Monday, September 30, 2013

Too Strict?

The Wall Street Journal featured an article about tough teachers and how they achieve results: a traditional educator with strict discipline and unyielding demands has successful students. I wonder if some of these concepts should be introduced to the physician-patient encounter.

Strict is better than nice. Rather than leading students through discussions and collaborative learning, teachers who provide explicit instructions and lectures achieve the best results.

Optimism can be taught. Teachers who believed that their students would improve had better academic gains, since the students came to believe that they would improve.

Praise makes you weak. Don’t applaud the outcome, encourage the process. Things worth achieving are hard work.

Failure is an option. Trying again is part of the learning process. Get up, dust yourself off and take another shot.

Stress makes you strong. Dealing with negative events builds resilience. Things are tough and always will be – so move on.

The bottom line: the belief in the student’s ability to do better. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Flu Shots

Flu season usually starts in November, making October the ideal time to get the flu shot. It’s widely available now and there is plenty of supply. Travelers should remember that the Southern hemisphere may be ahead of the Northern hemisphere and that many new types of flu originate in the far East.

Because the prevailing flu virus mutates, it is necessary to get a new flu vaccine every year. People who get the flu vaccine have a lower chance of getting the flu and a lower chance of dying from the flu as compared to people who don’t get immunized. Flu shots cannot cause the flu since the virus is inactivated. The inactivated virus will allow the body to make protective antibodies. It takes about two weeks to form the protective antibodies.

The typical flu vaccine is formulated to protect against what is predicted to be the three most common varieties of influenza. The more expensive quadrivalent vaccine adds another B virus. The CDC doesn’t recommend one type over the other.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What Size?

I needed to replace the lightbulbs in a bathroom fixture. As I stood at the vast lightbulb display, holding the old bulb in my hand, I realized that my choice was limited to two. Nothing else would fit. A couple of years ago I needed to replace the refrigerator in my kitchen. With that purchase I had only one option; I bought the model that fit into the space.

We face much of the same dilemma in clinical medicine. Pharmaceuticals come in defined doses and we need to choose from what is available. Sophisticated delivery systems (sustained release, enteric coating) mean that cutting pills to achieve an in-between dose will affect how a medication is metabolized. Only rarely should capsules be opened.

The good news is that a limited number of dosing options will meet almost every need. Even though patients come in all sizes, healthy kidneys and livers are remarkably uniform in size and function. Lean body mass, which is most often how we determine the amount of medication to use, doesn’t vary too much across the population.

When I bought my lightbulbs, I was confident that the size of the socket was not going to change while I was at the store. Nor is the size likely to change one year from now. It doesn’t matter how often I flip the light switch. Human behavior is not as predictable. Choosing a medication dose for a patient assumes that the medication will be taken the same time every day under the same conditions (with or without food). Additional medications or certain foods can alter drug metabolism. The underlying disease might change. What would appear to be the perfect calculated dose might not work out. This is why lightbulbs are over the counter and most medications need a prescription. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Regular Routine

The kids are back to school: time to resume the schedule. While it’s fun to laze about a bit during the summer, we as human beings really do better with a set routine. Just as a two year old is less terrible with a set naptime, adults benefit from eating and sleeping in a predicable pattern.

The time that we awaken sets the biological clock for the day. Getting up at the same time every day allows our hormones to assume a diurnal pattern leading to better mood, digestion and cognition. Since we need at least eight hours of sleep, we should plan on going to bed about eight and a half hours before we plan to start the day. Wind down at the end of the day and turn off all screens.

It is recommended that we don’t eat for at least two hours before going to bed: this will help determine the best time for dinner. Sit down and enjoy the meal. Since the overnight fast will be at least ten hours, chances are that we will be hungry for breakfast. Consider some non-traditional foods to start the day, rather than the carbohydrate heavy regulars. Therefore, awakening the same time every day will help determine what time to eat both breakfast and lunch. Most people will want a meal at midday. Brown-bagging will help make wise choices and save a lot of money.

Exercise should be part of the daily routine. Midday is an excellent time for this since it will help provide energy for the afternoon tasks. Think back to grade school – wasn’t running around after lunch the best part of the school day?

Having a predicable sleep/wake/eating pattern might be mundane, but it really works to maintain health. Try to maintain the pattern on the weekends as well.