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Unknowns of medical marijuana delivery

January 21, 2015 in Member Stories

Given the earlier legal prohibition on marijuana and its present changing status, the legal and law enforcement questions are complicated. Until the marijuana dispensaries are open, Massachusetts law enforcement guidelines state: “The law is silent about where the marijuana may be purchased, although once [dispensaries] are operational and open for business, patients will be able to purchase marijuana and marijuana infused products from a [dispensary.] In addition, chapter 369 allows a patient to cultivate a 60-day supply until DPH begins registering patients and awarding (or denying) hardship cultivation registrations.”


In principle, cultivating marijuana could be easy. After all, it is referred to as a weed. However, restrictions and technical requirements appear to make this route difficult except possibly for determined patients and caregivers.

The situation is also unclear as to how cannabis is to be best and effectively used by the patient. It is likely that physicians will eventually be trained on efficacy and best practices. At the present time, the state allows a 60-day supply, which is defined as 10 ounces of cannabis or equivalent. Since methods for human ingestion of cannabis can take many forms such as edibles, vapor, and smoking, this is complicated. The ingestion of marijuana appears relatively innocuous in that patient deaths from overdose are reported to be close to zero, and as such is less likely to be lethal than common over the counter medicines such as aspirin or acetominophen.

The Massachusetts law also defines caregivers, who must register if they are to help patients with the marijuana. The voter approved rules allowed multiple patients per caregiver, while the current state regulations conflict with that. Unlike the concept of good samaritans, each caregiver is limited to assist only one patient. The caregiver can transport the patient, obtain the patients cannabis, grow cannabis under approved hardship conditions, prepare cannabis for consumption and administer cannabis to the patient. Unless the caregiver is a friend or relative, the tasks may seem rather thankless.

The subject of medical marijuana is not complete without noting that there are vociferous opponents of marijuana use and indeed of medical marijuana. Some question opponent’s motives as originating from pharmaceutical companies who could lose major market share and from law enforcement sources who could lose easy means for incarceration, lucrative management of heavily populated jails, and lucrative asset forfeiture. Aside from motives, the argument is made that marijuana can be a gateway drug and lead to more serious drugs for users. This can be balanced against the arguments that marijuana is an exit drug, and that if more readily available could reduce its attractiveness as a gateway. Another argument against marijuana prohibition is that it is not working, just as it did not work for alcohol. Also mentioned is the egregious failure of the war on drugs of which marijuana has been a significant part.

[Final note of caution: The above post is background about non-traditional healthcare resources, with which consumers may wish to be informed for their own benefit. The post contains best efforts information on a nebulous and changing topic, and the poster requests that the post not be relied upon for ultimate accuracy.]

Adjusting to pain killers — and medical marijuana

January 10, 2015 in Member Stories

NSAIDs offer pain relief, although I suspect that most people do not want heavy doses of pain killers for long, with their many possible side effects. In my case, two physicians independently advised me to double up on the recommended NSAID doses due to severe pain from osteoarthritis. The NSAIDS helped reduce the pain, but created new issues. First was severe stomach pain. Second were systemic feelings of sluggishness that reduced my activity level as much as the pain did.

I have been willing to consider uncommon alternatives that go beyond NSAIDs. Being adventurous I decided to check out medical marijuana, aka cannabis, based on hearing of so many people who have used it. I am over 70 years old, but had zero experience with it until this past summer, so my journey was long in a short period of time. The bottom line of my efforts is that cannabis has allowed me tosignificantly reduce the NSAIDs without any noticeable uptick in pain and without other apparent side effects, such as behavioral, sensory, or physical. I am told that I am less irritable, as well, which I suppose is a side effect.  What a relief!

I am not alone in pursuing the cannabis route. If some of several recent reports are to be believed, cannabis is an area of fertile development for improving healthcare.

In keeping with the intention of this blog, I am planning to subsequently give comments on cost, on use and on finding best care. In my opinion, the cannabis delivery model is different from others we might think of such as alcohol, most pharmaceuticals, tobacco, or less commonly candy, gluten, nuts, or whatever. I will try to post more on this. The whole subject is rife with pitfalls. I will be interested to see if other related comments, ideas, and opinions are also posted here.


Leveraging Competition in Healthcare to Bring About Price Transparency

July 23, 2014 in health care costs, health care quality, Hospital Bills, Member Stories, Quality of care

by Randy Cox

Executives and administrators in the healthcare industry will tell you that competition in their business is not new. It just looks different. There tend to be few if any TV or internet ads touting 50%-off discounts, or facilities matching the rates of the clinic down the street. But 21st century American healthcare has plenty of positioning on price, expanding of services provided, healthy marketing departments, and reports analyzing trends in patient volume compared to other facilities in the region.

Invisible Competition

No, competition is there. But other than the plastering of quality awards and ER wait times across websites and along freeways, much of the competition in healthcare is not consumer-facing.

You might ask, “Isn’t invisible competition the same as no competition?”

The quick answer is yes. Providers don't typically act like competing businesses on the outside. Their expenses are often unreasonably high, and they don't seem to care if a patient has a 2-hour wait or gets milked for thousands more than necessary. Nor is there any way to properly evaluate the merits of one surgeon or clinic compared to another, causing patients to be more easily taken advantage of, both in their pocketbooks and in poor quality of care.

But the medical industry is not a true monopoly (yet), and so its competitive forces can be leveraged to benefit consumers.

Price Comparisons Can Backfire

How exactly is that to be done? A common but naive view held by many in my industry is that simple, direct price comparisons will bring about the type of competition that will address most of the problems in healthcare affordability. It won’t, and here’s why.

The imaging centers and surgery centers we talk to have experimented with listing some of their prices on a few of our competitors’ sites, sites that use sort-by-price lists or some notion of a “fair price”. At first it seems natural that mimicking an electronics or hardware retailer is a step forward for consumers wanting to “shop” for medical care.

The effect of this type of comparison however is the cheapening of care. Providers are obviously opposed to this. Ironically, so are patients. Though it would seem that quick and easy price comparisons could provide less expensive care, people are strongly against the treatment of their health being trivialized and commoditized, even with routine procedures that have little to no risk, and yes, even if it saves them money.

When it comes to a person’s health, anything that smells like trivialization will be met with distrust. Price transparency accompanied by hype, advertising, and plays at “online shopping” are largely ineffective, and may actually drive people away, rather than attract them.

Medical institutions continue to resist being represented on sites that cheapen care in any way, not primarily because it affects their margins, but because it discredits the quality of their establishment. And, interestingly, we’ve received a number of reports that patient customers who are referred by “sort-by-price” sites are typically described as trashy, unreliable, unserious.

Where Price Transparency Can Add Value

Pricing Healthcare takes a different approach. We certainly believe in publishing prices (hence our name), and we believe that facilities’ prices should be compared. But we do not line prices up in a lowest-at-top sorted list like so many do. We take pains to represent facilities and their services in the best possible way.

Because of competitiveness among facilities, they are willing to promote themselves on our site, and to list prices for many of their procedures. We thus use competition to bring about price transparency, rather than the other way around.

We aren’t opposed to searching by location, by facility type, or by procedure, but we believe that when showing results, there are a number of problems with oversimplifying comparisons on price.

First, in some cases there may be dozens of reasons why services with the same name (and the same medical code) may not in actuality be the same, and may in fact require additional outlays that are difficult to enumerate. This is true even for treatments that have become fairly standardized in terms of what procedures and services are involved.

Knowing beforehand what a procedure will cost is of immense value to individuals and employers, and it of course needs to be visible. An upfront price puts limits on how much a person can be taken for, and increases options for those on a budget. But what is and isn’t included for that price needs to be accurately listed next to the procedure. The proper design of pricing data visibility can thus 1) make price a great resource in the hands of someone trained to use it properly, while 2) preventing the untrained eye from putting too much value on the sticker price alone.

Second, it can be dangerous to detach medical treatment from all other considerations besides affordability. Perverse utilization of care (either too much or too little) can be caused as easily by price transparency as by per-procedure provider reimbursement.

It takes a fair amount of reading and research for a patient to become educated sufficiently to use provider comparison tools wisely. And even with all the information available online today, there is still a need for consultation with a physician.

Third, quality matters. There can be considerable differences even between highly skilled, conscientious, experienced surgeons. Equipment, nursing staff, attention to detail in a myriad of aspects at the facility, can also make a big difference in how well a procedure is performed and a person’s quality of life afterward. How are these to be valued when it comes to one’s health? What kind of price can be given to care quality, not to mention the ability to avoid unnecessary post-treatment expenses? These types of things should be considered carefully, much more than the sticker price.

Physicians’ principled adherence to giving the best care with no consideration of cost has merit. Not that prices shouldn’t be known ahead of time, but that having too much focus on something as quantifiable as cost detracts from things of much greater importance and enormous variability.

A Bright Future

As American healthcare institutions are given the chance to present themselves and their services in the best possible light on price transparency sites, we believe there will be less trepidation about the publishing of rates.

One of the exciting things we’re seeing at Pricing Healthcare is a growing number of hospitals, surgery centers, imaging centers, and in fact healthcare facilities of all types across the country, wanting to publish pricing information. By doing so, they brand themselves as patient-friendly in terms of price and quality transparency. In turn, patients worry less about sticker shock and become more comfortable obtaining proper care. Ridiculously priced outfits will certainly lose volume, but we believe patient volume overall in the U.S. will increase, with more individuals and families able to afford to pay for the care they need.


Randy Cox is the Founder and CEO of Pricing Healthcare, an open, independent, direct-pay marketplace where healthcare facilities present services and prices online. Facility pages, including pricing information, are free for anyone in the world to access.

To see how Pricing Healthcare presents facilities and their prices, go to a page of Utah dentists accepting new patients or a list of California facilities publishing price lists.

It’s Time for Doctors to Consider Medical Costs

April 28, 2014 in Member Stories

TIMOTHY GOWER’s article, “Should doctors consider medical costs?”  (Boston Globe, Ideas, April 13) should serve as a wake-up call about the state of transparency in our health care system.

It should be required reading for everyone touched by our healthcare system whether you’re a   consumer, a business, an insurer or a provider.  Gower takes us through the story of a woman who was on the precipice of a potentially fatal medical emergency and was reticent to receive care until she received a quote for her ultrasound. The reason?  She was still paying off skyrocketing bills from tests ordered at an earlier visit that may or may not have been necessary.  The doctor, growing more concerned by the minute about the health of his patient tried to chase down the figure for this routine test. It took him a day to get it from the hospital. He received the figure and the patient relented and accepted the treatment.

The lack of transparency and information surrounding health care costs has resulted in some consumers making uninformed and sometimes risky decisions.  Gower points out that some patients may forgo treatment because they are uninformed about lower-priced options for medical services, including tests or routine procedures. When a person’s health is at stake, having information readily available about options and costs is very relevant to the decision-making process.

We know that high deductibles and co-insurance are becoming more common in health plans especially for small groups and individuals. Even with healthcare reform, there are large differences in out of pocket costs among various types of policies.  In 2012, Governor Patrick signed legislation that requires both carriers and providers to give price and out-of-pocket information to healthcare consumers within two days of a request. By this October, insurance companies will be required to provide this information in real-time. For more and more consumers this information is very important.

Empowering healthcare consumers through price and quality transparency is the wave of the future and providers must play an integral role in this, particularly given the trust that many patients place in their doctors’ recommendations.

Doctors, hospitals, and other providers have a responsibility to be prepared to talk about healthcare costs with their patients and potential patients.  As consumers, we expect to know price estimates before making a selection for a variety of services and we should be able to expect the same from healthcare providers.

What would happen if my doctor wore the johnny and I had on a fancy robe?

December 18, 2013 in Member Stories


Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 11.23.18 PM
There’s something about changing into a johnny, the clothing equivalent of a paper bag, that strips our confidence, intelligence and power as patients.  So what would the office visit feel like if the patient put on a luxurious dressing gown and the doctor wore a johnny?  The wardrobe power swap wouldn’t, alone, re-balance the doctor-patient relationship, but would it help?

Thanks for the ‘toon Tyler!

Massachusetts man dies after losing coverage for two months

December 17, 2013 in Health Insurance, Member Stories

The man I’ll call George died at a hospital in Massachusetts last April.  He had AIDS and Hepatitis C. George was managing both until February when his state subsidized insurance coverage ended.  He’d started earning too much money and no longer qualified.  George, a construction contractor, found an employer who let George sign on to the company plan.  He submitted the paperwork, but there was a delay. This happens. There might be some missing information or the first month’s payment is late.  For George, there was a 10 week gap between when his coverage through Commonwealth Care ended and his new insurance plan kicked in.

In February, while he was uninsured, George stopped taking his medicine.  He didn’t have the roughly $4400 a month to refill his AIDS prescriptions.  George skipped his meds again in March.  That month George got a bad cough.

He went to the hospital.  George had had pneumonia before and was pretty sure he had it again.  A doctor gave him a prescription and sent him home.  By the time George returned to the hospital, a virulent strain of pneumonia had settled into both lungs.  George, with his weakened immune system, couldn’t beat it.  Two months after George lost his coverage and stopped filling his prescriptions, he died. A letter telling George his new insurance was active arrived a few weeks later.

I heard this story from a doctor who treated George and his long term partner.  I don’t have all the details and am not using George’s real name because his family is embarrassed about the fact that he had AIDS.

I’m sharing what I do know of the story because the tragedy of George’s death is especially potent right now.  The state Health Connector website is still having problems.  Connector staff and board members have extended the current coverage for members in an effort to make sure that no one goes without health insurance while the re-enrollment problems continue.  But there are concerns that people will get frustrated and either give up or will put off going through the process of choosing a new plan.  Many of us push letters from our insurance companies aside, thinking they aren’t that important or won’t make sense if we do open them.

A lapse in coverage might not matter for most of us. We aren’t in the same precarious state as was George last February.  But don’t delay. Going without coverage for even a couple of months can be deadly.




Consumer Affairs Issues Report, Holds Second Conference on Transparency

October 18, 2013 in Member Stories

According to a report on healthcare transparency issued by the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business regulation, Massachusetts consumers are more likely to research the cost of a TV than to research the cost of their medical care, however, most consumers would like to be able to compare costs of medical services from different providers.

The report details findings from a daylong conference with health care leaders in May.

Conference attendees were also polled on their attitudes about health care, answering questions at both the beginning and end of the conference about how important it is to know costs ahead of time for healthcare services and whether a comparison of prices would affect choices about where to receive care.

The final findings of the break out groups, which are detailed on page ten of the report, shed some light on how price and quality information affect healthcare consumers’ decision-making:

  • Cost is a factor, but not the most important one;
  • Doctors are important and  influential in the decisions about healthcare;
  • Consumers want more  information about price, quality and options; and
  • Consumers should  understand more about the variables that affect their own health care.

Read the rest of this entry →

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Instilling Confidence in Women through Shared Decision Making

October 11, 2013 in Member Stories

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2013, making it the second leading cause of cancer death in females, exceeded only by lung cancer.  For the 28th consecutive year, the sea of pink can be seen almost everywhere as individuals, charitable organizations and commercial organizations across the country once again joining forces in support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the many women affected by breast cancer.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer can be a scary and overwhelming experience for women and their families.  That’s why it’s important that they have access to resources that will fully inform them about their medical condition, allowing them to make an educated decision about what treatment option is best for them, personally.  And because there are several treatment options – each with differentl risks and benefits – it’s even more important that a patient’s personal preference drive a treatment decision.   This concept of empowering patients and their families to make informed decisions about their condition and treatment—decisions that are aligned with their values, preferences and lifestyles – is called Shared Decision Making.

In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, Health Dialog is making its Shared Decision Making and planning aids on breast cancer publically available throughout the month. The early stage breast cancer and breast reconstruction surgery decision aids help guide patients through all stages of the decision making process, from explaining how to read a pathology report to illustrating what a patient can expect from different types of surgeries. Health Dialog also offers planning aids for patients and families who are having needle or breast biopsies to prepare for what will happen before, during and after the procedures.  All of these aids and resources can be accessed by clicking here.

The Shared Decision Making process aims to give patients the care they want and nothing more. The process involves patient use of shared-decision making aids with constructive discussion between the patient and a healthcare provider. Shared decision aids come in various forms—print, online and video—and are designed using clear and simple language in order to prepare all people to participate in their health care and health care decisions. They provide balanced information about options and outcomes from the patient’s point of view and help the patient clarify their own personal values. Patient decision aids are designed to complement, rather than replace, counseling from a healthcare professional.

So, as we come together for a good cause this month, let’s all remember the patient and the fight they are each individually undertaking. By putting the tools and resources they need at their disposal we help them feel a little more confident.

Peter Goldbach, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer at Health Dialog, a leading provider of healthcare analytics and decision support. He has 15 years of experience in medical administration and 17 years maintaining a primary care and pulmonary disease practice. He received an undergraduate and master’s degree from UCLA and his medical degree from SUNY Downstate Medical Center College of Medicine. 

Out-of-network Medical Costs Affect Everyone

October 5, 2013 in health care costs, Health Insurance, Hospital Bills, Insurance Bills, Medical Debt, Member Stories

According to a survey this year by America’s Health Insurance Plans, 12% of all medical claims received by insurance carriers were out-of-network in 2011. That translates into huge out-of-pocket costs for American consumers, and sometimes uncapped costs. Out-of-network charges can be nearly 100 times (100 times!!) the rate that Medicare allows (typically you will be no more than 2 or 3 times the Medicare rate with insurance).

Don’t think any of that applies to you because you have good insurance? Think again.

Excessive out-of-network fees are typically not covered by your insurance carrier to the full extent, and are often not applied to your deductible. This means you could not only be on the hook for large fees for some services, but those amounts could be uncapped, the equivalent of being uninsured, even while having a very good insurance plan. New Obamacare plans don’t solve this, as they are not required to cap out-of-network charges. And almost all carriers are shrinking their networks further for new exchange plans. How did this slip through the Affordable Care Act?

Health insurance carriers negotiate rates with a number of physicians and hospitals to get lower rates with its plan holders. These providers and facilities form a health plan’s “network”. When patients go to providers “in-network”, the insurance carrier pays significantly less. It is reasonable then that a plan might want to discourage you from going with a provider not in that network. It is also reasonable for a carrier to remove all but the lowest-cost providers from its network over time. The ACA also wants to keep people away from the highest-priced providers, in an effort to reduce healthcare costs overall.

The trouble is, sometimes going out-of-network is the best or only way to ensure critical healthcare. Specialists and key facilities in various parts of the country may not have a relationship with your carrier. There are also many cases when you end up receiving services from an out-of-network provider because of the nature of integrated care by professionals from a number of different companies. For example, even though you know your physician and hospital are in-network, you may not think to ask if the anesthesiologist is.

The 12% figure will surely rise under the ACA. More individuals will find that their preferred doctor is no longer in their plan’s network. Employers are beginning to cut spouses and children from plans, which will add to the confusion about which doctor you should be going to for which family member.

Some of the largest carriers like UnitedHealthcare and Aetna will only cover out-of-network fees up to what they consider a “fair” amount, and then you have to pay the rest yourself, even if you’ve already met your deductible. Good luck finding out what the cost will be beforehand. Doctors and nurses don’t know, and many facilities are known to not provide that information even if you call their billing department.

For more information on out-of-network services and payment, see FairHealth’s website. You can also see the websites of UnitedHealthcare and Aetna on how they deal with out-of-network costs.


Randy Cox
Founder & CEO of Pricing Healthcare

The Increasing Importance of SDM and Patient Choice in Today’s Healthcare

October 4, 2013 in Member Stories

A recent report (September 2013) from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that through effective public health measures, necessary screening and medical care, and lifestyle change, at least 200,000 deaths from heart disease and stroke each year are preventable and that more than half of preventable heart disease and stroke deaths happen to people under age 65.

In the study, CDC officials go on to say that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be helpful in reducing avoidable death by providing medical treatment and screening facilities to a large number of uninsured Americans.

Providing up to 29 million new people with affordable health insurance by 2019 is a good start. However, the key to success goes beyond simply providing access to health insurance. It will depend on how effectively plans and employers can actively engage people in their healthcare and the decisions about their health. Engagement can be done through unique and compelling online and offline educational methods including web-based information about conditions and treatment options, DVDs, telephonic health coaching, and/or any combination of those. Through this engagement, patients are empowered with the tools, resources, and information they need to have informed conversations with their doctors and make the decisions that are best for them based on their values and preferences. This is Shared Decision Making. And, it has been proven to improve patient and provider satisfaction, reduce hospitalizations and invasive surgeries, and improve patient outcomes while reducing costs.

By incorporating Shared Decision Making into patient education services, health coaching, and wellness programs, plans and employers can drive true behavior change by helping patients make healthy lifestyle choices and address chronic conditions, such as heart disease and stroke.

As the healthcare industry continues to evolve and the ACA takes hold, Shared Decision Making can play an important role in driving an informed patient. And, an informed and engaged patient is critical to a better system.

Peter Goldbach, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer at Health Dialog, a leading provider of healthcare analytics and decision support. He has 15 years of experience in medical administration and 17 years maintaining a primary care and pulmonary disease practice. He received an undergraduate and master’s degree from UCLA and his medical degree from SUNY Downstate Medical Center College of Medicine. 

Just asking “How much will this cost?” makes a difference

October 2, 2013 in Member Stories

I had an awesome hour of squash with some old friends over the weekend.

Three days later I’m gritting my teeth through spasms in my lower back.

So I go see an orthopedist, or actually, his physician assistant.  She orders x-rays.  I assume that means one and ask, “How much will it cost?”  She looks at me with surprise.  Well, she says, if you’re worried about the cost we’ll justrun two.  We usually order a package of five, but you probably don’t need the five anyway.  I’ll look at the two and if I need more, we’ll take them.

How much did I save the system? Probably not more than a couple hundred bucks.  And I won’t get a share of the savings, but then I didn’t get any unnecessary radiation either.  A win all around, sort of.

I’d never met this PA and it didn’t fell right to suggest that she ask herself every time, does my patient really need five x-rays?  But I wonder: how often would asking about the cost make a difference in the treatment we receive.  My guess is, often.




Is America a Nation of Java Junkies?

August 10, 2013 in Member Stories

Is America a Nation of Java Junkies?
Source: Top Counseling Schools

June 24, 2013 in Member Stories


I asked a couple of questions concerning healthcare costs and electronic health records and the fact that EHR’s are not lending themselves to effectively coordinate care among hospitals.

Click on the Thumbnail to view the questions – or view

The Full Clip


Stress and Your Health

June 24, 2013 in Member Stories

Stress and Your Health
Source: Best Psychology Degrees

Where’s the best? Prices in health care mean nothing unless you answer that question first

June 4, 2013 in health care costs, health care quality, Member Stories

The New York Times makes a strong argument for paying more attention to the price of a colonoscopy: “Colonoscopies Explain Why the US Leads the World in Health Expenditure.

But most Americans will be very uncomfortable choosing the cheapest test unless there’s proof the quality is just as good as the more expensive options.



But here’s where health care information breaks down. If you think it’s hard to find the price of colonoscopy – finding out who provides the safest, most reliable test, is close to impossible.

I, with the help of some brave docs in Boston, put together a sample chart.

There’s a much better example of how to shop for a quality colonoscopy here, from the folks at Quality Quest for Health.

Until someone can tell me where I can get the best colonoscopy, I’m going to resist shopping based on price.

Exercises to ease back pain

May 15, 2013 in fitness, health care costs, lifestyle, Member Stories

I’ve always been a money-saver  When I was younger, my mom looked in wonder as I handed her my birthday money and asked her to put it in the bank for me. I might not have had a Razor scooter like all of the other kids, but hey, I was able to pay off a third of my college loans before I even graduated. This frugal attitude has lead me to believe that I can save money in any situation, even when it comes to my health.

Photo Credit (

I still go to the doctor when I have to (broken bone, the flu, etc.), but if I ever see a chance to avoid a trip to the doctor, I’ll take it. A couple of years ago I hurt my upper back when I was playing in a rugby match (poor choice of sport), and now I have a tight muscle that flares up every now and then. When the injury initially occurred, an athletic trainer told me that I could get an MRI, but that it wouldn’t do much for me. In a nutshell, the MRI could possibly reveal what was wrong with my back, but even if it did, the doctor would probably recommend the same thing that I could have come up with on my own: exercise.

According to an article on, Read the rest of this entry →

Do Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Medicine

May 8, 2013 in lifestyle, Member Stories

Back in the day, sugar sprinkled with a spoonful of gossip was the typical commodity to share over the fence between neighbors and friends.  Perhaps if cooking or scandal was not your forte, then an innocent request for a snow blower may be on par.  Yet today, what is freely passing over neighborly coffees and talk of petunias is prescription medications whereby turning innocent backyards into outdoor pill dispensaries.

It is common to hear that we have become desensitized.  Typically desensitization refers to such offensive stuff such as violent carjacking video games, bad manners and daily mentions of ill at large.  Yet, we have also become immune to the dangers that lurk deep in the bowels of our own medicine cabinet and the quick impulse to dole out said medicine.  Perhaps in a neighborly gesture gone array, friends teeming with good intentions, offer their prescription meds to others in need of a pill.

Sharing we are taught is a good thing.  From days long before we can even remember, our mothers were reminding us and scolding us to share, share, share.  Share your favorite toy, share that half eaten cracker, share the remote with your brother.  Thus, it may only be succumbing to a natural instinct that to see a friend in need illicits a helpful response.  Urinary tract infection? Oh here are some unused antibiotics.  Stress at work or a big presentation coming up?  Here is some Adderall or Ritalin.  Wisdom teeth bothering you?  Here’s some Oxycontin.  Bad breakup?  Here’s a Valium. That’s what friends are for after all.

According to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention study, women 18 to 44 lead the trend.  Over 36% polled in this group, admitted that they have either lent or borrowed a prescription drug from a friend or family member. Read the rest of this entry →

Value of yoga

May 6, 2013 in fitness, lifestyle, Member Stories, News

I’ve never been one for yoga. My roommate has been trying to get me to go to a class with her for months, but I always tell her that I’m more of a cardio kickboxing type of girl. What can I say? I’d rather de-stress by punching and kicking the air than pose like a tree. However, I might now consider going to yoga after a recent study was released that claims yoga does much more than relax the body and mind; it can actually change the expression of genes.

Photo Credit (

According to a new study from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)  and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, “elicitation of the relaxation response – a physiologic state of deep rest induced by practices such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing and prayer – produces immediate changes in the expression of genes involved in immune function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion.”

The study consisted of blood samples from 26 healthy adults who had never participated in relaxation response practices. The samples were taken before and after they completed an Read the rest of this entry →

Don’t let the doctors dissuade you

May 1, 2013 in health care quality, Medical Care, Member Stories

The Boston Globe recently reported that “Dr. Richard Aghababian, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, believes rating websites present a skewed picture of doctors because patients are more likely to post about negative experiences.” This sentiment resonates with the results of a recently published survey conducted by the American College of Physician Executives, which was announced with the headline “Survey Finds Physicians Very Wary of Doctor Ratings.”

Dr. Aghababian’s belief is conventional wisdom — after all, who else besides disgruntled patients would bother to post a review? However, there have been a number of studies that disprove this notion. One study showed a median rating of 4.5 out of 5, while another study found that 88% of the reviews it looked at were positive. Curious about the subject, we at DocSpot (a free consumer website that helps people find doctors and allows patients to leave reviews) conducted our own study of nearly a quarter million online patient reviews and found that the majority of online reviews gave doctors the top score possible (5 out of 5). Is that the skewed picture that Dr. Aghababian was referring to?

To be fair, we don’t believe that online patient ratings give a comprehensive and accurate picture of doctors. We think that patient reviews are better indicators for certain aspects of care than others. “Is a doctor rude?” and “Does a patient feel rushed?” are questions that online reviews can lend insight into. Online reviews are also likely to alert prospective patients to other aspects of the experience, such as any unexpected billing practices. When people want to know “will I be healed?”, that’s a much trickier question. Read the rest of this entry →

Who rates medical apps?

April 12, 2013 in Health care apps, Member Stories

With so many apps available to patients, at first glance it might be hard to tell which ones are useful and which ones will just eat up space on your phone. To save people the trouble of wasting money and time on an app, several websites have reviewed some of the top medical apps on the market so that you don’t have to.

iMedicalApps, a site that claims to be “the leading online publication for medical professionals, patients, and analysts interested in mobile medical technology and health care apps,” has physicians, health professionals, medical trainees, and health analysts review medical apps.The best part of this site is that the reviews leave nothing to be asked. Majority of the apps are reviewed based on price, the positives and negatives of the app, and its usefulness to both patients and medical experts. It also has a rating section for user interface, multimedia usage, and real world applicability. The one drawback is that the apps are not reviewed by patients themselves, which could bolster the reviews.

Sample of’s review of the “Kids Beating Asthma” app.

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