Posts tagged #ethics

Will New Hampshire open safe sites for people who inject drugs?

New Hampshire is still in the throes of one of the worst opioid epidemics in the country. Deaths are mounting, and mostly in young people.

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As hospitals around the nation and our fair state scale up to provide medication assisted therapy and other evidence-based ways to help, safe injection sites remain controversial.

Based on data from Vancouver's Insite program showing lower public drug use, less needle sharing, and prevention of infectious diseases like HIV, I think it's time for us to get over our hangups and act to save lives.

It was fun and illuminating to talk with Laura Knoy's and guests on NHPR's Exchange. For a stream of the hour-long show, click here

Did I make a professionalism mountain out of a medical education molehill?

Every March I run the last required course at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine. It’s a three-week-long, 47-hour sprint – a sort of boot camp for professional formation. Midway through the usual mechanics of instruction, I got an email that felt routine at first - but then it felt like an opportunity to talk with a student about professionalism.

Click here to read it, over at Reflective MedEd. What do you think? Did I make a professionalism mountain out of a logistical molehill? How do you try to support your students’ professional formation?

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Posted on March 28, 2018 .

Go ahead, hit "record" in the doctor's office

The elderly woman’s right knee was bright red and twice its normal size. Her doctor explained that her prosthetic knee joint was infected and would have to be removed — antibiotics alone couldn’t cure her.

Her doctor (T.L.) began discussing treatment options, but the patient stopped him. “Do you mind if I record you?” she said, picking up her cellphone.

Surprised, the doctor leaned back in his chair.

This simple request can elicit starkly different reactions from patients and clinicians.

To learn more, check out my new article (with co-author Glyn Elwyn) at STAT.

Posted on July 12, 2017 .

World AIDS Day 2016

As World AIDS Day approaches on Thursday, there is so much to be thankful for, and so much work yet undone.

People with HIV on effective treatment live as long as those without HIV, and almost never transmit HIV to their seronegative partners. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is safe and it works, and through it and other means of prevention we are slowing the epidemic, bit by bit. This fall a new vaccine aiming to build on the RV144 success story began testing in South Africa.

Despite those massive successes, 2 million more people are newly infected with HIV every year. Less than half of the world's HIV-positive population can access HIV therapy. In the United States, only 30 percent of people with HIV achieve the goal of full virological suppression on medications. A substantial fraction of people living with HIV don't know they are infected, and stigma is still a problem for people with HIV.

HIV is the defining health threat of our day. We have made real progress, but we cannot be complacent. It was a honor to discuss these issues and more for NHPR's Exchange radio show.

Posted on November 29, 2016 .

Opioid contracts can backfire on patients

The US Senate recently passed legislation designed to address the nation’s opioid addiction epidemic, and President Obama is expected to sign it into law. Among other things, the bill promotes the use of opioid contracts. These are written agreements between doctors and patients about the conditions for prescribing opioids long term for chronic pain.

This is great news. It could also harm patients. My patient, Cindy was a perfect example.

To hear what happened, read my new article at The Boston Globe's new publication STAT.

Posted on July 26, 2016 .

Giving patients what they want, even if the doctor doesn't have the time

Doctors struggle to find the time to have in-depth conversations with their patients. Patients, in turn, don't share their end-of-life preferences with their doctors, which leaves them vulnerable to getting more aggressive care than they want. It also wastes a huge amount of money. 

In my new article, I confess a time I contributed to this problem, and point to a really exciting new solution. Harvard researchers, conducting a huge study across the state of Hawaii, have now proven a new way patients can get their wishes respected even if their doctor doesn't have as much time as they want. Online videos about end of life decisions. The videos are outstanding, and proven to work. Plus - bonus! - they saved the system money. 

It's win-win. Check it out!

Will legislators defuse the ticking time bomb of dirty needle use?

For years, Indiana had slowly dismantled its public health system, and needle exchange programs lacked both funding and legal safeguards. Then an HIV outbreak exploded into public view, and Republican Governor Mike Pence had to do some fancy footwork to undo the damage done. He allowed needle exchange programs to operate and provided some long overdue prevention funding. In the meantime, dozens of young Indianans were infected with hepatitis C and HIV. It was a sad case of politics overturning science and common sense.

Now, New Hampshire and other states are in the same boat: politically-minded legislators bloviate about punitive anti-drug stances while the opiate epidemic rages. Complications of injection drug use are on the rise, and it's only a matter of time before a new HIV outbreak comes to town. Needle exchange programs, proven over and again to prevent infections and thus to save lives, languish in the legal shadows.

Fortunately, new legislation is being considered to change help catch New Hampshire up to the 21st Century, and maybe save some lives in the process. I was proud to be quoted here about this overdue change.

New science shows how loneliness makes older people frail

Every Monday during the summer, some of the residents of Lyme, New Hampshire, gather up fruits and vegetables from their gardens to donate to Veggie Cares, a program that distributes local food to people living alone. Volunteers collect, sort, and package the produce, then head out in separate directions to deliver the food to some Lyme's most vulnerable, isolated residents.

While the stated goal of the program is to provide people with healthy food, Veggie Cares volunteers also deliver companionship. Visits are often more than a quick drop-off—they may involve a shared cup of tea, an offer to replace burned-out light bulbs, or a chance to check in on sick or elderly neighbors.

Nine million elderly people currently suffer from food insecurity in the United States, and the produce provided by Veggie Cares is one way to safeguard the health of Lyme residents who may be at risk. But recent research supports the idea that the companionship the volunteers provide may be physically nourishing in its own way.

Read more in my new article (with the lovely and talented Jessica Lahey) over at The Atlantic

Why we shouldn't over-hype the use of PrEP to prevent HIV transmission

Recently we got great news from a real-world study of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

Researchers at San Francisco's Kaiser Permanente Medical Center reported on the real-world experience of 657 people who started PrEP between 2012 and 2015. Over 99% were men who have sex with men, 84% reported multiple sexual partners, and 30% had HIV-positive partners. Together they were observed for over 388 person-years of PrEP use.

The big news: Exactly zero patients contracted HIV infection! That's huge.

The problem is, the popular conversation about it has been over the top. From The Washington Post to FoxNews and the Huffington Post, people have been saying it's "100% effective" and lots of other undeserved superlatives.

PrEP works, this study was great, but there is real danger in all of this over-hype.

Read more in my new post over at TheBodyPro

Posted on September 19, 2015 .

Is the new Ebola vaccine too good to be true?

Ebola is on the run: the number of cases dipped below ten a week recently, and a few days ago investigators announced in the prestigious journal The Lancet that a new Ebola vaccine was “100% effective.”

In response, global health authorities are starting to sound a little giddy. “We believe that the world is on the verge of an efficacious Ebola vaccine,” said Marie Paule Kieny, the World Health Organization’s assistant director-general for health systems and innovation (and a senior author on the paper). “It could be a game changer.”

She’s right: this is wonderful news, and a great testament to human ingenuity. A genetically engineered hybrid of the benign vesicular stomatitis virus and the Zaire strain of Ebola, together called rVSV-ZEBOV, was tested in a multi-site clinical trial conducted amid a massive aid response in Guinea, one of the poorest countries in Africa. The scientific and logistical acrobatics required to pull this off boggle the mind.

Yet, for three reasons, we cannot know if the vaccine really worked, or how well. 

To read more, check out my new post over at The Conversation.