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Into America: The Odds Against a Foreign Trained Doctor

By SAURABH JHA MD 

In this episode of Firing Line, Saurabh Jha (aka @RogueRad), has a conversation with Chadi Nabhan, MD MBA FACP, who is a preeminent oncologist, speaker and the Chief Medical Officer of Cardinal Health Specialty Solutions.

At the great heights of his career, and a secure American citizen, Chadi recalls the struggle and effort it took to get from Syria to Boston. He credits his journey to good luck and a tenacious drive and uncompromising desire to work in the U.S. Chadi speaks for thousands of international medical graduates to fight odds to get here.

Listen to our conversation at Radiology Firing Line Podcast.

Saurabh Jha is a contributing editor to THCB and host of Radiology Firing Line Podcast of the Journal of American College of Radiology, sponsored by Healthcare Administrative Partner.

Many Ways of Skinning a Statistical Cat

By SAURABH JHA MD 

In this episode of Firing Line, Saurabh Jha (aka @RogueRad), has a conversation with Professor Brian Nosek, a metaresearcher and co-founder of Center for Open Science.

They discuss the implications of this study, which showed that there was a range of analytical methods when interrogating the database to answer a specific hypothesis: are soccer referees more likely to give red cards to dark skinned players? What is the significance of the variation? Does the variation in analysis explain the replication crisis?

Listen to our conversation at Radiology Firing Line Podcast.

A Conversation About the Dangers of Overhydration with Professor Timothy Noakes

By SAURABH JHA MD

Professor Timothy Noakes, a South African exercise scientist and emeritus professor at the University of Cape Town who has run over 70 ultramarathons, speaks to me about the dangers of overhydration in endurance sports.

Listen to our conversation at Radiology Firing Line Podcast.

Saurabh Jha is a contributing editor to THCB and host of Radiology Firing Line Podcast of the Journal of American College of Radiology, sponsored by Healthcare Administrative Partner

How Radiologists Think

flying cadeuciiDiagnostic tests such as CAT scans are not perfect. A test can make two errors. It can call a diseased person healthy – a false negative. This is like acquitting a person guilty of a crime. Or a test can falsely call a healthy person diseased – a false positive. This is like convicting an innocent person of a crime that she did not commit. There is a trade-off between false negatives and false positives. To achieve fewer false negatives we incur more false positives.

Physicians do not want to be wrong. Since error is possible we must choose which side to err towards. That is we must choose between two wrongness. We have chosen to reduce false negatives at the expense of false positives. Why this is so is illustrated by screening mammography for breast cancer.

A woman who has cancer which the mammogram picks up is thankful to her physician for picking up the cancer and, plausibly, saving her life.

A woman who does not have cancer and whose mammogram is normal is also thankful to her physician. The doctor does not deserve to be thanked as she played no hand in the absence of the patient’s cancer. But instead of thanking genes or the cosmic lottery, the patient thanks the doctor.

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A Spoonful of Inequality Helps the Medicine go Down

The conventional wisdom in the circles I hang out in – pro-Hillary, morally conscious,happy bunnies who pretend to enjoy French wine and opera – is that the greatest scourgeon humanity after the bubonic plague is inequality of wealth. They worship Pope St. John Paul Piketty and canonize Archbishop Paul Krugman. Not only is inequality bad for its own sake, they say, it makes people ill, like medically ill.

Their premise always struck me as specious. I once took them through a thought experiment. Imagine, I said, you time travel to the Bengal famine. There was a lot of equality then – people were equally malnourished. Everyone’s ribs protruded equally because of muscle wasting from marasmus. The loss of protein from kwashiorkor made sure everyone’s belly popped out without prejudice. Starvation because of poverty is a great leveler. It cares little about gender, caste or religion. It is non-judgmental.

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Keep Calm and Save the NHS

Keep Calm and Save the NHSIt was Boxing Day weekend. The consultant surgeon summoned the on-call team. “We face a calamity,” he said. The house officer had called in sick. The locum wasn’t going to arrive for another 12 hours. This meant that I, the senior house officer, would have to be the house officer. The registrar would take my place. The consultant, looking tense, would have to be the registrar—i.e. a junior doctor again.

“Junior doctor” is a misnomer because it implies a master and an apprentice. Running the National Health Service (NHS) are apprentices who become Jedis very quickly, and without a Ben Kenobi showing them the ropes.

I’ll never forget my first night on-call in the emergency room (ER). I was one of two junior doctors managing a busy inner city ER in London from midnight to 8 am. Just a year earlier, I was an errant medical student bunking lectures. Now I had to see people with heart attacks, strokes, and broken bones. Seeing the terror on my face, the senior nurse reassured me. “Just look as if you know what you’re doing. We’ll handle the rest.”

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God and Statins

flying cadeuciiOf life’s two certainties, death and cataracts, it seems statins defer one and prompt the other, although not necessarily in the same person. If you blindly love life you may be blinded by your love for life.

In the HOPE-3 trial, ethnically diverse people without cardiovascular disease were randomized to 10 mg of rosuvastatin daily and placebo. The treatment group had fewer primary events – death from myocardial infarction (MI), non-fatal myocardial infarctions, and non-fatal stroke. For roughly ten MIs averted there were seven excess cataracts. Peter may be blinded without being saved. Paul may be saved without being blinded. And then there is Rajeev who may be blinded and saved. But the very nature of primary prevention is that you don’t know you’re Peter, Paul or Rajeev. So everyone is grateful to statins. Not even God of the Old Testament had such unconditional deference.

Once you’re taking statins there is no way to disprove that any and every breath you draw is because of statins. Statins enjoy the metaphysical carapace, the immunity from falsification, which not even God enjoys. At least you can experiment with God. Don’t pray for a week and see if you’re still alive- you know if God really cares about prayer-adherence. Even if you die at age 55 on statins, you can never disprove that you wouldn’t have died sooner if you weren’t taking statins.

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Seven Pillars of Trumpcare

flying cadeuciiIt is possible that in a few months from now, only Nate Silver’s prediction models will stand between Donald Trump and the White House. I will leave it to future anthropologists to write about the significance of that moment. For now, the question “What will President Trump be doing when he is not building a wall?” has assumed salience.

This is relatively easy to answer when it comes to health policy. Just ask what people want. Seniors don’t want Medicare rescinded. Even the free market fundamentalist group, the Tea Party, wants Medicare benefits as they stand. At one of their demonstrations against Obamacare a protester warned, without leaving a trace of irony, “Government, hands off my Medicare.

Rest assured, Trump will protect Medicare. Even raising the eligibility age for Medicare may be off the cards as far as he is concerned. He has promised that no one will be left dying on the streets. That people no longer die on the streets, but in hospitals, because emergency rooms must treat patients regardless of their ability to pay, is irrelevant. The point is that Mr. Trump knows that the public values their healthcare. Trumpcare will show that Trump cares.

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Overoutrage and the Asymmetric Skepticism of Healthcare Journalists

flying cadeuciiI like healthcare journalists. Some of my best friends are healthcare journalists. I’d rather read Larry Husten on clinical trials than the constipated editorials in peer review journals. Healthcare journalists are an important force against overdiagnosis, overtreatment, overprescription, overdoctoring and overmedicalization. They’re articulate and skeptical. But they seem to have a blind spot – overoutrage.

Overoutrage is excessive moral outrage. Outrage is excessive anger. Anger is excessive emotion. Emotion is excessive anti-reason. Overoutrage is the mother of all overdoing.

Overoutrage is the healthcare journalist’s kryptonite. These skeptical Rotweillers become credulous poodles when they see overoutrage. Overoutrage axiomatically assumes a moral high ground – for the transgression must have been severe for the outrage to occur. Overoutrage is circular reasoning without an exit. Overoutrage is more powerful than any randomized controlled trial. Much of healthcare policy, indeed civic life, is shaped by it.

A recent event highlights this phenomenon very well. NEJM’s national correspondent, Lisa Rosenbaum, wrote about a surgeon’s determined, and widely publicized, advocacy to ban morcellation, a procedure to treat uterine fibroids. Dr. Hooman Noorchashm’s wife, Amy Reed, underwent morcellation to treat uterine fibroids. Unbeknownst, she had uterine cancer, and the morcellation almost certainly worsened the prognosis by spreading the cancer beyond the uterus. Banning morcellation would be a no-brainer except that morcellation has fewer complications than open surgery for fibroids, and that the chances of undiscovered uterine cancer in a woman with fibroids are exceedingly rare.

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The NFL is Not Big Tobacco: Overdiagnosis and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 3.48.30 PMAs a general rule, if you keep clobbering a body part it may, in the long run, get damaged. This is hardly rocket science. Soldiers marching long distances can get a stress fracture known as “March fracture.” The brain is no exception. Boxers can get “dementia pugilistica.” This is why we frown upon people who bang their heads against brick walls.

Footballers are at risk of brain damage, specifically a neurodegenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE was described in a football player by forensic pathologist, Bennet Omalu, who performed an autopsy on Michael Webster, a former Pittsburgh Steeler. Webster died of a heart attack but had a rapid and mysterious cognitive decline.  Webster’s brain appeared normal at first. When Omalu used a special technique, he found a protein, known as tau, in the brain.

Omalu’s discovery inspired the movie Concussion in which Will Smith plays the pathologist. The Fresh Prince plays convincingly a god-fearing, soft-spoken but brilliant physician, who is up against incredulous colleagues and the National Football League (NFL). The NFL clearly has a lot to lose from Omalu’s discovery. However, the director’s attempt to emulate The Insider, where big tobacco tailgates the scientist, fails at many levels.

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