Friday, May 30, 2008

Consumers Will Make Better Choices

Consumers Union is starting a new hospital rating service to offer an unbiased review. You may know them better as the folks behind Consumer Reports, the popular magazine with valuable information about cars, appliances and other consumer products. They were already offering reviews of health insurance plans, drugs and some medical treatments so this new service is just a new step down the path. They will report on about 3,000 facilities.

The index is based on the research of the Dartmouth Atlas Project which has shown that more intense (and expensive) medical care doesn't necessarily correlate with better results. (For more information please read Shannon Brownlee's book OVERTREATED.)

While consumers need to know more about the quality and cost of care the question is whether they will care.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Snowball in Summer

Two Democratic lawmakers have asked parmaceutical companies to voluntarily reduce their direct-to-consumer TV advertising. Representatives John Dingell and Bart Stupak are investigating whether companies are misleading consumers.

Ya think? And what do we think the odds are that Merck & Co, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Schering-Plough are going to comply? Even in the face of potential Congressional restrictions the companies are probably going to continue making money hand over fist and use the same delay-and-deny tactics they've always used.

America should have never passed the law in 1997 permitting direct-to-consumer advertising in the first place. With only 4.3% of the world's population we consumer 48% of the world's prescription drugs ... and at premium prices.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More Mind-Body Connection

The facts continue to pile up about the Mind-Body connection but doctors continue to ignore it or dismiss it as so much "woo-woo" New Age mumbo-jumbo. The latest evidence comes from research with 1,032 adults with whiplash injuries in Sweden.

"There is a dose-response relation between recovery expectations and the degree of subsequent disability," accord to Dr. Lena Holm of the Institute of Environmental Medicine in Stockholm. Surveys were taken about 23 days after their accident and again six months later.

As expected those with less initial disability had higher expectations for recovery. But more thorough review produced an interesting discovery. Compared with individuals reporting the highest expectations of recovery, those with the lowest expectations were FOUR TIMES more likely to have higher disability and TWO TIMES more likely to have moderate disability six months later.

In other words, early identification of people with low expectations for recovery from whiplash injuries may be a better indicator of future disability. No mention of whether Sweden will begin using some type of complementary or alternative therapy to improve expectations.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Drugs Aren't Always The Answer

Last winter in the U.S. the flu vaccine was ineffective against a large percentage of cases. Experts are now saying that seasonal flu viruses are developing the ability to evade influenza drugs globally, and doing it quickly. It's always been known that they can mutate quickly but the speed of adaptation is surprising scientists. The resistance also varies by strain, with a quarter of H1N1 flu viruses resistant in Europe and about 11 percent of H1N1 in the United States affected.

Many scientists say we need to develop better faster vaccines to prepare for a pandemic. It hasn't dawned on them that by using more drugs they're actually creating the pandemic they fear. Case studies have found that with simple skin viruses it can take less than 3 weeks and 32 generations of mutation for a virus to become completely drug resistant and deadly. Aren't we doing the same thing with our flu drugs?

Altering a natural cycle may only be creating a bigger problem in the long run.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Cancer Profit

Sales of cancer drugs are predicted to grow at nearly twice the rate of the world's other pharmaceuticals, possibly reaching $80 billion by 2012 according to IMS Health. Sales this year are expected to reach $48 billion.

Why would you want to find a cure for cancer when treatments are so profitable? Isn't it curious that cancer has received more research money than any other health problem and yet apparently we've made so little progress in curing or even preventing the disease over so many decades?

If it isn't about the money is it possible that the current limitations of medical science prevent a cure from being found? Perhaps they simply can't look outside their small little box of preconceived attitudes to find solutions? One of my favorites was a doctor at the NIH saying that nutrition has nothing to do with cancer. If not, then why do they use a sugar-based radioactive solution to find cancer? Because the tumors consume the formula at a higher rate than normal cells making them light up like a Christmas tree ... but nutrition has nothing to do with cancer.

Many people turn to complementary and alternative medicine for more holistic, more natural and in many cases very effective cancer treatments. The more you research your options, the more you'll understand why.

Friday, May 16, 2008

What Does It Take?

I often wonder what it takes to get people to take responsibility for their own health. I view this as the first step before they'll even consider the world of hope called complementary and alternative medicine. I have to admit that in my case, it took running out of medical options, although I hope others are much smarter.

A recent report on cancer survivors following minimal recommendations has me shaking my head and wondering what it takes to get people involved in their own health. You'd think that surviving cancer would do it, wouldn't you? But you'd be wrong.

The American Cancer Society issued three fundamental recommendations in 2006 on healthy lifestyle behaviors: get at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-strenuous exercise, or an hour of strenuous physical activity every week; eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily; and quit smoking. These are recommendations that every type of complementary and alternative therapy can agree on with mainstream medicine so that should give you an idea of how basic these suggestions are for maintaining good health.

Today we know that only 5% were meeting all three requirements. Pretty sad, isn't it? At the same time just over 12% were meeting none and fewer than 10% of cancer survivors of any of the six cancer types in the study were meeting two or more recommendations.

Once again I pose the question: What in the world does it take???

Friday, May 9, 2008

Complementary & Alternative Medicine Opinion of Former Surgeon General

Ran across an interesting interview with former Surgeon General Vice Admiral Richard H. Carmona, M.D. recently where he talked a little bit about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). While admitting that some good comes from CAM, those parts that are scientifically proven and then accepted into mainstream medicine, he feels that billions of dollars are being wasted on dubious devices and products. He added that "But the fact that 50% of Americans are spending discretionary income on alternative medicine shows that the public is dissatisfied with the healthcare system."

I do agree with him on one major point: people don't know enough about their health. Dr. Carmona said "We're a health illiterate nation. Studies show that about one third of our population doesn't understand the connection between their lifestyle and their health outcomes...The real challenge for consumer-directed initiatives is to deliver health literate, culturally competent messages that resonate with diverse populations....Health literacy is the currency of success for everything we need to do to improve the health, safety, and security of our nation."

Hopefully UnBreak Your Health is one of the ways to improve the health of Americans!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

It's About The Money

In America we're free to choose our careers based on our ambitions and abilities. When the financial rewards are controlled by third-party payments instead of consumers, the system can go terribly out of balance.

That's what is happening in medicine today. Shortages are being created in many specialties because they earn less than fields where more high-profit procedures can be done per day. For example, in the coming decade America will probably lose 140 of the remaining 400 neuro-opthamologists, specialists trained to detect and treat visual problems connected to the brain. In the last 4 years only 20 medical students have chosen this field.

This trend contributes to the relentless increase in medical costs as both patients and doctors are driven into more expensive, procedure-driven medical treatments. Just one more part of a broken medical system in our country.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Dallas Meeting

Interesting meeting at the Tower Club in Dallas last night, a presentation on "Health Care: The Situation, Politics and Solutions." The general feeling was there are tremendous pressures building for fundamental changes in our current system but doubts about the ability of Congress to get the job done. (After all, look at how well they're handling the Social Security crisis!)

There was some very good information presented and interesting questions from the audience. I didn't really expect the subject of complementary and alternative medicine to come up since the time was very limited but wanted to attend ... just in case. I did have an opportunity to talk with several people about CAM during the networking time.

People are always amazed to hear about some of the wonderful healing therapies available in complementary and alternative therapies and shocked that they've never heard of them before. As I explain, since these therapies take money away from mainstream medicine they shouldn't expect to hear about the competition.

A few more seeds for change have been planted.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

NBC Series on Mind-Body Medicine

Have you caught the NBC News series this week on Mind-Body medicine? Monday's segment featured Duke Integrative Medicine where they talked about the benefits of health and wellness. The catch: trying to get insurance companies to realize it's better and cheaper to pay for wellness than it is disease management. Big task, but with hospitals realizing that it's better to capitalize on the rising consumer popularity of complementary and alternative medicine perhaps there's hope the insurance companies will "get it" eventually too.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Medications Dangerous for Elderly

We all know how the elderly are more frail and that means medications impact their diminished bodies more severely. Now there is news of an NIH study that confirms these observations. The Ginkgo Evaluation of Memory Study (GEMS) was presented to the American Geriatrics Society meeting last weekend.

"Older adults who take drugs designed to block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine – including common medications for incontinence, high blood pressure and allergies – are more likely to be dependent in one or more activities of daily living and to walk slower, according to new findings from researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and colleagues."

Just one more example of the unintended consequences of prescription drugs.