TagNEJM

Reading of the Week: Smoking Cessation & Incentives – the NEJM Paper

From the Editor

“So to put it simply, forcing people to choose is not always wise, and remaining neutral is not always possible.” University of Chicago economist Richard H. Thaler and Harvard Law School Professor Cass R. Sunstein write this comment in their widely-read book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness. They argue that people could be nudged in a certain direction, improving outcomes. Among the book’s fans: former UK Prime Minister David Cameron and former US President Barack Obama.

Thaler and Sunstein write about shaping basic decisions, like encouraging people to choose among their company’s pension plans. Retirement planning can significantly help people with their finances in their twilight years. But what about substance use? The stakes seem higher: smoking cessation can prevent major health problems long before retirement.

This week, we look at a new paper by University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine’s Dr. Scott D. Halpern and his co-authors. Published in The New England Journal of Medicine, they consider smoking cessation and find “financial incentives added to free cessation aids resulted in a higher rate of sustained smoking abstinence than free cessation aids alone…”

file-20170804-6503-18ujgw6Nudging people to butt out?

In this week’s Reading, we consider the paper and its implications. (There is, however, no financial incentive offered here.)

DG

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Reading of the Week: Mukherjee on Why Checklists Save Lives – Except When They Don’t

From the Editor

“How could an idea that worked so effectively in so many situations fail to work in this one? The most likely answer is the simplest: Human behavior changed, but it didn’t change enough.”

Readings of the Week generally focus on psychiatric topics. But here’s a task for all of us in health care: improving the quality of care. This week, we look at a new essay written by oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. In it, he talks about the success of using checklists in reducing complications in some places – but not in others. The above quotation comes from this provocative essay.

checklist-850x476 Checklists: Shown to save lives, except when they don’t

Why do checklists work some of the time? In this Reading, we consider the essay, and the larger questions it raises.

DG

 

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Reading of the Week: Three Essays on Mental Illness

From the Editor

As stigma fades, we are as a society talking more and more about mental illness. And we are also writing more on the topic.

This week, the Reading features three essays that ask three provocative questions. Does naloxone access save lives? What’s it like to be depressed and in medical school? How do involuntary commitment laws affect the families of those with mental illness?

These essays are very different in part because they reflect very different perspectives on our collective experience with mental illness: the perspectives of providers, patients, and families.

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Enjoy.

DG Continue reading

Reading of the Week: Early Psychosis Intervention – Lifesaver? The New Anderson Paper from the AJP; Also, Michael Weinstein’s Burnout

From the Editor

The argument is simple: intervene early and outcomes will ultimately be better.

For people with psychosis, early intervention programs have been tried for more than two decades. In our first selection, we look at a new American Journal of Psychiatry paper considering early psychosis intervention and outcomes. This paper is particularly interesting because it draws on the real-world experience – and 17 years worth of data. (Bonus: the data is Canadian.) The lead author, Western University’s Prof. Kelly K. Anderson, looks at several outcomes.

She and her co-authors conclude that patients had faster access to psychiatrists and used EDs less. More importantly: early intervention was a lifesaver, with the rate of death being four times lower than those who didn’t use the program.

caa58b79-155d-451f-6734f0c9af79d4c2Does Franklin’s comment about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure apply to first episode psychosis?

And in our other selection, Dr. Michael Weinstein writes about his career as a trauma surgeon – and his depression. “I have learned that many of us suffer in silence, fearing the stigma associated with mental illness,” he observes in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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

DG

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Reading of the Week: Prazosin for PTSD & Nightmares – No Better Than Placebo? The New NEJM Paper

From the Editor

It’s like the script of a movie: a doctor seeks a treatment for the nightmares so common in vets with PTSD. He finds an old blood pressure medication that seems to work. Then, after years of use and with some money from a not-for-profit, he does the definitive study, landing a big paper in one of the biggest psychiatric journals.

Dr. Murray Raskind had explained his interest in prazosin simply – he theorized that if he calms the brains of veterans, they would have fewer nightmares. To that end, he sought a medication that would block norepinephrine and found just one antihypertensive that did that, and crossed the blood-brain barrier. And so began a 20-year interest in an old antihypertensive.

But is there a twist in the plot? A new study just published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests yes. “This 26-week trial involving military veterans with chronic PTSD failed to show a benefit of prazosin over placebo in reducing the frequency and intensity of trauma-related nightmares.”

And, by the way, the lead author of this study is Murray Raskind.

New pill, same old problem?

In this week’s Reading, we consider the Raskind et al. study. We also consider the accompanying Editorial that calls the results: “surprising and disappointing.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Breaking the Stigma – Dr. Adam B. Hill on his Depression and Addiction

From the Editor

“My name is Adam. I am a human being, a husband, a father, a pediatric palliative care physician, and an associate residency director. I have a history of depression and suicidal ideation and am a recovering alcoholic.”

So begins this week’s selection, which is an essay written with remarkable candor and honesty.

1docDiscussing what we should discuss

In this Reading, Dr. Adam Hill writes in The New England Journal of Medicine about his struggle with mental illness.

It is moving and important.

DG Continue reading

Reading of the Week: The NEJM on “Our Struggle to Care for People with Serious Mental Illness”

From the Editor

What can we do for those with severe mental illness?

Homelessness: can we do better?

This week, we look at a series of excellent essays that have run on mental illness in The New England Journal of Medicine. They are well written and insightful. We particularly focus on the first of the three essays, which considers treatment and rights.

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Reading of the Week: Do the Meds Work? Peter Kramer’s Essay, and More

From the Editor

Do the pills really work?

It’s a question that we clinicians are repeatedly asked. Antidepressants are widely prescribed, but often doubted – by our patients and by people in general.

This week, we look at an essay penned by Dr. Peter Kramer, an American psychiatrist. Dr. Kramer, you may recall, made a name for himself two decades ago by extolling the super-therapeutic powers of Prozac. Today, he has a more modest goal: explaining the role of antidepressants in the treatment of depression.

Then, looking to The New England Journal of Medicine, we consider a paper that discusses the rise and, perhaps, fall of randomized controlled trials as the “gold standard” of medical research.

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Reading of the Week: The Good Life of Oliver Sacks, and More

From the Editor

Is the incidence of dementia falling?

What makes a good clinician?

This week, I’ve selected two Readings. We open with a NEJM paper suggesting a big trend: a decline in the incidence of dementia. That paper obviously has major implications for public policy. We then move on to a big and eloquent essay on a famous doctor, Oliver Sacks.

There isn’t much connecting these selections – except that both were suggested by readers, and they both raise big questions.

Enjoy.

DG Continue reading

Reading of the Week: A Father Mourns His Son, and More

Note from the Editor

In most Readings of the Week, a paper or essay is selected and then discussed in the commentary.

This week, we try something a bit different: a few pieces are selected and briefly discussed. We can cover more ground this way, and consider some pieces that may not have warranted a “full” Reading, but are still worthy of consideration.

DG

 

Selection 1: “How to Help Save the Mentally Ill From Themselves”

Norman J. Ornstein, The New York Times, 17 November 2015

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My older son, Matthew Ornstein, died at age 34 on Jan. 3 from carbon monoxide poisoning. It was accidental — he fell asleep in a tent with a propane lantern — but his death was shaped by a lack of judgment driven by a 10-year struggle with mental illness.

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