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Demystifying Medicine One Month at a Time

Category: advocacy (page 1 of 16)

# This is Our Lane

Dr. Judy Melinek

The American College of Physicians recently released an updated position paper on “Reducing Firearm Injuries and Deaths from Gun Violence in the United States.”

The College’s recommendations center around the notion that gun violence should be treated as a public health epidemic, and that it’s well within the purview of doctors and other health professionals to ask their patients about firearms—namely, do you own them, and if so, are they safely stored? Are they kept in a place where your children can’t get to them?

This makes sense to me, but I’m a doctor. I don’t hunt, nor have I ever owned a gun.

The College’s position makes some very uncomfortable—it’s not a medical issue, they say. This is about personal behavior. Choice. Individual rights.

The NRA sent a tweet in response to the position paper:

Told to “stay in our lane,” doctors have loudly declared #ThisisOurLane, and now have a Twitter handle and thousands upon thousands of tweets stating that it’s medical professionals who care for gunshot victims. Many sent pictures of themselves spattered with blood from taking care of gunshot victims in emergency rooms and operating suites.

One doctor, a forensic pathologist and medical examiner in Oakland, tweeted back to the NRA:

Understandably, Dr. Melinek’s tweet went viral, and she was interviewed the world over—from Africa to Australia—even on Amanpour.

Dr. Melinek was kind enough to speak with me—our interview occurred recently for #MedicalMonday on KWGS-Public Radio Tulsa, and drew a tremendous response.

Like Dr. Melinek, I find it frustrating that the NRA’s strong advocacy has had such a chilling effect on research into gun safety and gun violence in the U.S.

Shutting down attempts to gather more detailed information is a bully tactic of someone or something afraid of truth. How can people make informed decisions without really knowing the effects of gun ownership and use?

Advocate for gun rights all you want. But let the research be done.

Medical Marijuana: Not Up to the Standard

This year Oklahoma voters made a clear choice to legalize medical marijuana, joining thirty other states that permit cannabis for medicinal use.

Unsurprisingly, immediately in the vote’s aftermath, patients began asking me to ‘prescribe’ medical marijuana licenses, as the new law stipulates users must have as a precondition for legal purchase. The new law does not, however, specify qualifying diagnoses for which medical marijuana might be clinically indicated.

My answer thus far has been, “Not now. Likely never.”

This has not been a popular response. One patient looked at me as if I’d put a lump of coal in his Halloween bag.

I’m not a fan of medical marijuana for several reasons. The main issue is the lack of proven medical efficacy. I know there are thousands of anecdotes from people whose pain or anorexia has been diminished by marijuana–and I’m genuinely glad for them. But I’d like to see better powered controlled trials of cannabis products head-to-head with accepted therapeutic agents. Having the FDA weigh in on marijuana’s safety and efficacy would also go a long way toward legitimizing pot’s medicinal use.

Another major problem is smoking the stuff. If we had proven, standardized dosing of edibles, I’d be more supportive of medicinal use. But smoking anything–tobacco, marijuana, vapor juice–is not a healthy practice, and one I counsel patients to avoid. I hear the arguments about the purity of pot and how it’s ‘more natural’ than manufactured tobacco products. The bottom line is that inhaling burning plant matter into your lungs is a terrible idea–regardless of the herb.

If voters want to legalize marijuana for recreational use, I have no objection–provided we put in place a legal framework to make sure that people don’t get hurt. Standardized dosing and measures to assure product consistency would be integral. And we’d need adequate enforcement to make sure that people aren’t impaired when at work or in other situations in which their marijuana use could jeopardize others.

Putting doctors in the middle of what amounts to a political, legal, social, and economic debate steers the medical profession in a race to the bottom–and let’s face it–our profession has enough problems already without being the gatekeepers of grass.

Remember that marijuana is still scheduled by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Class I narcotic, defined as having “no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse.” So even though medical weed is now legal in my state, I have no interest in violating or abetting violations of federal law.

In fact, as it turns out, since I work at a university, our legal counsel is of the opinion that no provider in our system shall recommend marijuana, since our institution has numerous federal grants and funding streams and must therefore comply with all federal rules and regulations.

Some have suggested that given our national opioid epidemic, marijuana can serve as a safer alternative for pain control. Since most cannabis is homegrown, and where legalized a tax revenue source–this does make medical marijuana a more appealing alternative to propping up the seemingly ubiquitous heroin/fentanyl drug cartels.

This argument makes pot part of a harm reduction strategy, which I’d be more supportive of if the evidence were stronger.

Right now I see the pot economy as a Wild West with hundreds of entrepreneurs and medical professionals looking to stake claims in this new quasi-legal economy.

Get back to me when we have more state/federal legal congruence and clarity on the stuff’s true medical benefits.

This essay originally appeared as a Doximity Op-(m)ed.

Can your city become a Blue Zone?

 

Tulsa is on a roll. With recent announcements about the openings of Gathering Place and a new Amazon fulfillment center, good news abounds. This week we have another opportunity to keep it rolling.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, our city will host visitors from Blue Zones, who will be here to help determine whether our community has what it takes to become a Blue Zone city.

What are Blue Zones?

Explorer Dan Buettner traveled the world to find the places where people live the longest and healthiest. In these places, which he named Blue Zones, people routinely live to 100 years of age, while still active and engaged.

Buettner formed a company to share the knowledge and practices of Blue Zones, and these initiatives have spread across more than 40 U.S. cities in nine states.

Blue Zones projects are designed to unite our community behind a common goal: transforming environments so there are more ways to make healthy choices easier.

More places to walk and bike outdoors. More healthy foods. And more purpose. All of which leads to more years to enjoy it all.

The Blue Zones matrix is not a turnkey solution. Their experts work in a diverse array of communities and bring scaffolding upon which we can build our own programming. We Tulsans must lead the way on implementation and operation.

Buettner will provide the event’s keynote address in a public presentation 6 p.m. Tuesday at OU-Tulsa’s Perkins Auditorium at the Learning Center on the Schusterman Campus.

Wednesday there’s an event called “Wine @Five,” which celebrates the social health aspects of Blue Zone communities. In addition, you’ll have the opportunity to meet Blue Zones personnel and many of our community stakeholders, ask questions, and share ideas. That event will take place at 5 p.m. at TCC’s Center for Creativity.

RSVPs are encouraged but not required.

Both events are free and open to the public — you can learn more about them and RSVP at this website: go.bluezonesproject.com/tulsa.

We hear all the time about how dismal our health outcomes are in Oklahoma. More people smoke, are overweight, and suffer from diabetes, mental illness and cardiovascular diseases than national averages.

We are near the bottom in terms of life expectancy, health promoting behaviors and access to health care. Nationally, our model of health care has emphasized the dousing of fires (“rescue care”) rather than fire prevention.

When I talk to patients, I boil down prevention to a few simple precepts that are easy to say but harder to do. Regular practice turns them into healthy behaviors. They are:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Move your body throughout the day.
  • Eat well — a healthy assortment of foods. Mostly plants, and not too much.
  • Interact socially. Isolation is not good for the body, soul or mind.
  • Take some time to reflect on what you are grateful for.

These behaviors are practiced in Blue Zones across the world. They are not unique to those areas, and they can be more easily achieved here in Tulsa.

If finding a way to make life healthier as a core value speaks to you, then come learn about Blue Zones.

In addition to the two public events I mentioned earlier, there will be several theme-based focus groups taking place throughout the region on June 27. You can learn more about these at go.bluezonesproject.com/tulsa.

This week’s Blue Zones visit to Tulsa did not happen by chance. Many partners have been involved in bringing the site visit to life — including Mayor G.T. Bynum’s Office, the Tulsa Regional Chamber and the Tulsa Health Department. Local businesses, nonprofits, foundations and educational institutions have contributed time, talent and money to bring Blue Zones to Tulsa.

Here’s hoping that Tulsans can live healthier and longer and keep our city on a roll.

Dr. John Henning Schumann is president of the University of Oklahoma — Tulsa.

 

Costs of Care Redux: Extremis Edition

It’s not new to GlassHospital readers, but coverage of outrageous health care bills in the United States is having a bit of a moment.

At least two major news sources, NPR and Vox, are running series in which people who have received bills for health care that seem outrageous can share them with investigative journalists and get help.

Based on the success of her book An American Sickness, doctor/journalist/editor Elisabeth Rosenthal and Kaiser Health News are working with NPR to produce one of these stories for web and radio every month.

Story #1 told of a urine test (screening for drugs) that was billed at $17,850. This is not a joke.

Story #2 compared the difference in price between the same CT scan performed at a hospital vs. a freestanding radiology center. [Hint: hospitals are MUCH more expensive places to get tests done.] The same CT scan of a man’s abdomen performed at a local hospital was billed at thirty-three times the price of the outpatient center.

The most recent story featured a disabled Oklahoma librarian, who had surgery on her arthritic foot. When she had sticker shock at the charge of more than $115,000 for her surgery and three day hospital stay, she did a smart thing and asked for an itemized bill. The most outrageous finding? A charge of $15,076 for four tiny screws implanted in her foot.

The moral of these stories is a) hospitals and laboratories can egregiously mark up their prices, without warning, clarity, or fairness; b) if you are faced with such a bill, you simply MUST ask for an itemized list of charges if you want any hope of contesting them.

If you think charges for actual care can be outrageous, how about being charged for NOT getting care?

Vox tells one woman’s story of fainting, going to a nearby Emergency Department, then declining to be treated. Why did she decline? Fear of an exorbitant bill.

So what happened?

After being given an ice pack and a bandage, she declined treatment, went home, and subsequently received a bill for $5,751.

Minister of Loneliness

U.K. Minister of Loneliness Tracey Crouch

The United Kingdom has appointed a Minister of Loneliness, according to several news reports this month.

In announcing the appointment, British Prime Minister Theresa May said

I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones — people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with,

As more people live longer than ever, loneliness is compounded by physical infirmities that make social interactions difficult.

As a doctor, I consider loneliness a genuine risk to good health, even if the title of said minister reminded me of Monty Python’s famed “Ministry of Silly Walks.” (Apparently, I was not alone in this thought.)


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