Archive for Pharmaceutical Drugs

Chicken Little, Wishful Thinking and the 24 Hour News Cycle

chickenOne frightening and frustrating trend we’ve seen since the 24-hour news cycle became a reality (meaning – since we have all gotten used to, and expect, to get our news updated at anytime, day or night, everywhere) – credibility has taken a nose dive. We want to think we can count on the “facts” as reported, but too often they get blended with the not-quite-facts, the incorrectly extrapolated facts, the just-plain-wrong facts – and of course, pure fiction.

The “Who Can You Believe?” question became even more acute over the last week with the realization that NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who I have always liked and would still like to invite for dinner, thinks it’s OK to embellish the truth. If you would believe his stories, you would think he had been shot down in a helicopter or watched bodies floating in the New Orleans French Quarter after Katrina. Neither is true.

Now, Brian Williams doesn’t give patient empowerment advice.  But other so, and like Brian, they come across as so gosh-darn believable!  The problem is, sometimes they aren’t, and we have to do some due diligence to figure out when they are, or when they aren’t, when their advice is useful, and when it’s not, or even when it’s downright dangerous.

Do I think they are intentionally leading us astray?  Sometimes. Do I think they intentionally give us bad advice?  Sometimes.  Do I think we need to confirm their advice with another, more objective information?  You bet I do. Too often what we see is more Chicken Little or Wishful Thinking and not something we should put any stock in at all.

So where can we patients turn? How do we know what’s objective, what isn’t, what’s worthy of our time, and who we can believe?

That’s Gary Schwitzer’s entire focus – so let me tell you about Gary’s work.

Gary founded many years ago.  As a journalism professor, teaching his students how to write informational and objective news stories, he was appalled at the shift in direction being taken by large news organizations. That is – they glom on to “news” that isn’t really news, because they think it will catch someone’s eye (or ears) – and not because it’s really useful. Further, sometimes they simply regurgitate a press release from a pharmaceutical or medical device company, like “Research Shows that Our New Drug Cures Cancer!”  The problem is, too many people believe it.

But smart patients don’t believe any of it until they have investigated further and assessed its veracity.

I encourage you to take a look at Health News Review to see exactly the criteria Gary’s reviewers use to assess health and medical news stories. You might also be interested in his post about conflicts-of-interest among national TV anchors and medical correspondents. Eye-opening.

Gary’s criteria for assessing news stories are front and center, right on his homepage.  Additional information can be found here:  How to Assess Medical Studies


Do you have advice or a story to share that illustrates this post?  Please share in the comments below.

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Posted in: Follow the Money, Health /Medical Consumerism, Media, Medical and Research Studies, Patient Empowerment, Patient Safety, Pharmaceutical Drugs, Politics and Medicine, You Bet Your Life!

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10 Patient Empowerment Tips to Post on Your Refrigerator Door

The information center in many homes is the refrigerator door.  From family photos, to postcards to magnets from pizza shops, to phone numbers and kids’ artwork – the important ephemera of our lives can be found on refrigerator doors.

So today I thought I would share some advice that is worth cutting out and sticking to your refrigerator door – 10 empowerment tips that will keep you healthier and help you get the great medical care you deserve.

And if you like them, I invite you to download them (in the form of a small poster) to stick on your refrigerator door! (although – maybe you prefer to stick them on your bathroom mirror or medicine cabinet?  That’s OK too.)

  1. Become the expert in your own medical challenges. Read everything you can about your symptoms or diagnosis, ask questions, study anatomy, acquire and review copies of all your medical records. Be the authority on YOU.
  2. Using your YOU expertise, partner with your doctors and other providers. While they may have a medical education and experience, YOU are the one who has lived in your body your entire life.  Be an active participant on your own healthcare team. If your provider won’t listen to you, or share in your decision-making, then find one who will.
  3. Pursue a second opinionwhenever you are diagnosed with a difficult disease or condition, or surgery, chemo, or long term treatment are prescribed. And if they disagree?  Then seek a third.
  4. Don’t be afraid to say NO.  Sometimes less is more. As the authority on YOU, you’ll know when NO is the right answer.
  5. Thank your doctors and their staff members when they have been collaborative and helpful.  They work in a tough environment.  Appreciation, when appropriate, can go a long way toward strengthening your partnership.
  6. Read and listen past the headlines.  Get the whole story, then pursue additional, objective resources to confirm their veracity and to determine how well they apply to YOU. In particular, be sure Internet health  information is credible.
  7. Review your medical bills. Experts tell us that up to 80 percent of medical bills contain errors.  Incorrect bills will eventually cost us all in higher premiums and taxes.
  8. Provide support to others. Shared experiences can help others who suffer the same medical challenges you do.  Refer them to good doctors, and support groups, and offer an ear when they want to share their joys, or need to vent.
  9. Accept support from others. Whether it’s a loved one, or a professional, sometimes it’s imperative to have an advocate by your side to keep YOU safe, or keep you from being railroaded.
  10. Finally, wash your hands regularly and cough or sneeze into your elbow.  Infections are dangerous and deadly whether acquired during a hospital stay, or brought home from school by the kids.  Hygiene can go a long way toward keeping infection at bay and keeping YOU healthy.

Don’t forget – if you like these tips, you can print them out as a small refrigerator poster – here they are.


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Posted in: Patient Empowerment, Patient Safety, Patient Tools, Pharmaceutical Drugs, Self Help

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Is It Safe to Purchase Prescription Drugs Online?

(as published in the Syracuse Post Standard, June 7, 2011)

One question I’m asked frequently is whether it’s safe to purchase prescription drugs on the Internet.

Whether you like the convenience or hope to save money by purchasing online, the short answer is “Sure! Go for it!” But that’s followed by some cautionary advice, too.

If you have prescription coverage through your insurer or Medicare, then consider purchasing your prescription drugs online from a pharmacy that works with your insurance. Most of the major pharmacies like Rite-Aid, CVS, or Walgreens have websites where you can, at least, refill a prescription.

Most larger payers also work with mail order pharmacies like Express Scripts, Caremark or Medco.  Each of these companies offers a convenient way to fill or refill your prescriptions on their websites. Some even send refill reminders to your doctor.

Saving money is a big reason to shop for prescription drugs online.  If you don’t have prescription drug coverage, or if you are at risk of falling into Medicare’s donut hole, you’ll want to keep your cost as low as possible.

There are several websites available to help you compare drug prices and it’s definitely worth your effort to do so.  For example, the cost for Lipitor 20 mg finds a range of $85.70 to $284.16 for a 90-day supply.  That can save you $1,200 per year! Find that list of cost comparison websites here:  How to Compare Drug Prices Online.

The biggest cautions are safety-related.  You’ll want to protect your identity, since you’ll need to use your credit card. You’ll also need confidence that the drugs you receive are the actual drugs you ordered and not watered down or counterfeit versions.

The best way to be sure you are purchasing drugs safely is to be sure the online pharmacy you choose has been reviewed by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Once they review an Internet pharmacy, it is assigned to one of two lists: either its list of “rogue” pharmacies, those known to be unsafe, or “VIPPS” pharmacies, meaning Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites – the safe sites.

Purchasing your prescription drugs online can be a time saver, a money saver, and is especially helpful for those who have trouble with transportation.  As long as you make sure you’re purchasing from a bona fide safe pharmacy, then it’s a smart approach to purchasing your drugs.


How to Safely and Legally Buy Drugs from Online Pharmacies

How to Buy Drugs from Foreign Pharmacies

How to Compare Drug Prices Online


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Posted in: Follow the Money, Health /Medical Consumerism, Patient Empowerment, Patient Safety, Patient Tools, Pharmaceutical Drugs, Privacy and Security, Self Help

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Conspiracy Theorists and Flu Vaccines – Pick Another Battle Please

A couple of weeks ago I posted a flu vaccine commentary and poll after listening to Dr. Dean Edell on the radio. He was talking about people who refuse to get vaccinated. He made the comment that vaccines have been proven effective for decades, and he’s tired of trying to defend them. That if people refuse to get vaccinated, and die — well — that’s just a way to clean out the gene pool.

Readers of the post took offense, calling me arrogant and ignorant. Among them are people who are truly afraid, people who are allergic, people who feel as if they have done their due diligence and have dismissed vaccines (empowered patients!) — and conspiracy theorists.

I wrote a follow up post, citing highly credible sources for all to see, showing why I believe flu vaccines are so important. The bottom line is that the flu is dangerous — both the H1N1 swine flu and the seasonal flu are killers. Vaccines are the only defense we have today (who knows – maybe we’ll have something better in the future?) And the statistics tell us that we have a 591% better chance of dying from the flu than we do dying from the flu vaccine. You don’t have to be a Las Vegas gambler to understand those odds.

I am actually VERY pleased that so many people have given researched thought and consideration to the question – even the ones who disagree with me.  However — I must say — I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with the flu vaccine conspiracy theorists…. seriously. And if you are one, I say to you — get a life!

Here are the conspiracy theorists’ arguments. They remind me of a saying I heard many years ago — “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me.”  Further – they have violated the first rule of questionable healthcare practices, and that is – Follow the Money.

Here are some of their lines of reasoning, and my comments:

1. Flu vaccine is only produced to make pharmaceutical companies richer. To that I say — don’t be silly. For the cost, personnel and too tiny profits to be made by producing vaccine, pharmaceutical manufacturers would much prefer to put their efforts into producing something that actually makes a worthwhile profit for them.  Included is the manufacturing are symptoms relievers — far FAR more profitable in the long run.  Why would they want to prevent an illness at very little profit at the expense of bigger profits from medicine that could relieve or fix us?

2.  Flu vaccines were developed from African Green Monkeys – and the real intent is to eradicate the population of the earth! This one gets the “give me a break” award on so many counts… First…  if the government wanted to eradicate the entire population of the earth, they could do it FAR more efficiently by using, oh, say  anthrax or dengue fever – or some other killer.  Why would they go to all the trouble to develop something that actually took science?  Why not a shortcut, and something cheap to do it?

3.  And then I have to ask – why would the government (which government anyway?) want to eradicate the world’s population? If the government eradicated the world’s population, then who would be left to govern?  and who would be left to pay taxes to that government?  and who would be in charge anyway?  (because the government is comprised of people who would get sick, too)…. etc etc….

Sorry — but these theories are just plain laughable.  You want a conspiracy?  I think there’s a conspiracy to make me waste my time looking these things up — because I do my due diligence, unlike some of my readers.

Here’s the deal — I understand that not everyone wants to be injected with flu vaccines, and even that some must avoid vaccines because their bodies cannot tolerate them.  However — for the great majority of us (GREAT majority) — flu shots will keep us healthier — and will keep our loved ones and those around us healthier — than not getting flu shots will.

Further — as reasonable people, we need to understand that unless we have a real concern about negative effects of vaccines, we must accept responsibility for passing possibly deadly flu on to others when we don’t get the flu vaccine.  H1N1 or seasonal — they are both killers.  I’m not willing to be responsible for making someone else sick, nor chancing that they could die.  I would not be able to sleep at night.

Do you?

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Posted in: Follow the Money, Patient Advocacy, Patient Empowerment, Pharmaceutical Drugs, Self Help

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We’re Looking for You!

businessman pointing

Paying for healthcare is getting more and more difficult, whether it’s affording insurance premiums, paying for expensive drug prescriptions or managing without coverage at all.  And there’s no sign that it will get any easier anytime soon, as we all know too well.

I’ve been contacted by a TV news network to help recruit two patients who need help managing their healthcare costs.  Do you fit either of these profiles?

  1. Someone who is recently laid-off, or for some reason no longer has health insurance and needs a medical procedure. Not a life threatening medical problem, but still serious enough that you know you need to get the procedure.  We will work with you to negotiate costs with the hospital (we will talk with the hospital first).
  2. Someone who has insurance and has a condition which creates an ongoing need for a prescription drug — several drugs if possible.   Perhaps you’ve recently been laid off and you’re using COBRA?  Or maybe your employer doesn’t pay for your healthcare.  We will work with you to lower the cost of your drugs.

In both cases, we’re hoping to find someone who lives in Upstate New York or the New York City area.

If you fit either profile or know someone who does, and you (or they) are willing to be on TV, please send me an email at:

We will choose the people we’ll work with by Monday, April 6.

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Posted in: Health /Medical Consumerism, Health Insurance, Patient Empowerment, Patient Tools, Pharmaceutical Drugs, Self Help

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