Tune in to our radio show on your local public radio station, or sign up for the podcast and listen at your leisure. Here’s what it’s about:
Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN talks with us about his recent article in The New York Times. He reminds us that every medical treatment carries risks and suggests that the current tendency to overtreat may contribute to patient harm. How can patients reduce their vulnerability to such problems? The old adage, “Trust but verify” may have an important role to play in health care.
Getting really high blood pressure under control saves lives, but a careful meta-analysis has found that there is no good evidence for treating mildly elevated blood pressure. What sorts of side effects do patients suffer unnecessarily as a consequence of being treated for this condition?
We explore the stories behind the health headlines and welcome listeners’ stories and questions about problems with medical mistakes.
Guests: Sanjay Gupta, MD, is the associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital and chief medical correspondent for CNN. His blog is http://sanjayguptamd.blogs.cnn.com/. His article on More Treatment, More Mistakes was published in The New York Times on July 31, 2012.
David Cundiff, MD, is a retired internist who practiced palliative medicine at USC Medical Center. The Cochrane Collaboration review of drug treatment for mild hypertension was published online on August 15, 2012.
The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free for four weeks after the date of broadcast. After that time has passed, digital downloads are available for $2.99. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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  1. J. David A.

    “Chronic lyme” is a big problem mostly from other undiagnosed or misdiagnosed maladies. We should call it Plum Island disease anyway. Read Lab 257.
    I have seen celiac disease respond to antibiotics – repeatedly – clearly not lyme.
    I have also seen Lyme or STARZ clearly under-treated.
    People are not getting their 3 minutes worth from primary care docs.

  2. WN

    I was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia by a reputable psychiatrist. He prescribed powerful anti psychotic drugs, including lithium, based on this misdiagnosis.
    I became almost totally comatose and displayed the symptoms of deep psychosis. My wife appealed to the doctor, telling him that I was over prescribed. As most doctors who are egocentric, he dismissed my wife’s description of my condition.
    This misdiagnosis and over medication (with inappropriate medication) medications, continued for approximately six months. I constantly appealed to my wife and to the doctor that I had been misdiagnosed and was taking inappropriate medication. After back surgery the medication was only provided sporadically by the hospital. Even though I was still in a medicated haze and not thinking properly, I flatly refused to see the doctor again.
    I began to become myself slowly but surely. My wife noted the positive changes in me and agreed with my decision to simply stop the medication and stop seeing he psychiatrist.
    I was left with my thyroid not functioning as a side effect of the lithium (a common side effect). I am now condemned to a lifetime of thyroid supplements.
    Thank you, egocentric doctor, for you gift of a malfunctioning thyroid as a result of your misdiagnosis.

  3. J.E. P.

    Thank you very much for the great show. I learn so much from you and your guests.
    I appreciate your sincere interst in helping us lay people.
    Jim P.

  4. SC

    I am a practicing physician. I do not hear comments about how government quality organizations and private insurers overwhelm the physician with demands for more treatment and testing without information on the whole person involved. For example, all patients with diabetes must be treated to a lower bp with specific medications and placed on a statin drug or the physician is under scrutiny.
    The rush to “evidence based medicine” and practicing by guidelines makes it difficult to provide “patient centered care” which accounts for each individual patient’s situation.

  5. CarolinaGirl

    Regarding adverse drug reactions, one of my worst experiences was in a Seattle hospital following hip replacement surgery, after my surgeon prescribed oxycodone for pain.
    I first developed an extremely itchy back and, subsequently, a massive rash over my entire back. But I couldn’t get anyone–not a single nurse nor any doctor, including my surgeon–to pay attention to my complaints of itching. My back eventually grew to look like it had been scalded. I finally had to refuse to take the medication any more, and the hives slowly cleared up.

  6. BJD

    I am a recent convert to NPR and generally appreciate their eclectic shows and perspectives. But for the first time, I feel compelled to write in after listening to the stories about medical errors. As a psychiatrist and pediatrician, I (like many of my colleagues) go above and beyond to give my patients a choice of treatments that range from no medications to polypharmacy (if indicated.) But please know: I never start a medication or recommend a medication for a patient lightly. Placing chemicals in someone else’s body is a decision that I take very seriously.
    And while I appreciate the candor of the emails and callers, I feel the hosts failed to help clarify and place comments in perspective. The art and practice of medicine relies on context. At it’s core, medicine is an individualized relationship built between a studied educated guesser (the physician) and a seeker of information and support (the patient.) Radio shows that don’t place every caller’s comments into context threatens the integrity of the process of medical decision making.
    I fully advocate for my patients to make their own decisions regarding healthcare and as a person, I fully recognize that I do not know everything nor can I anticipate everything. If there was one message that I wish could have been conveyed, it would be that medical decision-making should never take place outside of context.
    Thanks for listening.
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: Thank you for your comment. We fully agree that context is important. Sorry if we did not convey that adequately.

  7. L.S.Slaughter

    I see a doctor for relief of pain due to osteoarthritis. He had prescribed a pain patch, but it wasn’t giving me the relief I hoped for. Then he gave me a high dose of a narcotic patch. After using two of them over 6 days, I woke up one morning and collapsed twice within an hour. Because of my arthritis, I could not get up, so I was on the floor for several hours.
    When my husband came home he helped me up, and I decided to sleep downstairs for the night. On the following morning, I woke up but my husband said I wasn’t making sense when I talked. He called the paramedics who advised me to let them take me to the hospital. At that point, I became unconscious.
    I was in the hospital with renal failure and dehydration for a total of six days. I think that the drug was responsible for my collapsing, and the rest came as a result of being injured by the falls and the inability to get up.
    I’ve never been so ill, even when I had cancer. When I got out of the hospital, I had trouble talking and could not write well enough to write my own name legibly. It took me about three weeks to get those abilities back to normal.

  8. David W Parvey

    I am directing the documentary, CLIPPED, which is about the Vermont musician, Diana Levine, who lost her arm in 2000 after receiving an injection of Wyeth’s Phenergan. When she sued and won for failure to warn, her case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and the judges upheld her victory, deciding that drug companies are liable for the harm their products cause consumers. As you may know, in 2011 SCOTUS decided in Pliva v. Mensing that Diana’s victory only applies to brand name drugs, therefore no American consumer has any recourse if they are harmed by a generic drug and generic companies are not liable for updating their labels.
    Anyway, I thought you may find an interest in this film as it deals with drug safety, as well as the political and law components that ensue. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me or visit the Facebook page. Thank you!

  9. Linda

    About 13 years ago, I was feeling very jittery and losing weight and I noticed that I had a strange tenderness in the front of my neck. The symptoms persisted for a few weeks but I was in the midst of planning my wedding and big projects at work so I tried to ignore them. When I finally went to my doctor, he referred me to an endocrinologist who determined that I had a hyperactive thyroid. She put me on hormones to slow down the activity and scheduled me for an appointment the next month.
    After that month, the endocrinologist had to postpone for a few weeks and told me to continue with the hormones. By the time of the new appointment, I was feeling sluggish and my eyes and fingers were swollen and puffy. I couldn’t even take off my new wedding ring. The doctor examined me and said that she’d misdiagnosed—I’d probably just had an infected thyroid rather than hyperthyroidism.
    She said the hormones she told me to take for longer than originally prescribed “killed” my thyroid. I now have to take Synthroid every day to do the work my thyroid should be doing.
    Some people have remarked that I should have taken action against the endocrinologist—whose attitude about her misdiagnosis seemed to be “Oops—oh, well”—but I did not. She no longer practices in this area and I’m not sure if she is in practice at all. I’ve been doing fine since this happened. My TSH levels are tested every year and are well within the normal range. Taking one tiny pill a day is not a burden in and of itself, but it does annoy me that I will always be dependent on it.

  10. JES

    I have been taking Lipitor since 2008 with manageable side effects. Then, Lipitor went generic and my supplier switched me to the generic version due to my insurer’s coverage.
    I tried the generic version for two weeks and had severe muscle pain, especially in the knees and abdomen. I went to the insurer’s web site and found that they had Medco for prescriptions, including the Lipitor brand version. I ordered a 90 day supply and have been taking it for two weeks with the same side effects as the previous generic version.
    When I looked at the Medco pill, it read PD 155 10. When I looked at the previous generic pill it was the same. On the Internet they make no distinction between brand and generic for the pill imprint.
    How do I know which one is which, without sending it to a lab. My body tells me they are the same — generic!

  11. ELT

    I was just listening to this program about medical errors. I very much enjoyed hearing Dr. Gupta’s perspectives. After he went off the air, an email was read where a man reported going to a couple ID doctors seeking treatment of Lyme disease. He reported that because they wouldn’t treat him, he required the help of a specialist who treated him for years with antibiotics. I presume he refers to “chronic Lyme disease”.
    As a physician scientist in infectious diseases, I feel compelled to comment on the medical errors implicit in this caller’s course. Chronic Lyme, though a very real entity, has been shown over and over and over again to have no association with Lyme disease.
    Treatment with various antibiotic regimens lasting years have no proven benefit but expose patients to substantial risks associated with these antibiotics. We know antibiotics have obvious risks such as allergic reactions, organ-specific toxicity, drug interactions. They also have untold effects on the microbiota with its associated implications.
    I am writing to make two points:
    1) The failure to treat “Chronic Lyme Disease” is not a medical error and listeners should not be fooled to think this condition is due to Lyme as its name mistakenly implies.
    2) In the era of electronic health records, patients can be branded (sometimes permanently) when physicians or patients fall back on a diagnosis that is wrong.
    Thank you.

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