Articles Posted in Misdiagnosis

thyroid-300x222Check the neck? If you’re doing so routinely, especially if you lack worrisome symptoms or haven’t had past problems, please reconsider: Regular thyroid cancer screenings received a “D” grade from a blue-ribbon panel of experts. The exams can cause more harm than good, says the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which does periodic, evidence-based reviews of common medical screens.

Its most recent review finds cause for concern that doctors and hospitals, pushed by a prominent patient advocacy group that Big Pharma’s helping to underwrite, keep recommending and subjecting patients to unneeded thyroid cancer screens. The screens, with ultrasound and physician exams, too often lead to more tests, and then to painful, invasive, and costly procedures.

Doctors worldwide are detecting thyroid cancer at increasing rates, with the found incidences going up by 5 percent annually in this country. But at the same time, the relatively small numbers of thyroid cancer deaths haven’t budged. They’re neither rising nor falling. (See the diagram).

sepsis-300x249Although public health officials have launched national campaigns against sepsis, it may be that new initiatives at the state and local levels will be more effective in battling the deadly scourge, particularly as it harms kids.

Sepsis, experts say, happens when the body is overwhelmed by infection and responds by shutting down key organs. It can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. It’s difficult to predict, diagnose, and treat. As Stat, the online news service, reports:

Sepsis hospitalizes some 75,000 children and teens each year in the United States. Nearly 7,000 will die, according to one 2013 study. That’s more than three times as many annual deaths as are caused by pediatric cancers. And some of the children who survive sepsis may suffer long-term consequencesincluding organ damage and amputated limbs.

Carrie_Fisher_memorial_star-225x300Although advocates ended 2016 cheered by new legislation that increased funding and raised the priority of mental health in the nation’s health policy, the year also closed with stark reminders of how far the United States has lagged in this vital area.

Two separate news investigations have painted dire portraits of how the lack of mental health care has led to criminal violence and killings, while another media probe found disturbing signs that a major hospital chain was too quick to question patients’ mental competency and then to hold them against their will. The deaths of two of Hollywood’s elites—a mother and daughter—also brought to fore the stigma that many still bear due to mental disorders.

Neglect’s huge toll

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Celebrity is a powerful force in public opinion, and it often has been pursued by medical experts eager to tap its do-good potential. But a pair of recent star turns on preventive testing have caused consternation over their unintended and unwelcome outcomes. Have Angelina Jolie and Ben Stiller led their fans astray, prompting some to misunderstand the best, most current, evidence-based thinking on cancer care and others even to undergo unnecessary, invasive, and costly screenings?

New research, published in the peer-reviewed and well-respected British Medical Journal (aka the bmj), examined the aftermath of Jolie’s disclosure, in a New York Times Op-Ed three years ago, that she had been tested and found to carry the BRCA gene mutation that predisposes some women to breast and ovarian cancer.

She urged women to be screened for BRCA and told how, prophylactically, she had decided to undergo a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. She said she did not make this decision lightly and did so only based on her mother’s early cancer death and after Jolie received extensive medical counsel. To Jolie’s credit, her Op-Ed was thoughtful, careful, and nuanced. It was more disclosure than advocacy by one of the globe’s mega-stars, partly explaining her prolonged absence from the spotlight’s glare. Although the piece said the BRCA mutation is not common and the decisions can be complex about surgery and other means to deal with its potential effects, did that message get through?

newborninhospital_mhi_default-300x199Some new cautions have been issued on some key aspects of children’s health care. The federal government is increasing its warnings on anesthetic use for children and expectant moms, while a newspaper investigation is raising issues with common newborn screenings and their inconsistency and inaccuracy. Meantime, a health news site is adding to questions about a much-touted program to reduce head trauma harms in kids’ athletics.

FDA warnings on anesthetics for babies, expectant moms

Let’s start with the federal Food and Drug Administration cautions on “repeated and lengthy use of general anesthetic and sedation drugs” with children younger than 3 and pregnant women. The agency says it has been studying potential harms of these powerful medications for these two groups since 1999, and will label almost a dozen common anesthetics and sedation drugs with new warnings.

seqcore_slider_img_resizedAlthough doctors and hospitals report potentially sunnier news by the day about novel cancer treatments, it’s also worth keeping in mind that difficult obstacles like data misinterpretation still must be worked out to avoid endangering patients. The therapies themselves as well as cancer care overall can be crushing in their costs. And some experts also are raising questions about Big Pharma and the independence of advocacy groups that patients and families often turn to when diagnosed with different cancers.

Let’s start with the ray of optimism that the Washington Post reported for patients with advanced lung cancer. It kills more than 160,000 Americans annually, and isn’t diagnosed often until it reaches late stages. Lung cancer, the Post says, retains its stigma because of its proven link to smoking. Both smokers—and nonsmokers who also may develop the disease for many other complex reasons—are blamed for causing their own illness.

Oncologists have begun to look at this cancer not as one but many different disease, and the paper says immunotherapy may improve outcomes for a slice of late-stage patients, halting the disease’s spread and without the significant side-effects of current chemo or radiation treatments. In immunotherapy, patients’ cancers are tested to determine which drugs may best target and destroy tumors by unleashing the bodies’ own disease-fighting (immunity) systems.

SupremeCourtSealSouth Dakota’s highest court has been asked to reject hospitals’ attempts to keep secret why a doctor, who also is a convicted burglar with a checkered medical past that could have easily been uncovered, passed a peer review that permitted him to perform brutal, excruciating, and unnecessary spinal surgeries on dozens of patients.

A lower court rejected the sweeping claims by the hospitals that the reviews can never be disclosed. The judge said that indications of crimes or fraud, as raised by evidence-based malpractice lawsuits, are sufficient reason to breach confidentiality protections shielding vital insights into how hospitals judge physician performance and permit doctors to practice in their institutions.

More than 30 patients have sued surgeon Allen Sossan. He is a convicted felon, who had changed his name, and who apparently has fled to Iran. Patients assert he caused them great pain and maimed them with unnecessary, complex back procedures. Further, patients have sued more than a dozen doctors who reviewed his credentials and granted him privileges at Avera Sacred Heart and Lewis & Clark Specialty Hospital, both in Yankton, S.D.

prostateA  study involving more than 80,000 men followed for 10 years gives some important clues, but no final answers, on what patients with a diagnosis of prostate cancer should do. It’s long been a puzzle because prostate cancer is one of the most common and deadliest cancers for men, yet in many cases it’s so slow to grow that men die with, not from, prostate cancer.

Here’s the bottom line, which the researchers emphasized needs to be continued for an even longer time for its findings to be more authoritative:

At a median of 10 years, prostate-cancer–specific mortality was low irrespective of the treatment assigned, with no significant difference among treatments. Surgery and radiotherapy were associated with lower incidences of disease progression and metastases than was active monitoring.

More than a quarter million Americans die from it each year, more than succumb to heart attacks. U.S. hospitals spend an estimated $55 million a day battling it. Most Americans know next to nothing about it, and all too many medical caregivers fail to recognize its fast-moving symptoms that can lead to death. Leaders at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have grown so wary of its health and economic toll that they have declared a medical emergency over this disease. Its name is sepsis.

What is Sepsis- - sepsis_infographic_final.pdf 2016-08-26 12-23-33It’s an all too common affliction in which the body responds in overpowering fashion to an infection. The CDC says sepsis can “lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. It is difficult to predict, diagnose, and treat. Patients who develop sepsis have an increased risk of complications and death and face higher healthcare costs and longer treatment.”

Barry_Goldwater_photo1962muskieThey’re crazy, right? Or maybe they have a “personality disorder.” Our current political season is raising the issue about how wise it is for commentators and the rest of us to put labels on politicians we don’t like  in terms of their mental health.

Susan Molchan, a psychiatrist in the Washington, D.C.-area, provides a thought-provoking commentary on this topic at Healthnewsreview.org, the excellent watchdog site for hype and misinformation about health-related matters. She argues that, barring a careful, expert, and actual diagnosis of a patient, it can be destructive to the public dialogue and stigmatizing to those with true mental health afflictions, for the media, in particular, to speculate about public figures’ mental disorder.

Many of these pieces, of course, focus on a polarizing current candidate−and she provides examples of his coverage with commentators’ theorizing. Others could be added, such as: this column in which its author analogizes her own negative health experiences on to the candidate; or this piece−which drew attention because its author also happens to be a psychiatrist.

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