Linkworthy 3.1: Food for thought

There’s been a lot to think about in the health care news that has been dished up lately, starting with the story of CBS reporter Serene Branson, who unexpectedly stumbled over her words during a live broadcast at last weekend’s Grammy Awards ceremony.

Am I the only one who was bothered by the number of media outlets who seized on the footage and ran it over and over and over? Or the noisy chorus of speculation about what might have prompted Branson’s symptoms or the medical treatment she should have received?

As it turns out, Branson had a complex migraine with aura – not a stroke or even a seizure, as many of the armchair diagnosticians suggested. In an interview today on the “Early Show,” she said, “I was scared. I didn’t know what had gone on and I was embarrassed and fearful.”

Episodes like this can sometimes be a teachable moment… or are they? Gary Schwitzer, publisher of HealthNewsReview, blogged this week about having mixed emotions over how the NBC “Today Show” covered the incident. “Granted, Ms. Branson is a public figure whose performance was captured on video,” he wrote. “Does that mean she abdicates any right to privacy about what did or did not happen to her? Is such speculation vital for public discussion? Worthy of 5 minutes-plus of network television airtime? Or is this a matter of capitalizing on a person’s misfortune because you know the story is drawing lots of eyeballs?”

Good questions all, with further comments from readers.

Here’s an interesting piece of news via the Public Citizens Health Research Group, which recently got its hands on a transcript of a webinar held earlier this month for members of the American Society of Plastic Surgery and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. The issue: Surgeons apparently were advised to tone down their communication to patients about the risk of developing anaplastic lymphoma from breast implants.

This particular complication has only recently reached the attention of the public. Although the risk appears to be extremely small, a handful of published case reports indicates that some women have had to undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation, and some have had recurrence of their disease.

According to the transcript obtained by PCHRG, however, the surgeons who participated in the webinar were told to use the word “condition” in communicating with their patients, “rather than disturb them by saying this is a cancer, this is a malignancy.”

It can be a fine line between giving patients adequate information and scaring them with too much. But it’s a whole ‘nother story to deliberately manipulate the terminology in order to present patients with a watered-down version of the facts. I think this is a bad call; readers are welcome to disagree (or agree) in the comment section below.

Millions of Americans are taking statins to lower their cholesterol. This blockbuster class of drugs has been widely viewed as an important advance in the war on heart disease. But are statins really All That? Perhaps not. A very thought-provoking article appears in the most recent issue of Proto, a magazine published by Massachusetts General Hospital, that delves into the wisdom of what we think we know about statins.

Among the questions it examines: Do statins really save lives? Do they benefit women as well as men? Why have some of the clinical studies on the use of statins produced contradictory findings? This is an article that goes well beyond the superficial, displaying why so much about medicine fails to be cut and dried. If you’ve always wanted to know more about statins or about evidence-based care in general, it’s worth a read.

Awhile back I blogged about an essay contest featuring personal stories about patient and provider experiences with paying for health care. The sponsoring organization, Costs of Care, has posted a handful of new stories on its blog, and here they are: Getting an estimate, Cruel shoes, A medical student’s dilemma, A $1,000 coding error, and Not colon cancer. Recommended reading.

Patients are supposed to participate in their care, right? It sounds easy but all too often it isn’t – especially when the patient is sick. Jessie Gruman, president of the Center for Advancing Health and a current cancer patient, blogged this past week about the collision between ideals and reality in A Valentine to shared decision-making. During her first visit with her oncologist, she was still recovering from surgery and was “foggy with fatigue,” she writes. By week 3, she felt well enough to make decisions about which chemotherapy regimen to pursue. Week 5? “I have almost no recollection of this meeting,” she writes. “I feel so sick I can barely sit up.”

Why, she wonders, should we put so much energy into developing “this sweet moment of converging sanity, capacity and data?” Her conclusion: “Because we need a good model.” Go there to read the rest.

This edition of Linkworthy is concluding with a pair of anonymous blog entries, both written by health care professionals and both having to do with cancer: Tragedy of cancer in a small child and Today. How do you explain tragic outcomes? How do the professionals who care for patients make their peace with death when they’re forced to confront it over and over? “i don’t believe there are reasons for accidents and bad genes and screwed up dna, but i do believe there are reasons for faith,” the anonymous OncRn writes. “Especially today.”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons