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Boundaries

Vacation then taxes have consumed my focus the last two weeks, and I have had little time to devote to issues of infectious diseases, much less SBM, so I will instead meander around a more philosophical terrain.  I feel guilty when I do not have a substantive, data driven post evaluating a paper or essay in detail, but some weeks there just is not the time.

Being involved with SBM has been, like all intellectual endeavors, a process rather than result. I keep experimenting with conceptual frameworks with which I can understand the differences between a SBM approach and a SCAM (supplements, complementary and alternative medicine) approach. Nothing clarifies thoughts quite like writing them down. Or maybe not.

The motto of the blog is “exploring the relationships between science and medicine” but it is often more about non-overlapping boundaries* than relationships. We are often separated more by Berlin walls than Venn diagrams.

There are perhaps four boundaries that separate science-based medicine from those who prefer SCAMs. More if you are a splitter; I am a lumper by nature. At work I am an Occam kind of guy. (more…)

Posted in: Science and Medicine

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Comprehending the Incomprehensible

Medicine is impossible. Really. The amount of information that flows out the interwebs is amazing and the time to absorb it is comparatively tiny.

If you work, sleep and have a family, once those responsibilities are complete there is remarkably little time to keep up with the primary literature. I have made two of my hobbies (blogging and podcasting) dovetail with my professional need to keep up to date, but most health care providers lack the DSM-4 diagnoses to consistently keep up.

So we all rely on short cuts. People rely on me to put new infectious disease information into context and there are those I rely upon to help me understand information both in my specialty and in fields that are unrelated to ID.

Up and down the medical hierarchies we trust that others are doing their best to understand the too numerous to count aspects of medicine that no single person could ever comprehend.

If I want to know about the state of the art on the treatment of atypical mycobacterium or how best to treat Waldenströms or who knows the most about diagnosing sarcoid, there is always someone who can distill their expertise on a topic to the benefit of the patient and my knowledge.

Trusting others is the biggest shortcut we routinely take in medicine to wade through the Brogdignagian amounts of information that flood into medical practice. We have to trust other clinicians, the researchers and the journals that all the information is gathered and interpreted honestly and accurately. (more…)

Posted in: Basic Science

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Acupuncture and Allergic Rhinitis: Another Opportunity for Intellectual Sterility

You need to keep an open mind.

A common suggestion offered to naysayers of nonsense.

The usual retort concerns not letting one’s brain fall out.

Evaluating SCAM’s is less about having an open mind and more about having standards, a conceptual framework that is used to interpret and analyze new information. One of the benefits of writing and reading topics covered by science-based medicine (SBM) is it has clarified and sharpened the ideas by which I understand the world. Those concepts were nicely summed up by Steve Novella at Neurologica, and I reproduce them here, slightly modified. They should be on stone tablets, not quite commandants, but strong suggestions. The 8 strong suggestions somehow doesn’t cut it however. (more…)

Posted in: Acupuncture, Clinical Trials, Science and Medicine

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Warts

As this is published I am finishing the last day of a 12 day stretch covering my partner while he is off trying to get MDRTB and typhoid fever.  He is in India. I may have to autoclave him when he returns before I let him in the hospital.  Double the work means double the fun, but free time goes down by the power.  Same thing happens with the kids.  If you have two kids, the work squares, three kids, the work cubes.  A linear change in one domain leads to exponential change in other domains.  I am sure that phenomena has a name that one of our readers will know.

I lack the mad typing skills of other contributors and it usually takes me at least a week to carefully construct the spelling errors and grammatical faux paux for which I am justly famous.  And then I have to come up with content to surround the faulty English.  This week I have little time and so a ‘fun’ post.

When I make rounds it is not unusual for people to ask questions about their health and their family.  I learned long ago to ask why they want an answer to a particular question so I do not inadvertently offend a colleague.  When I offend I like to be advertent.  Years ago I was asked what I thought of hyperbaric oxygen, and I replied that it is great for the bends but otherwise mostly serves to enrich the hyperbaric doctors.  Why do you ask?  I am the new director of the hyperbaric program, was the reply.  Open mouth and insert foot.

So recently a nurse asked me if duct tape would remove warts.  Wary, I asked why, and she showed me a huge wart on her hand.  I have used duct tape for many purposes; few home repairs cannot be (temporarily) accomplished with duct tape. But treating warts?  Do you use the tape as a way to yank the wart out by its roots?  Got me.  I gave my best Gallic shrug and went looking for information. (more…)

Posted in: Clinical Trials, Naturopathy

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Honey Boo Boo

My son has been coughing for several weeks, and the cough will probably persist for another 2 or 3 weeks. Coughs last a long time. Patients think a cough will go away in less than a week but in reality they are likely to last several weeks.

Coughs are a pain for the patient and an annoyance for the people around them. You never really know if the cougher in the row behind you has asthma,  a post infectious cough or  is actively spewing TB or influenza all over the airplane.  I learned from Clinton the importance of not inhaling, especially on airplanes.

I tend to leave most symptoms alone if the they are not life threatening or otherwise unbearable for the patient. Codeine is the only really good cough suppressant and none of the over the counter cough medications are effective.  I assume that coughing with infection, like diarrhea, is beneficial. Key to treating all infections is to physically remove it. Undrained pus doesn’t heal, and a good cough is the most efficient way I know to remove potential pathogens from the lungs.

If there are benefits to suppressing the cough associated with acute respiratory infections I can’t find any and we have all seen people who, because of inability to cough secondary to rib fractures, develop severe pneumonia.  As a resident I had an elderly male die of just such a series of unfortunate events.

I suffer from a mild form the the naturalistic fallacy. I tend to let normal physiologic processes run their course unimpeded as long as they pose no harm to the patient.  So I do not treat infectious coughs, in part because medications are not effective, in part there is no benefit  and in part because the medications that are effective, and those that are not, have side effects.  (more…)

Posted in: Clinical Trials, Herbs & Supplements, Science and Medicine

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One Flu Into the Cuckoo’s Nest*

“I don’t seem able to get it straight in my mind….”
― Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Influenza is going gangbusters at the moment. I like going to Google Flu trends as well as the CDC flu site to see what flu is doing. Using Google searches as a surrogate for infections is an interesting technique that public health officials have tried with less success in other illnesses but is not without utility. Behaviors of populations can presage a problem, my favorite example is the first hint of the 1993 massive Cryptosporidia diarrhea outbreak in Milwaukee was a sudden shortage of Kaopectate and Peptobismol. It appears there are more patients with flu like symptoms this year than  at the height of the H1N1 epidemic of 2009. We have lots of flu like illness, and per the CDC there are buckets of confirmed influenzaflu, but so far the season, while probably having more cases than 2009, the outbreak is clinically not the same.

Compare and contrast, the two words that defined undergraduate liberal arts essay assignments. Get out your blue books and compare and contrast influenza outbreaks from 2009 and 2013. You have one hour. (more…)

Posted in: Clinical Trials, Epidemiology, Public Health, Science and Medicine, Science and the Media, Vaccines

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SCAMlandia

I quite like Portlandia. I find it funny and it captures a part of Portland. I recognize large swaths of the city’s culture in the show. Other representations of the city I recognize less. Sunset publishes beautiful photographs of the NW, but when I look at the photos I think, that section of the city never looks that good. It is quite wonderful how Photoshop can improve on reality.

Like most major cities, Portland has a monthly magazine, Portland Monthly. The city represented in that magazine is mostly alien to me. I look at the advertisement, the articles, the photographs, and wonder when did Portland become a city with an average 7 figure income? The Portland in which I grew up and currently live is rarely found in the pages of Portland Monthly. If you are extremely well to do, I suppose you are in the demographic Portland Monthly. But when I flip through the pages of the magazine, I see little I recognize, but I have never completely abandoned the hippie/grunge aesthetic of my younger days.

Every January they have the best Doctors issue* and this year, for the first time, they offer The Portland Alternative Medicine Guide. Well, less a guide and more an extended infomercial filled with ‘facts’ that deserve the quotes. (more…)

Posted in: Acupuncture, Chiropractic, Dentistry, Energy Medicine, Homeopathy, Legal, Naturopathy, Politics and Regulation, Science and Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine

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What’s past is prologue

Today marks the five year anniversary of the blog. I was not part of the initial stable of writers, my first entry published Jan 31. As I remember it shortly thereafter they browbeat me into writing twice a month. I had a lot of hesitancy participating as I was uncertain I could keep up with the twice monthly writing requirements. I am a slow writer and a slower typer, but it has been one of the most intellectually rewarding experiences of my life.

I have become a better writer, but more importantly a vastly better thinker, as a result of interactions with SBM. I have also been convinced I have some sort of language processing disorder as I still can’t see how those pesky typo’s disappear during my countless rewriting only to reappear in the final draft. Either WordPress inserts them automatically or it is magic most foul.

Five years on, and a new year, are as good an arbitrary time as any to reflect on both the past and future of SBM. As I age the more I am of the opinion that I have the carte blanche of the elderly to say whatever I want. It’s all about wearing the purple. (more…)

Posted in: Announcements, Science and Medicine

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780.6

You can tell what a doctor does for a living by the ICD-9 codes they have memorized. There is an ICD-9 code for nearly every medical condition. Weightlessness is 994.9. Must be there for NASA, I have yet to see a weightless patient. Decapitation by guillotine is E978. There, I suppose, in case Marat returns from the dead. There is an ICD-9 code for the initial visit after being sucked into jet engine (V9733XA) and one for subsequent visits (V9733XD). Why do I suspect V9733XD has yet to be used?

780.6 is my personal favorite. Fever. All my patients have fever and 780.6 was certainly the first ICD-9 code I committed to memory. I have an endless interest in fever and after last Fridays post I thought I would toss in my two cents worth. I will remind my readers that I am an adult ID doctor (who I treat, not necessarily how I behave) and unless specifically mentioned, all that follows applies to those who can legally drink, vote and serve in the military.

98.6 F. It is not normal body temperature. Well it is. But it is not. 98.6 F as average body temperature is an enduring medical myth. (more…)

Posted in: Basic Science, Evolution, History, Science and Medicine

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Disingenuous: Deconstruction of a naturopathic white paper

Science is the Concept by which
we measure our reality
I don’t believe in magic
I don’t believe in I-ching…
I just believe in science…and that reality.

John Lennon. Sort of.

As regular readers of the blog are aware, I am science/reality based.  I think the physical and basic sciences provide an excellent understanding of reality at the level of human experience.  Physics, chemistry, biology, anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, evolution etc. provide a reliable and reproducible framework within which to understand health and disease.  My pesky science may not know everything about reality, but day to day it works well.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. – Hamlet (1.5.166-7).”  

Perhaps, but all the medical advances in my lifetime have been not yielded new science, just (amazing) variations and extensions of known processes.  I sometimes think the blog should have been called reality based medicine, but science is the tool by which we understand reality, and while the tool is constant, our understanding of reality is prone to changing.  An understanding of the rules of the universe combined with an awareness of the innumerable ways whereby we can fool ourselves into believing that those rules do not apply to us is part of what makes a science and reality based doctor.

We are often told of the need to keep an open mind, but I like to keep it open to reality.  Not that I do not like fantasy and magic, it is a common category for my reading.  I just finished Red Country by Joe Abercrombie, and while I love the world he has created, I would not want to apply the rules of that imaginary world to my patients.   Well, one exception.  As Logen Ninefingers  would say, “You have to realistic about these things.” Fictional worlds should be limited to the practice of art, not the practice of medicine.
(more…)

Posted in: Humor, Naturopathy, Politics and Regulation, Public Health, Science and Medicine

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