Massachusetts Medical Society's Physician Focus


Medical Literacy
Medical Literacy is the ability of patients to obtain, process, and understand basic health information needed to make informed decisions about their health. But the percentage of the population who can do this is low: Only 10% are full literate, 15% are totally illiterate, and about 40% have only basic or below basic literacy skills. Medical illiteracy leads to higher rates of disease and mortality, more use of emergency rooms, and higher costs for our health care system. How can we increase medical literacy rates? What can patients, physicians, and other providers do to improve the situation?
Headaches are one of our most common ailments, reaching nearly the entire population at one time or another. To most of us, they become a mere annoyance, erased quickly with a few aspirins. But headaches can range from mild to severe, and migraine headaches, characterized by throbbing pain, affect nearly 30 million Americans. What causes headaches? How many kinds of headaches are there? How can we prevent them? When are they a sign of something serious? And what are the best treatments for them?
Common Respiratory Conditions
Emphysema. Bronchitis. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder. Tuberculosis. Pneumonia. These describe some of the many respiratory conditions and diseases that affect millions of people. What causes these conditions? What symptoms do they have? How do they differ form one another? How are they diagnosed? What are the health effects of these conditions? And how are they treated?

Eating Disorders
As many as 10 million females and one million males in the United States are affected by eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. Many more struggle with binge eating disorder. The health consequences of these conditions are serious and can be life threatening. What causes these disorders? Who is affected? Can they be prevented? And how are they treated?
Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson's disease is a progressive, chronic movement disorder whose incidence increases with age. The cause is unknown, and no cure exists at present. Nearly one million people in the US are living with Parkinson's disease, and some 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Many more go undetected. How is the condition diagnosed? What are the symptoms? How can it be treated? And what is the prognosis for patients who are diagnosed?
All Those Medicines
Prescription v. Non-prescription. Over-the-Counter. Analgesics. Antibiotics. N-Saids. Those are just some of the descriptions of the many medicines available to patients today. The descriptions and names of the medicines can be confusing - and potentially dangerous - if misused. What basic information should patients know about medicines? How does a physician determine which medicine to prescribe for a patient? What questions should patients ask when prescribed a medicine? Are children’s medicines different from adult medicines? And what should be the relationship between physician, patient, and pharmacist?
Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are significant public health problems. In the U.S., nearly 18 million people abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent, affecting everyone regardless of race or nationality. The impact of this behavior is significant: Each year, excessive alcohol use contributes to some 79,000 deaths, 1.6 million hospitalizations, and 4 million emergency room visits. What exactly is alcoholism? Is alcohol abuse different? What may cause these conditions? What are the effects on a person’s health and well-being?  How is this condition diagnosed? And how is it treated?
Impaired Driving: Medical Perspectives
Driving a motor vehicle safely requires skill, attentiveness, and knowledge of motor vehicle rules and regulations, among other qualifications. As our population ages, concern has risen about the ability of older drivers. Yet conditions other than age can affect how one drives. What are the medical conditions that can lead to impaired driving? How dangerous can they be? What are the responsibilities of the patient and the physician with regard to those conditions? And what is the role of state motor vehicle departments with respect to the medical conditions of patients who drive?
Home Health Care
Health care services provided in the home are dramatically increasing, and will continue to do so as the population ages and as pressure builds to control health care costs. In Massachusetts, home health services reach 150,000 people through 160 agencies. Nationally, about eight million Americans require some type of medical care in the home. What kinds of services can be provided in the home? Who is eligible to receive these? Who provides these services? And how effective are they in providing care and controlling health care costs?
Epilepsy: The Seizure Disorder
Epilepsy is the third most common neurological disorder in the United States, after Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. The condition affects nearly three million Americans, with some 200,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Half of all patients are children.  Characterized by seizures of various kinds, epilepsy can impede learning, behavior, and memory and seriously affect development. It can be debilitating to the patient and cause great disruption in families. What are the causes of this condition? How is it treated?  Can it be prevented How, specifically, does it affect patients? And what is the prognosis for a patient who has such a condition?
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 19 million new infections from sexually transmitted disease occur every year, making STDs the most commonly reported infectious diseases in the country. STDs are estimated to cost the U.S. health care system about $16 billion annually, and can cause serious long-term health consequences. Left untreated, STDs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to infertility, and many STDs increase the risk of HIV.
Prescription Drug Abuse
The abuse of prescription drugs is a growing problem in the United States. While most people take prescription drugs responsibly, an estimated 48 million people or 20 percent of the population age 12 and older have used them for nonmedical reasons in their lifetimes. The elderly are vulnerable to abuse and misuse because they are prescribed more medications, but abuse by young people is alarming, with nearly two million youth age 12-17 abusing painkillers and other prescriptions. What is causing this behavior? What are the health effects of such abuse? What preventive or treatment programs are available to address this? And what roles can physicians, patients, and family members play in curtailing this behavior?