MonthMarch 2017

Reading of the Week: Can a Fake Intervention Help Real Pain? Also, Preventing Depression

From the Editor 

“To a degree which has never been suspected, what powerful influence upon diseases is produced by mere imagination.” British physician John Haygarth wrote those words more than two centuries ago when considering the placebo effect.

Is it possible to successfully treat people with placebo in an open-label trial? That is, if people know they are taking placebo, will they still experience the benefit of placebo?

painCan a fake intervention help real pain?

In this week’s selection, we look at a new study where participants were offered placebo for back pain. Spoiler alert: it worked.

And, in a new feature for the Reading of the Week, we include an invited letter to the editor from Dr. Albert H. C. Wong who writes about the best way of preventing depression.

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Reading of the Week: Are Cats Making Us Sick? The Solmi et al. Paper, and Prescribing Housing in Hawaii

From the Editor

A few years ago, Czech scientist Jaroslav Flegr made a splash by arguing that our feline friends were causing psychosis in people – The Atlantic provocatively titled their article on him: “How Your Cat is Making You Sick.” Flegr’s argument was based in part on several papers (including by prominent researcher E. Fuller Torrey) noting that cat ownership confers an increased risk of psychotic disorders like schizophrenia.

So, are cats safe for household use?

In our first selection, we look at a new Psychological Medicine paper that, with a cohort study, finds no connection between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms.

Good news, tabby: you can stay

How to help the homeless? In our second selection, drawing from The Guardian, we look at a Hawaiian effort to prescribe the housing to the homeless – literally.

Please note that there will be no Readings for the next two weeks. Enjoy the March break.

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Reading of the Week: Do Markets Work for (Mental) Health Services? The Arrow Paper

From the Editor

His New York Times obituary opens: “Kenneth J. Arrow, one of the most brilliant economic minds of the 20th century and, at 51, the youngest economist ever to win a Nobel, died on Tuesday at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 95.”

Kenneth J. Arrow

As a tribute to Kenneth Arrow, this week’s paper is his “Uncertainty and the Welfare Economic of Medical Care.”

This paper was published decades ago. Our selections try to be current. But we’ll make an exception for a good reason: Kenneth Arrow, one of the most significant economists of the 20th Century, died last week; his work on health care and economics remains deeply influential. Indeed, whether we are discussing the Choosing Wisely campaign or debating the expansion of public coverage under Obamacare, we are essentially weighing in on Arrow’s 1963 health economics paper – which makes this paper a natural choice for this week’s Reading.

Arrow didn’t mention mental health in his 1963 paper. But as we seek to better mental health services, his observations on the problems of health-care information are worth considering.

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