5-Star Friday: More screening, more vitamins and more advocacy can only be good, right?

Michael Joyce is a multimedia producer at HealthNewsReview.org and tweets as @mlmjoyce

If there’s a common question running through this week’s 5-star Friday, it is this: Is more always better?

As someone who has worked in healthcare, my typical answer is that more evidence is certainly better. (As is more listening and empathy, for that matter!)

And as someone who reads a fair amount of health care reporting, I would say we certainly need more writers like the ones featured this week.

We also need more coverage of the topics you’ll find below: the evidence regarding breast cancer screening, health claims made about vitamins, and the growing number of financial relationships between patient advocacy groups and pharmaceutical companies.


Drugmakers Help Turn Patients With Rare Diseases Into D.C. Lobbyists • by Sarah Jane Tribble • Kaiser Health News

This is such an important article. If only for pulling back the curtain to expose a neglected nexus of patients, industry, and health policy. The relationship between patient advocacy groups (which sound angelic) and pharmaceutical companies (which sound demonic) is becoming intertwined in ways that don’t get covered enough by the media and does raise ethical questions. Would you have guessed this?:

 

“The pharmaceutical industry is teaming up with advocacy groups that are training and even paying for patients who need their medicines to promote their causes in Washington.”

Maybe you believe certain diseases need to be lobbied for. Or, on the other hand, perhaps you agree with the father of three kids with a rare metabolic disorder that feels “it’s like marketing … pushing an agenda by and through a sob story.” Or, “it’s great PR for the pharmaceutical company.” Regardless of where you stand, this is a compelling and timely article that I consider a must-read.


Some Doctors Are Giving Mammogram Advice That Could Harm Women • by Christie Aschwanden • fivethirtyeight.com

This article looks at the confusion that can ensue when one independent task force and two medical societies give three different pieces of advice on when, and how often, women need mammograms. That worrisome lack of consensus leaves patients not just confused but susceptible to overscreening and the risks and harms that come with it. Just the graphics from this article are worth burning into your brain. And do this: Take a look at which societies are pushing for more screening and ask yourself: What’s in it for them?

What you need to know about new breast cancer screening technologies • Carly Weeks • The Globe & Mail (Toronto)

That same question–“what’s in it for them?”–carries over to this well-researched look into companies that are pushing new ways to screen for breast cancer that are touted as “more comfortable … cheaper … and could serve as an early-warning system.” But none of these technologies have been proven to be more effective than existing screening methods. I like that this article includes costs–something we don’t see enough of in health care reporting.


Why Are So Many People Popping Vitamin D? • Gina Kolata • The New York Times

It’s not just a great headline and great question but reporter Gina Kolata actually answers the question. And she does so with important historical context, concise background information, and a nice balance of opposing perspectives. When it comes to Vitamin D are most of us deficient? Doesn’t it prevent a lot of diseases? Can’t I get it from my diet? Or, are we just obsessed with Vitamin D? If you wonder about any of these questions, I recommend this excellent article.


Should you walk or run for exercise? Here’s what the science says • Julia Belluz • Vox

Vox has a weekly column called “Dear Julia” and I think I need to read it more often. Why? Because Julia Belluz probably gets more 5-star ratings from us than anyone else I know. It’s a simple question and she gives an evidence-based answer. The answer is that running …. hang on … just read what Belluz says because, quite frankly, she says it much better than I can! (Also, our reviewers really liked this piece. Read their review here).


Read an article that you think deserves 5-star praise? If so, we want to hear about it! Use the comment section below and tell us what impressed you about it. We just may include it in our next edition of “Five-Star Friday.”

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Aleta Kerrick

April 17, 2017 at 5:03 pm

Re your paragraph about who’s recommending mammograms: I’d hoped for more info re your concluding Q: Who IS benefiting from more mammography? What research is there regarding how MD’s might benefit financially from more testing? Does ordering a test and then following up on the test bring more money into their practice? Do many OB/GYN’s invest in mammography machines or mammography centers? I don’t think there’d be a conscious bias, but if MDs are financial rewarded for more testing, it probably nudges them in that direction.

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