Health care

Keeping the human connection in medicine

John Sanford Limouze, MD

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.

Online symptom checkers: You’ll still want to call a doctor when something’s wrong with you

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

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: Honesty is the best policy

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

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.

New blood test for colon cancer screening: Questions remain

Celia Smoak Spell
Celia Smoak Spell, Assistant Editor, Harvard Health Publications

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.

Buying into generic drugs

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

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.

Single payer healthcare: Pluses, minuses, and what it means for you

Andrea S. Christopher, MD

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.

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.