Archive for the ‘Medical topics’ Category

Georgia on Route75 heading south, stopping for gas and looking around. PG photo Georgia on Route 95 heading south, stopping for gas and looking around. It seems we reached a crossroads.   PG photo.  Left click for full view.

By Paul Goldfinger, MD, FACC.  2013 on Rt. 95  Re-post 2020.

Sometimes in life you reach a crossroads, and in this case you can choose between a drink or a no-needle, no-scalpel vasectomy.  If you are in the market for a permanent pregnancy preventer, then maybe you would consider doing both.

When I saw that billboard, however, my interest as a physician was raised significantly  (perhaps “raised” is not the ideal verb) because I couldn’t figure out how that promise could be kept.

For those of you unfamiliar with this procedure, the vasectomy is a surgical intervention performed on the male to prevent any of his sperm from ever reaching the promised land.  It is the most commonly performed urological procedure.  About 500,000 are done each year in this country.    The operation is minor and safe in the hands of an experienced surgeon. It rarely fails to work, and it frees up the female from using contraceptives or having surgery herself.

So, when I got to a Wi-Fi zone, I had a Starbucks and checked out the new method.  In the traditional form of the technique, a local anesthetic is administered by a thin 1 1/2 inch needle which is gently used to numb the scrotum skin and then penetrates further to reach the vas deferens (ie the spermatic cord) a long tube whose job is to transmit sperm from the testicles to the penis.  An incision is then made, and the vas deferens is cut and tied off. There are two vas deferenses, so usually two incisions are used. vas

The new technique was developed in China where a lot of men are fearful of the needle/scalpel method.   The numbing is accomplished using a high pressure spray device  (“a jet injector” made in New Jersey) which numbs the skin and the deeper tissues—thus, no needle.   Then, the scalpel incision is avoided by creating a self sealing puncture hole which allows the surgeon to do the job.  As you might imagine, this procedure requires a lot of experience, but it attracts many men who fear the needle and the scalpel more than their wives.  Side effects including bleeding and infection are less with this new method. It also feels like you are dragging your scrotum around for two weeks.

The bottom line is that the surgeon still has to anesthetize the area and he still has to cut the vas deferens. But this new technique gets the job done with less discomfort, less psychologic distress, and reduced risk of side effects. If you consider this procedure, make sure that the surgeon has had a lot of experience. If you are a married woman  who has had all the children she wants, you might suggest this to your spouse, and then go with him to the doctor and don’t let go of his hand.

Note that they do it at NYPresbyterian Hospital. It is an outpatient procedure  and it takes about 30 minutes or less. Dr. Stein  (the urologist on the billboard) charges $490.00, but, if you want it reversed, the charge is $4,900.00.  However, reversal surgery doesn’t always work.


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“Blue Angel. ”  Still image by Paul Goldfinger from the movie Marco Polo.


By Paul Goldfinger, MD, FACC


Cyanosis: a bluish discoloration of the skin resulting from poor circulation or inadequate oxygenation of the blood.


The patient was a middle aged woman who worked in the bank on Blackwell Street in Dover,  New Jersey, where I had recently opened my practice.   People began to notice a change in her appearance: she had developed a bluish discoloration of her skin. Each day it became worse and worse until her friends and family became alarmed. Everyone was amazed that she had no symptoms other than the striking blue face which was looking at her in the mirror. Finally she called her family physician.

I got a call about the case from her doctor, a kindly older man who smoked cigarettes in his office and dropped ashes on his vest. “Paul” he said, “I want you to see this lady who’s turning blue.”

I was shocked by the call. Middle aged females don’t just turn blue out of the blue. I could see why he might want a cardiologist, but how could his patient have a heart condition when she felt fine?

She came to the ER at Dover General Hospital where I met her. She was indeed cyanotic, but the cause was not obvious. I admitted her to the hospital where it became clear that she had neither heart disease or lung disease—the two leading causes of cyanosis. Those were the days when you could admit a patient to the hospital “for tests.”

All the tests were negative, so I decided to go back to basics—an old fashioned approach: a meticulous detailed history was required.

As I was going over all the particulars again, she mentioned something that she hadn’t disclosed when I first met her: she was being treated for a urinary tract infection. When I looked up her medication, I discovered that her pyridium could cause a change in her blood hemoglobin to produce a compound called methemoglobin. So instead of red blood, her blood was turning blue.

Eureka! The lab ran a methemoglobin level on her blood , and we had the diagnosis: methemoglobinemia—the first and last case I ever saw.

We stopped that medication and we kept her in the hospital, and each day, when I made rounds, I became more and more relieved—she was turning light blue: lighter and lighter each day.

Finally I became confident enough to tell her that she was cured; and I sang her a few bars of the chorus to this song: (performed here by Ethel Waters in 1929)








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Snow shoveler faces a couple of thousand pounds of white stuff. Monday.   Blogfinger photo in Ocean Grove.


Ominous truck appears on Main Avenue: maybe a sign to stop shoveling

By Paul Goldfinger, MD, FACC


When I was working as a cardiologist, we were wary of snow storms because we knew that we would have to go to the ER to see shovelers who developed chest pains, dizziness, fainting, palpitations and other worrisome symptoms.  But we also knew that the fatalities were usually among those who simply died without any warning—due to a major cardiac rhythm disturbance.

The early signs of a heart attack are well known, although sometimes they can be misleading.  For example, chest pains may be harmless, due to muscle strain from shoveling. On the other side of the coin, the early signs of a heart problem might be ignored, such as when jaw or arm pain occur without chest discomfort or if you become short of breath.

If you are having symptoms but are unsure, the best bet is to go to the ER.  I could tell you how to analyze your symptoms, but for a lay person: “Better to be safe than sorry.”

If you are thinking about shoveling, there is an important principle that you should know:  silent coronary heart disease  (ie without any warnings) is common, and you might be at risk of dying during shoveling even though your doctor says you are healthy and even though you feel fine. This is true even if you had a negative stress test.

Cardiologists refer to “hearts too good to die.” That means that heart disease, where arteries on the surface of the heart develop blockages severe enough to cause sudden death, may be associated with a strong heart, and that the narrowed arteries could have been fixed if diagnosed.

The risk of sudden death during shoveling is particularly relevant for those who have risk factors:  over age 50—especially males, smokers, high cholesterol, family history of early heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, sedentary, obese, and known heart disease. Even those under age 50 might be at risk from shoveling if they have major risk factors such as family history.

The best advice: don’t shovel snow.  Let some kid do it. It’s cheaper than having your family pay for a funeral.

This may sound harsh, but I have seen it.   I personally know someone who died suddenly in his 50’s while snow shoveling and without a cardiac history. He was a heavy smoker with very high cholesterol.    I know two doctors without known heart disease who died suddenly while cross country skiing.   So don’t be foolish.

If you do shovel, do not do so after a meal or after having caffeine or nicotine. Pace yourself and rest frequently.  Remember that the stress on your cardiovascular system during strenuous exercise will be especially extreme in cold weather, even if you dress warmly and think that you are protected . The cold air causes your arteries to constrict and your blood pressure and heart rate to shoot up abruptly.  Cover your face.

Please click on “email” below and share this with some of your friends.

This article re-posted as needed. —-PG


CLARENCE “FROGMAN” HENRY  says take  care of yourself—it’s a gift to your loved ones.

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Photo by one of my fellow med students. Washington, DC. c. 1966

Photo by one of my fellow med students. Washington, DC. c. 1966. Goldfinger family album


By Paul Goldfinger, M.D.

Four of us rotated together through the clinical years of medical school. Bill was from Utah,  Bob from New Jersey, Dennis from Pennsylvania and myself from New Jersey.  We were in Washington, D.C. at the George Washington University School of Medicine.   The med school was in a crummy part of town with strip joints around the corner—an excellent environment to study anatomy.  The school was a brick structure from the 19th century where we had lectures in a big amphitheatre like in Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson.”   There were 94 guys and 6 women.

GWU Medical School at 1335 H Street. It was replaced in 1970 by a new school at Foggy Bottom

GWU Medical School at 1335 H Street. It was replaced in 1970 by a new school at Foggy Bottom.

The Dean, John Parks, was a big man—a former football player for the University of Wisconsin.  He was a well known Ob-Gyn specialist.  The students called him  “The Patriarch of the Pelvis.”   So Ob-gyn was a big deal at our school.  Our Ob-gyn rotation was at a large city hospital–D.C. General, which was also ancient and which no longer exists.  That was a rough old place with big public wards and students coming from the three med schools in Washington:  G.W., Georgetown and Howard universities.

We got to deliver babies there. We would be assigned to a woman as she came through the door in labor.  We would stick with her during labor and then we would deliver the baby. What a thrill!   Then we had two postpartum patients and we wore two hats:  obstetrician and pediatrician.

One time Dennis called me. He delivered a baby, but he couldn’t deliver the placenta.  I gave a gentle tug and nothing happened, so my contribution was to call the intern. He came and then called the resident. He came and found out that there was another baby in there.  In those days the diagnosis of twins was sometimes difficult.

At  GWU hospital, it was a more genteel experience in Ob because the patients were private. But I delivered babies there also, although the supervision was a bit tighter than at DC General.  They allowed me to do a minor surgical procedure called an episiotomy where a small incision is made to allow the baby’s head to emerge more easily. That was satisfying for me, the mother and the baby.  Then I got to sew it all up —nice and neat. We also learned to use forceps for difficult deliveries—that procedure I disliked intensely.  I kept score in my OB book :  30 babies delivered; 20 were little girls. I couldn’t account for that distribution.

I loved Ob, but, in the end, I chose cardiology. Two years later, as a medical resident at Mt. Sinai Hospital in NYC,  I was walking in front, on Madison Avenue, on  a summer morning, at about 2 am.   I was on call;  they had asked me to see a patient in the next building.  Just then a taxi screeched to a halt at the curb. The cabbie, seeing my white uniform with a stethoscope around my neck, urged me to look into the back seat.

There was a woman about to give birth—the baby’s head was crowning.  So I jumped in and delivered a boy—that was the last time I would ever have the privilege to deliver a baby;  and  was I  grateful for that rotation in Washington, D.C.



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East Side, West Side, all around the town.

By Paul Goldfinger, MD  (Reposted from Blogfinger.net, 2011)

We recently posted a photograph of Central Park after the 1969 Blizzard.  I took that photo from the top of The Mt. Sinai Hospital where I was a resident physician in internal medicine.  An Ocean Grover emailed to say that he was born there in the spring of 1969.  That took me back to something that happened there around that time:

Mt. Sinai Hospital is a large medical center  on the Upper East Side; one entrance faces Fifth Avenue while the other is on Madison Avenue.  Back then, the hospital consisted of a group of buildings that were connected by tunnels underground. One morning, at about 3 a.m., when I was on call in the ER, I received a page to come quickly  to the Klingenstein Clinical Center on Madison Ave.  The fastest route was to go outside and walk a half block to the KCC.  I was dressed in my house staff uniform: all white with a stethoscope and loose papers sticking out the jacket pocket.

As I stepped outside, a yellow cab screeched to a halt at the curb.  The driver jumped out, looked at me and said, “Are you a doctor?”  Lots of things pop into one’s mind at times such as that.  I thought, “No–I’m Batman” and then, “Why is this cabbie asking for my credentials?”

Anyhow, I said, “Yes. What’s the problem?”

“A lady is having a baby in the back seat!” he exclaimed.

“Sorry, I gotta go” is what first came to mind, but I opened the door to the cab, and there they were: Mom flat on her back, and the baby’s head crowning.  “Hello, I must be going” is what I next thought (to borrow a line from Groucho).  “But I can’t go; I have to stay.”

I had delivered 30 babies in medical school (but who’s counting?  I kept score in my ob. text).  However, I did not go to Mt. Sinai to deliver babies. Oh well— I reassured the mom and then caught the baby: PLOP!!!  It was as easy as that. Blood all over. A gooey crying baby in my arms.

Just then the intern from the ER stuck his head in the door. “Can I help?” he asked.

“Here” I said, handing him the baby….”I gotta go.”

Editor’s note:  If you want to read more about Paul’s adventures as a resident physician  in New York, go to this link:


(reprinted from the Ocean Grove Record, 2004)


LESLIE ODOM, JR.  From the Broadway show Hamilton.

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Getting back to basics…Medicine 101


By Paul Goldfinger, MD, FACC.  Dean of the Blogfinger Off-Shore School of Medicine in Ocean Grove, NJ.


She was a tall thin blond, 22 years old, from Germany.  She had long graceful legs and she was a good looker.  But she was more than just that; she was an international elite high jumper and she was exhausted.  Beside muscle weakness, she had leg cramps and she had passed out a few times.

I admitted her to the internal medicine teaching service at Mt. Sinai Hospital, located on the upper east side of Manhattan, facing Central Park. The year was 1967 and I, a first year medical resident, was struggling to come up with a diagnosis.

She seemed perfectly healthy. Her history was unrevealing, and her physical examination was unremarkable. Doctors like to say “unremarkable” for normal,  but she was anything but unremarkable. She denied taking any drugs, being on a crazy diet  or vomiting to lose weight.  We ran tests on her, and there was only one salient abnormality:  her blood potassium level was very low.  In other words, she was hypokalemic.

The second year resident,  the chief resident, and the attending physician could not figure out the cause of her electrolyte disorder.  “Electrolyte” refers to the minerals in the blood such as sodium, potassium, chloride and calcium.  We ruled out kidney disease and metabolic problems.

Dr. Solomon Berson, the Chief of the Department of Medicine, said that he would order an experimental serum insulin level from his lab—a test that would eventually win the Nobel Prize in Medicine.  But that didn’t help either.

Finally I decided to go back to basics and take another history.  It’s like those cop shows when they keep interrogating the suspect until something squeaks out to solve the case. In the 1960’s, a great deal of emphasis was placed on talking to patients, because our testing methods were so primitive compared to today’s.

It seemed that we would have to lower the talking bar for this high jumper. We discussed her life and her habits.  Finally the truth popped out:  she was a secret user of thiazide diuretics.  It wasn’t clear why she was doing that. She didn’t know that diuretics cause your body to be depleted of potassium.  We took away the diuretics, and she was cured.

Next stop was the psychiatry department.  Meanwhile I got a case report out of it in the Mt. Sinai Journal of Medicine plus a bit of notoriety at “Sinai” which lasted about two days.  It was the first time a published medical report contained a serum insulin level.

History taking is becoming a lost art. Electronic medical records encourage doctors to use checklists, and often the history is obtained by a medical assistant or “physician extender.”

There is an old saying in the profession: “Listen to the patient; he is telling you the diagnosis.”  The great Sir William Osler, one of the founders of the Johns Hopkins Hospital, is credited with those words of wisdom.




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The new Dr. Goldfinger talking to myself at Dover General Medical Center in Morris County, NJ. c.1975

Talking to myself at Dover General Medical Center in Morris County, NJ. c.1975


When I opened my new office for the practice of cardiology, I was hoping for some publicity in order to get known in the community.  Then I got a call from the Daily Advance, a small town newspaper in Dover, New Jersey.  They wanted to send a reporter to interview me about something.

She was an attractive young woman who sat down in my consultation room with a pad and pen in hand. Then she said, “There is a new medical research study which says that sex is good for the heart.  What do you think?”

I immediately realized that this was a mine field that I had to carefully navigate. So I said, “Well, uh, um, hmmm.”

But finally, I said,”You know, sex can be a good source of exercise, and we know that exercise is good for the heart.”

“OK…,” she said.

“And so, you know, um, it all depends on how you do it….I mean that the amount of exercise determines how good it is for your heart. Um, I don’t mean your heart, I mean hearts in general. So you have to get the heart rate up in order to get that aerobic benefit.”

“So,” she said, “I guess then that you agree that sex is good for the heart and you would recommend that for your patients.”

“Well,” said I, “Heart patients have to be careful to not get too excited…er, I mean they should be gradual and not so vigorous…uh..are there more questions?”

She said, “I was just wondering if someone  could die during sex.”

At that point my mind was getting ahead of itself. It occurred to me that it might be worth dying for, but I said to myself, “Self….don’t be a wise guy.”   I was recalling a medical report that suggested that the risk of sudden death during sex was greatest if a man were doing it with someone who wasn’t his wife.  But I wasn’t going to share that with her.  Then she stood up, and the interview was over.

The next day, on the front page of the Advance, was the article about me, and the headline was, “Sex—You Knew It Was Good for Something.”  Thankfully, she managed to get my remarks straight.

The Hit Crew with some medical advice:

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Get internal temperature to 160 degrees F.   Consumerist.com

Well-done burgers are 160  safe and tasty degrees.   Consumerist.com.


By Paul Goldfinger, MD  (This article has been updated from our 2017  post)

Sal commented regarding our article about hamburgers.  He said, “Be careful mentioning that your burger was medium- rare… isn’t it now against the law to serve a burger in New Jersey that’s not well done?  No pink at all from what I know.”

Regarding Sal’s question,  I could not find an actual health department ordinance for restaurants about this, so if any readers know more, please comment below. I have checked the USDA recommendations (US Dept. of Agriculture. See link below)  They monitor meat processing plants routinely.

When you buy hamburger from the store, leave it in the original packaging and keep in the refrigerator at less than 40 degrees F.  for no more than 1-2 days before cooking or freezing.  Below 40 degrees will keep the bacteria from multiplying but will not kill the pathogens..

If the meet is frozen, thaw it in the refrigerator; never at room temperature. Do not leave the meat out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. But the best practice is never to leave it out of the fridge. Bring a cooler to the grocery store for the trip home.

Get a good food thermometer to check the burger while cooking it.

Here is a USDA link on this subject:



Hamburgers from fast food restaurants are OK because they are cooked safely to 160°F. In other restaurants, ALWAYS order your child’s hamburgers well done. Also, older people, pregnant women, or people with a serious illness should order hamburgers well done. But it is best for everyone to order “well done” burgers or ask the waiter to have the burger cooked to 160 degrees F.

At home, cook burgers to 160°F and keep cooking for at least  15 seconds. Looking  at the interior color is not a good way to know if hamburgers are cooked enough. Check the temperature with a good quality food thermometer.

The concern is about E. Coli or other worrisome bacteria such as Salmonella—- These are dangerous organisms that may grow on the surface of meat and which can be stirred into the mix when meat is ground.   It is also recommended that you do not grind meat at home. A person could get violently ill from such an infection; in fact, it could be fatal.

The pathogens may survive within the burger even if the burger is in the fridge.  You kill the bacteria when you cook the meat to 160 degrees.  When you use a thermometer, insert it into the interior center of the  burger.  If it is a thin burger, insert the thermometer from the side.

I saw a video of the famous chef  Daniel Boulud making a hamburger. He grilled it on a cast iron pan, stove top, for 3 minutes on each side. He then proudly cut a piece off and exclaimed success;  it was rare. But, of course, he is confident of where his meat is coming from and what the condition of his kitchen is.

To tell the truth, when I ordered my burger medium-rare at Asbury’s Ivan and Andy’s steakhouse (now closed,)  I didn’t worry about it because it was a fine restaurant where the owner was a butcher, and I suspected they cut and grind their own meat.

But, when I am in a diner or most other restaurants, I always ask for it to be medium.   (Experts say that we should order burgers “well done” in restaurants.)  Sometimes the restaurant will refuse to serve it rare or medium rare.  And some people will not order a burger in a restaurant at all.

On occasion, the health risks surrounding food are especially high, and so we must change our habits. About 15 years ago I stopped eating something that I loved: raw clams and oysters. One of my colleagues, an infectious disease specialist, had just returned from a medical meeting in New Orleans. He said that he did not eat any raw shellfish down there because of the substantial risk of hepatitis. If he could turn his back on those New Orleans oysters, then it was time for me to bite the bullet.

But as for hamburgers, I think the risk varies with circumstances. My official advice is to always order or cook your burgers well done  (160 degrees F.)    But if Daniel Boulud were making my burger in his kitchen,  I probably would still ask for it medium rare, which is the most delicious end point.

There is an adage: “Physician—heal thyself.”    So if we physicians do order our burgers medium-rare, we probably shouldn’t admit it on Blogfinger if we didn’t want Sal to give us the business.


DUKE ELLINGTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA like to stop at Dixie Roadside Diners:


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Sinusitis: You can get a print of this, suitable for framing, by writing the Mayo Clinic.


The Washington Post (2/15, Huget) “The Checkup” blog reports, “A study released Tuesday adds to the growing body of science suggesting that with some infections, including those of the sinuses, antibiotics aren’t the best course of treatment.” Investigators found “that in their study of 166 adults with sinus infections, those who were given the antibiotic amoxicillin didn’t feel better any faster than those who received a placebo. People in both groups experienced about the same amount of relief after three days.” The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Bloomberg News (2/15, Ostrow) adds, “One in five antibiotic prescriptions in the US are given to adults for sinus infections, the authors wrote. The findings suggest doctors avoid routine antibiotic treatment for patients with an uncomplicated sinus infection, they said in the study.”

Medscape (2/15, Brown) reports, “‘Considering the public health threat posed by increasing antibiotic resistance, strong evidence of symptom relief is needed to justify prescribing of antibiotics for this usually self-limiting disease,’ the authors write.”

“CDC guidelines for the evaluation and treatment of adults with sinusitis…suggested that doctors only prescribe antibiotic treatment for the condition when patients have moderately severe or severe symptoms,” WebMD (2/15, Broder) notes.

Blogfinger Medical Commentary by Paul Goldfinger, MD, FACC.  This post is from 2013, but is still valid.

It has been known for over fifty years that most upper respiratory infections  (URI’s) are due to viruses and not bacteria.  Why is that important?  Because viruses do not respond to antibiotics, while bacteria do.  When I went to med school they taught us to rule out Strep throat (the cause of rheumatic heart disease) with a throat culture and treat with penicillin if positive.

If the  culture was negative, and since most URI’s are viral, we were encouraged to withhold antibiotics and treat with decongestants, humidifiers and analgesics.  Then, if signs of bacterial overgrowth were to develop later (e.g. a bronchitic cough, discolored sputum, fever, signs of pneumonia, etc.) then an antibiotic could be added.  The main reason why everyone with a URI should not get antibiotics is because of concern about a major public health problem—antibiotic resistance.

Many patients with URI’s involving the nose and throat also have sinusitis, which is one of the most common conditions that doctors treat. It is very uncomfortable, and patients expect doctors to give antibiotics—most do.  The study above shows that for patients with uncomplicated rhinosinusitis (rhino refers to your nose), antibiotics do not reduce symptoms better than placebo.  About 70% of cases will subside spontaneously.  The study was done using a special questionnaire called SNOT-16. Who says doctors have no sense of humor?

Even if bacteria are present in the sinuses, antibiotics may not work, because the sinuses are closed spaces with limited drainage; good drainage is an essential aspect of curing infections. Complicated and/or recurrent sinus infections can be difficult to treat, and ENT docs have a variety of approaches to such cases.

But if you have a “common cold” with or without an element of sinus infection, the problem usually will resolve without antibiotics. If you are sick, let your doctor decide.

ADELAIDE’S  LAMENT..from Guys and Dolls:

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By Paul Goldfinger, MD, FACC. (Re-post from 2012, but still valid.)

In the N.Y. Times Sunday Review on June, 3, 2012, a physician presents an article entitled: “Let’s (Not)  Get Physicals.” The subtitle is: “We cling to the ritual of the annual exam, despite evidence that it isn’t needed.”   She is talking about the traditional yearly exam that many doctors recommend for people who seem to be healthy .  We are, of course, not talking about office visits for patients who actually have medical conditions.

Dr Elisabeth Rosenthal says, “…annual physical exams—and many of the screening tests that routinely accompany them—are in many ways pointless or (worse) dangerous, because they can lead to unneeded procedures.” She begins by slamming PSA blood tests for prostate cancer detection.

She goes on to blame “economic impetus for American medicine’s ‘more is better’ mode.” In other words, doctors do it for the money.

Then she presents a list of  “tasks to jettison.” These are “a sampling of routine screening tests and medical procedures that research has suggested are not necessary: annual physical, annual ECG, annual routine blood work, annual cholesterol test, annual Pap smear, and PSA test.”

In general, I am sympathetic with Dr. Rosenthal’s message because I have been a long-time critic of waste and greed in the medical profession. But I think her glib article about “physicals” is off the mark and might discourage patients from getting needed healthcare.

The problem here is that the premise is wrong. She equates the annual “physical” to performing unnecessary screening tests. Although it may be true that such tests may be done during an annual exam  (such as the yearly ECG, for example), she fails to mention that those “physicals” also include important healthcare services other than the  tests which she condemns.

To begin with, everyone should see their doctor once in a while (we can debate the frequency) for no other reason than to assess and counsel patients regarding disease prevention: weight, diet, exercise/fitness, smoking, flu shots, blood pressure, mental health, and adherence to recommended tests, such as colonoscopies, which are proven to save lives. So while she denounces  yearly health maintenance visits to a doctor, she has made no provisions in her negative analysis for prevention—the number one health challenge, by far, in the U.S.

There is also a valid concern in medicine regarding early detection of diseases which may be manifested by unimpressive symptoms or by physical findings, before the person actually gets sick. It’s not unusual for doctors to actually find something during a yearly “physical.” That’s one reason why med students study history taking and physical examination. I also believe that a yearly visit with a dermatologist is a good idea, especially as one gets older–they sometimes find things like curable melanomas.

In addition, if a physician is prescribing some preventive medication, such as a cholesterol drug or a birth control pill, he is not only justified to ask for a periodic office visit, but it will be malpractice not to do so since he is accountable for the efficacy and safety of those prescribed drugs.

Similarly, if a doctor is to take on the responsibility of accepting you as his patient, making his office available to refill prescriptions, responding to your phone calls, seeing you if you get sick, providing coverage at night, and being your personal advisor regarding consultants and other medical inquiries, then he should make sure that he sees you at least once per year so as to maintain the time-honored “doctor-patient relationship.” This is good medicine.  All sorts of health maintenance  services can be accomplished during a yearly “physical.” And the visit brings the doctor up-to-date and provides a new baseline in case the patient should call on him subsequently.

As for her list of unnecessary tests, you will notice that it is mostly the yearly timing rather than the test itself that is criticized.  All the tests on her list, such as blood work and Pap smears, are essential when used properly. The only one which is truly controversial is the PSA blood test to screen for prostate cancer. At a yearly physical exam, the doctor can use his judgement about ordering certain tests, and no practice guidelines can replace the art of medicine.

Unless Obamacare, or whatever system we get, provides some mechanism for healthcare maintenance, then I believe the annual physical exam still has a purpose—it just needs to be redefined and renamed. Let’s call it the “see your doctor once-in-a-while to go over your health status visit.” It makes sense. Somebody needs to be in charge, and the NY Times doctor won’t be there for you.

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