health care team

David Scales, MPhil, MD, PhD

Healthy choices can be hard to make, but it becomes much easier when your entire social circle helps you keep up with it. According to a recent study, engaging your friends and family in your lifestyle changes will hold you accountable, and you will be more likely to stick with those changes. Making them a regular part of your “health care team” could go a long way to maintaining your health.

What’s the evidence for evidence-based medicine?

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

The history of medicine is filled with remedies that were relied upon for hundreds of years until they were eventually proven ineffective or possibly even dangerous, while legitimate practices and treatments were disregarded or ridiculed until evidence outweighed skepticism. The bottom line is that medical interventions — from tests to treatments — should neither be recommended nor condemned without considering and weighing the evidence. A future post will discuss what physicians look for when evaluating “the evidence.”

White coat syndrome or white coat logo syndrome? The pitfalls of doctor shopping by “brand”

Paul G. Mathew, MD, FAAN, FAHS

Branding has the power to influence people, but it should not necessarily be a significant, or the only, factor when it comes to health care. Picking a physician based on the name of their hospital does not always correlate with quality of care, and it could even cost you a larger copay.

Taking medications correctly requires clear communication

David Scales, MPhil, MD, PhD

Taking medications incorrectly means that patients don’t get the full benefit of the drugs and may experience unnecessary (or unnecessarily severe) side effects. The result can even cause a simple ailment to turn into a hospital stay. It’s essential that patients understand when to take their medications, and why they’re taking them in the first place. This understanding relies heavily on successful communication between patients and their doctors. Gaps, such as language barriers, can be bridged in a number of ways.

Does your doctor’s gender matter?

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

A recent study involving over one million Medicare enrollees found that these older patients had more successful outcomes when under the care of a female physician verses a male physician. A thorough reading of the study seems to support that gender made the difference, but the takeaway is that it’s important to understand the differences between how women and men practice medicine and why these might be important. Most likely each gender has something to learn from the other.

What the 21st Century Cures Act means for behavioral health

Richard Frank, PhD
Richard Frank, PhD, Contributor

The 21st Century Cures Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in December, provides or extends funding for a variety of health initiatives, including support for people with mental health and substance use issues. It builds on important innovations introduced in the Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act and the Affordable Care Act.

Racism and discrimination in health care: Providers and patients

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

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.