Word of the Week: floccinaucinihilipilificationism

ML learned a new word upon reading the newspaper: floccinaucinihilipilificationism. According to the New York Times now, Moynihan prided himself on coining the 32-letter mouthful, by which he meant “the futility of making estimates on the accuracy of public data.”

She’s not exactly sure how the term, said to be the longest non-technical word in the English language, might be used in medical communication, but it seems that it might be relevant to estimating health care costs, and – possibly by extrapolation – to understanding the hidden ambiguousness of inferences drawn from vast amounts of seemingly hard data.

On Patient Empowerment and Autonomy

…I think the answer is inherent in the goal of being engaged, and that has to do with the concept of patient autonomy – what’s essentially the capacity of a person to live and make decisions according to one’s own set of knowledge, goals and values.

Autonomy in medicine, which borders on the empowerment idea, can be an aim in itself, and therefore valuable regardless of any measured outcome.

Uncertainty Rules (on Eyjafjallajokull, volatility and a patient’s prognosis)

As pretty much anyone traveling in Europe this week can tell you, it’s sometimes hard to know what will happen next. Volcanologists – the people most expert in this sort of matter – simply can’t predict what the spitfire at Eyjafjallajokull will do next.

It comes down to this: the volcano’s eruption could get better or it could get worse…

When ‘No’ Turns Positive in Medical Care and Education

The medical word of the month is a most definite “no.”

The word is featured, explicitly and/or conceptually, in recent opinions published in two of the world’s most established media platforms – the New York Times and the New England Journal of Medicine. Their combined message relates to a point I’ve made here and elsewhere, that if doctors would or could take the time to provide full and unbiased information to their patients, people might choose less care of their own good sense and free will.

Let’s start with David Leonhardt’s April 7 column, “In Medicine, The Power of No.” In this excellent essay…

Peter Sings Colonoscopy

Am I pro- or con- colonoscopy for routine screening, you might wonder. Well, that depends.

Am I pro- or con- famous singers and other celebrities extolling the benefits of particular medical interventions? Well, that depends, too.

But I’m sure I prefer “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Also “Leaving on a Jet Plane” fills me with imperfect memories of 6th grade.

A Small Study Offers Insight On Breast Cancer Patients’ Capacity and Eagerness to Participate in Medical Decisions

Last week the journal Cancer published a small but noteworthy report on women’s experiences with a relatively new breast cancer decision tool called Oncotype DX. This lab-based technology, which has not received FDA approval, takes a piece of a woman’s tumor and, by measuring expression of 21 genes within, estimates the likelihood, or risk, that her tumor will recur.

As things stand, women who receive a breast cancer diagnosis face difficult decisions…

MedlinePlus, A Public Resource

MedlinePlus, a virtual superstore of medical information, is one of the most frequented health-related websites worldwide. The site, co-sponsored by the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, is comprehensive and, with some exceptions (see below) relatively free of commercial bias. I find it a useful starting point for almost any health-related search…

Are Doctors Necessary?

Ten years ago, my colleagues and I squirmed in our swivel chairs when a few tech-savvy patients filed in bearing reams of articles they’d discovered, downloaded and printed for our perusal.

Some of us accepted these informational “gifts” warily, half-curious about what was out there and half-loathing the prospect of more reading. Quite a few complained about the changing informational dynamic between patients and their physicians, threatened by a perceived and perhaps real loss of control.

How a decade can make a difference. In 2008 over 140 million Americans…

Moms Tweet About Blood and Cancer

This afternoon I found a Tweet from a colleague, a journalist who happens to be a mom in my community:

Tweet from SuSaw:
“RT @JenSinger: Hey, baby. What’s your blood type? Nothing against the Big Pink Machine… http://ow.ly/URkg

As a trained hematologist (blood doc), oncologist and breast cancer survivor, I couldn’t resist checking this out. Here’s what I discovered…

Information Overload

Last week I received an email from a former patient. He has hemochromatosis, an inherited disposition to iron overload. His body is programmed to take in excessive amounts of iron, which then might deposit in the liver, glands, heart and skin. He mentioned “some amazing videos on hematology and hemochromatosis and genetics” he’d discovered on YouTube.

This is the future of medicine, I realized. … Whether physicians want their patients to search the Internet for medical advice is beside the point. We’re there already, whether or not it’s good for us and whether what we find there is true.

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