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Breakthrough: AI and better medicines

Many diseases occur because of defects in particular proteins—the workhorses of every cell. But developing a drug that targets a defective protein requires knowing that protein's shape. Protein shapes have always been difficult to predict. Then in July 2021, a company called DeepMind reported that its software predicted the structures for 98% of human proteins. By the end of 2021, DeepMind says it will publish the shape of 50% of the 280 million nonhuman proteins, up from 0.01%. These breakthroughs are expected to lead to new medicines.

What is palliative care for heart failure?

Palliative care, which focuses on comfort and quality of life, is gradually becoming more widely used in people with advanced heart failure. The approach includes discussions about advance care planning and is often confused with hospice care. But palliative care can begin at any stage of a serious illness. For heart failure, it may include tiny doses of morphine to ease breathing and help people feel less distressed. Increasing doses of diuretics, which help flush fluid from the body, are often prescribed as well.

Are you too embarrassed to go to the doctor?

Lots of people feel embarrassed during a doctor visit. They may be uncomfortable talking about certain conditions, disrobing, or admitting that they didn’t follow the doctor’s orders. To combat those feelings, it helps to mentally prepare for an appointment. One can question whether certain fears are realistic, chat with a friend for outside perspective, or practice relaxation techniques. During an appointment, it helps to speak up, share concerns, and advocate for oneself and ask for accommodations to deal with embarrassing issues or awkward situations.

Mobile health and fitness apps pose privacy risks

Most mobile health apps aren’t doing enough to protect people’s private information, according to a study published online June 16, 2021, by The BMJ.

Back to the doctor

People who’ve skipped medical check-ups for a while should visit their primary care doctor, dental hygienist, and eye doctor. A primary care doctor will consider a person’s blood pressure, medications, weight, alcohol intake, gait, balance, memory, hearing, mood, and levels of physical activity and socialization. To prepare for the visit, one should write down questions for the doctor and bring a list of all medications. At the appointment, one should take notes and ask any questions needed to understand the doctor’s instructions.

Harvard study: Internet searches sometimes lead to the right diagnosis

A Harvard study published online March 29, 2021, by JAMA Network Open found that people who looked up health symptoms online were able to correctly diagnosis a condition about half the time.

Why won't some health care workers get vaccinated?

COVID-19 vaccination rates among health care workers in nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been lower than expected. Is this an information problem or does it stem from other issues –– and what can be done?

Giving telemedicine a try

Here's what you need to know so you can see your doctor without leaving home.

Remember when "virtual" doctor visits became available a few years ago? Being able to chat with a doctor on a video call instead of an in-person office exam was novel, but it never caught on as a mainstay of treatment.

That changed in the spring of 2020, when the pandemic hit and telemedicine rocketed from novelty to necessity. "At Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital, we did 1,600 virtual encounters across the system in February. In March it was 89,000, and in April it was 242,000. That's the kind of growth we're experiencing," says Dr. Joseph Kvedar, a dermatologist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, senior advisor for virtual care at ­Partners HealthCare, and president of the American Telemedicine Association.

What precautions should I take when using telemedicine services?

Ask the doctors

Q. I'm considering using a telemedicine provider. Is there anything I should be aware of before I make my appointment?

A. The good news is that insurance coverage has expanded recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has allowed many people to access telehealth services who weren't able to in the past. Telehealth services can take many forms, from live video consultations to remote patient monitoring. But you should use some caution when taking advantage of these services to ensure that your privacy is protected.

Medical news: Act now, or hold back?

Asking some simple questions can help you determine what medical research to pay attention to and when to wait for more information.

Every day there's something new in the world of medical research, and sometimes the results conflict. Eggs are good for your heart, or not. First surgery is advised to repair tears to cartilage in the knee, then nonsurgical options are favored. Do this, not that, for better health. For many women, all this information is a little confusing. When should you change your health habits, and when should you wait for more information? How can you tell the difference?

"It can be difficult for the consumer to know what research study is preliminary at best and in need of replication, versus a study that should cause you to change your life," says Dr. Andrew Budson, a lecturer in neurology at Harvard Medical School and chief of cognitive and behavioral neurology at the VA Boston Healthcare System.

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