Dueling Claims About Flu Drugs

The CDC is telling doctors to prescribe more antiviral flu medications, because, “If you get them early, they could keep you out of the hospital and might even save your life.” But the FDA explicitly prohibits the drugs’ makers from making claims that these drugs can reduce hospitalizations or deaths, and scientists who’ve reviewed the evidence on these flu drugs say they’ve only been shown to reduce the duration of symptoms. Who’s right? Read more in my latest FiveThirtyEight story here, then listen to an audio discussion about the story.

The Case Against Early Cancer Detection

In November, I joined Nate Silver’s data journalism site, FiveThirtyEight, as the lead writer for science. My first feature for FiveThirtyEight was on a familiar topic, cancer screening. Specifically, I made the case against early detection of cancer. I realize it might seem crazy, but once you take a close look at the data, it doesn’t seem so irrational.

In a similar vein, this week, in JAMA Internal Medicine, I explain why I’ve opted out of mammography. The JAMA piece is a more detailed version of a story I first told in a Washington Post column. Click here to read the full text version and get through the paywall.

Mental Health: Recovery is Possible

In my latest Washington Post column, I answer questions about how to find help for mental health problems such as: Where can you find a mental health professional? What’s the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a social worker? The piece also explains what to look for in a provider and outlines the factors that best predict successful treatment. Read it here.

 

 

Platelet-rich plasma and the power of belief-based medicine

I recently wrote a Washington Post column about platelet-rich plasma, a treatment highly touted for sports injuries but without much clear evidence. As I later wrote at Last Word On Nothing, PRP provides a case study in why it’s so important to track outcomes in medicine. If you don’t measure your outcomes, you have no way to really know how you’re doing. Humans are notoriously bad at self-evaluating. A 2006 study published in JAMA found that, “physicians have a limited ability to accurately self-assess,” and a 2012 study found that doctors overestimate the value of the care they provide. And if you have an incentive (money?) to keep doing something, results be damned, then if you’re not careful, an ineffective practice can become fixed as the standard of care. Once that happens, it’s very, very difficult to walk it back.

 

 

Giving suicide attempt survivors a voice

While researching military suicides, I came across a new movement to give a voice to suicide attempt survivors. I was shocked to learn the extent to which they’d been isolated and shut out of the conversation about suicide prevention. I wrote two stories, for NPR and Dame Magazine about the remarkable people who are standing up to give suicide attempt survivors a voice and the rights they deserve.

Read the stories here:

NPR: Suicide Attempt Survivors Seek A Voice In Helping Others At Risk

Dame Magazine: People Who Attempt Suicide Are Not Criminals

It’s Time to Revamp Our Goals for Cancer Screening

Since the 1980s, “Early detection is your best protection” has been a mantra of the cancer-awareness community, spurring an insistence on frequent screenings to catch ever-smaller abnormalities. But this approach to cancer screening loses sight of the real goal — saving lives. And it turns out that finding more and more smaller and smaller abnormalities churns out more cancer patients, but this doesn’t necessarily translate into lives saved.

Read the rest of my opinion piece at Popular Science.

 

 

 

Kids who aspire to pro sports need more play, less practice

Expensive sports camps and intensive practices and team competitions for young kids are becoming more and more common. Efforts to corral children into highly focused sports programs often arise from good intentions, yet research suggests that kids who specialize in a single sport when they’re young risk injury and burnout but don’t improve their odds of attaining an elite sports career. In most cases, giving kids more time for unstructured play and a chance to sample a wide array of athletic pursuits provides a better recipe for success.

Read more of my latest Washington Post, column: Too much practice and specialization can hurt instead of help child athletes.

This column has a sidebar: Is 10,000 hours magic or not?