Should Hospital Workers Who Don't Get a Flu Shot Be Required to Wear a Mask?

A few weeks ago, before the flu was national news, a reader who works at a hospital in Portland, Or., wrote to say:
"The organization I work for just started this policy, I think it is very interesting and may push those who don't want to get a flu shot for whatever reason to get a flu shot to avoid the stigma of wearing a mask. The employee comment section has ranged from HIPPA violations to discrimination for those who can't have a flu shot based on egg allergies."

Here's the policy:

You may have heard by now: Flu season is ramping up in Oregon, with cases now starting to affect hospitalized patients in greater numbers. For individuals whose immune systems are compromised by other conditions, the flu can be life threatening.

To keep patients safe, a new Influenza Vaccination and Masking policy requires that workforce members do one of two things during flu season:

When A Daughter Dies

Not too long ago, I wrote about my sister Linda, who passed away this summer.

Nobody could love a daughter more than my father Michael loved Linda. 

My father (who is a doctor) was realistic from the start about what modern medicine might be able to do to save his precious daughter from cancer.  Even with those low expectations, he was shocked at how impotent -- and actually counterproductive -- her interactions with the medical system turned out to be.

Here, in his own words, is my father's poignant account of my sister’s experience with medical care.

End of Illness Author David Agus Answers Your Questions

We recently solicited your questions for David Agus, the oncologist author of The End of Illness. Now he's back with answers, including: the numbers on taking aspirin, how to get the most from a doctor visit, and the top 10 actions to reduce your cancer risk. I can guarantee you that his answers will enlighten and thrill some people and enrage and confound others. Thanks to everyone for their participation, and especially to Agus for the thorough answers. 

Q. I’m a 4th year medical student, and I watched your interview on The Daily Show when it first aired and really took issue with the way you presented many of these things. It seemed that you simplified your “solutions” to the point that it may actually be dangerous for people to listen to what you suggested. For example, you implied that everyone should be taking aspirin.

Bring Your Questions for End of Illness Author David Agus

Here's an obvious but sobering thought: every one of us will someday get sick and die. And here's a happier thought: with ever-advancing medical technology and research, we can now avoid many kinds of illnesses and add more years to our lifespan.

The oncologist David Agus lives halfway between those two thoughts. He is a professor at USC, the founder of Oncology.com, a co-founder of Navigenics, and now the author of The End of Illness. Most impressively, perhaps, he was recently a guest on The Daily Show

The End of Illness is Agus's take on how the body works and why it fails. Along the way, he challenges a lot of conventional wisdom about health with academic studies and his own medical experience. Arguments in the book include: that taking vitamins may increase the risk of cancer; that sitting at a desk all day may be as damaging as smoking; and that you can tell something about a patient's health based on whether she wears high-heel shoes. One review of the book reads: "A ‘rock star’ doctor says throw away the vitamins, load up on baby aspirin, and keep moving."

How to Get Doctors to Wash Their Hands, Visual Edition

In our latest podcast “What Do Hand-Washing and Financial Illiteracy Have in Common?," we revisited a topic we wrote about a few years back: how one hospital (Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles) has tried to increase the rate of hand hygiene among its doctors. In the podcast, chief medical officer Michael Langberg regretfully reported that his doctors, like many doctors, routinely failed to wash their hands. Cedars-Sinai came up with a series of computer screensavers and posters that, along with some other creative measures, significantly jacked up the hand-hygiene rate.

How to Talk to Doctors: Groopman and Hartzband Answer Your Questions

Last week, we solicited questions for Harvard physicians Jerome Groopman and Pamela Hartzband, the authors of Your Medical Mind: How to Decide What Is Right For You. They've come back to us with some answers. As always, thanks for your questions, and thanks to Jerry and Pam for taking the time to answer them.

How to Make Tough Medical Decisions? Bring Your Questions for the Authors of Your Medical Mind

What do you do when the medical experts disagree? Should you have that PSA screening, or mammogram? Should you really be taking statins -- and what about vitamins? On these and many other medical issues, consensus is hard to come by; individuals end up weighing the benefits and risks.

Jerome Groopman (more here) and Pamela Hartzband have written a book to address this conundrum, called Your Medical Mind: How to Decide What Is Right For You. The authors are both Harvard physicians, and they are also married to each other. To write the book, they interviewed a variety of patients with different medical problems, including those from various socioeconomic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. Along the way, the authors identified all sorts of different mindsets -- proactive vs. passive, "believers" vs. "doubters," and so on. They synthesize what they learned into a framework meant to help any one person try to figure out what's the optimal treatment. Along the way, the authors ask a variety of tricky, compelling questions: how much autonomy do people really want in making treatment choices?

FREAK-est Links

1. How doctors die -- "not like the rest of us, but it should be."
2. Not a good idea to fake your mother's death to get bereavement leave.
3. Another argument in favor of a low-carb, high-fat diet
4. SI poll confirms Freak Radio "boo" podcast: Philly fans the toughest.
5. Six double-yolk eggs in a row: what are the odds
6. The legacy -- economic and otherwise -- of forced sterilization
7. The rise, fall -- and rise? -- of peer-to-peer lending.

Paging Rick Perry's Texas Doctors

Texas Gov. Rick Perry claims to have lured many doctors to Texas, some of the many jobs he claims to have created. (The media's treatment of which we've touched on here.) At the same time, a friend on the board of a local community health center says they cannot find doctors to staff it—there is an insufficient supply at the wage they have always been paying. How can this be consistent with Perry’s claim?

One possibility is that the reduction in malpractice insurance costs raised the net wage in the private sector relative to the public sector. Even if Perry’s claim is correct, there may be more doctors than before, but relative supply may have shifted to the private sector, leading to a shortage in the public sector.

Abortion Is Legal, but What Percentage of Ob-gyns Will Provide One?

A new study released by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, from main author Debra Stulberg, surveys 1,144 ob-gyns (1,800 were initially approached) to see how many provide abortion services. Though legal, abortion is much harder to come by than one might expect: while 97% of ob-gyns reported having encountered women seeking an abortion, only 14% said they were willing to perform the service.

The authors further break down willing abortion providers based on gender, location, and religious affiliation. Here's the abstract: