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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine's Day from the @NRA

I'd intended to blog about some other current news today. VR Tech stuff. Caregiver update stuff. Book review stuff.

It's insane. No apparent end in sight. Nope.

BTW: Consider some firearms thoughts from a military veteran, now a structural engineer.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Pain Management Sessions

Tough it out’: Watch Jeff Sessions recommend aspirin instead of opioids for chronic pain patients

 I've had some observations about this perjurious ignoramus before. See "Jeff Sessions' Marijuana Advisor Wants Doctors to Drug-Test Everyone. See also my post from August, "The 'opioid epidemic' and the EHR."

My ailing daughter (who underwent bone scans today) is now in fairly constant appreciable pain from her worsening Stage IV pancreatic cancer. She gets by with morphine, and MS- and Oxycontin. Sessions can go to Hell.

Jeff Sessions: marijuana helped cause the opioid epidemic. The research: no.
The research shows that, contrary to Sessions’s remarks, medical marijuana may help mitigate the crisis.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is blaming an old foe of his for the opioid crisis: marijuana.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation to the Reagan Alumni Association this week, Sessions argued that cutting prescriptions for opioid painkillers is crucial to combating the crisis — since some people started on painkillers before moving on to illicit opioids like heroin and fentanyl. But then he expanded his argument to include cannabis.

“The DEA said that a huge percentage of the heroin addiction starts with prescriptions. That may be an exaggerated number; they had it as high as 80 percent,” Sessions said. “We think a lot of this is starting with marijuana and other drugs too.”

It’s true that, historically, a lot of opioid addiction started with prescribed painkillers — although that's changing. A 2017 study in Addictive Behaviors found that 51.9 percent of people entering treatment for opioid use disorder in 2015 started with prescription drugs, down from 84.7 percent in 2005. And 33.3 percent initiated with heroin in 2015, up from 8.7 percent in 2005.

Where Sessions, who once said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” went wrong is his suggestion that marijuana leads to heroin use — reiterating the old gateway drug theory…
The potheads are not the perps, Mr. Sessions:
Opioid makers gave millions to patient advocacy groups to sway prescribing
As the nation grapples with a worsening opioid crisis, a new report suggests that drug makers provided substantial funding to patient advocacy groups and physicians in recent years in order to influence the controversial debate over appropriate usage and prescribing.

Specifically, five drug companies funneled nearly $9 million to 14 groups working on chronic pain and issues related to opioid use between 2012 and 2017. At the same time, physicians affiliated with these groups accepted more than $1.6 million from the same companies. In total, the drug makers made more than $10 million in payments since January 2012.

“The fact that these same manufacturers provided millions of dollars to the groups suggests, at the very least, a direct link between corporate donations and the advancement of opioid-friendly messaging,” according to the report released on Monday night by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who has been probing opioid makers and wholesalers…


Relatedly, from,
Answering Our Critics – Again!
Critics of Science-Based Medicine keep making the same old tired arguments, despite the fact that their arguments have been repeatedly demolished. Here is a list of recurrent memes, with counterarguments.

Instead of a new post this week I decided to recycle and revise what I wrote about Answering Our Critics a few years ago, here and here.I thought it was time to visit this issue again, because our critics didn’t get the message. They are still flooding the Comments section with the same old tired arguments we have debunked over and over.

Some people don’t like what we have to say on Science-Based Medicine. Some attack specific points while others attack our whole approach. Every mention of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) elicits protests in the Comments section from “true believer” users and practitioners of CAM. Every mention of a treatment that has been disproven or has not been properly tested elicits testimonials from people who claim to have experienced miraculous benefits from that treatment.

Our critics keep bringing up the same old memes, and I thought it might be useful to list those criticisms and answer them all in one place…


Heard this author interviewed on NPR's "Fresh Air" yesterday in the car while taking my daughter to Kaiser for a bone scan px.


I downloaded Kate Bowler's new book and read it straight through. Riveting. I will have plenty to cite and say about it shortly. Stay tuned.

Again, highly recommend Kate's book.

I am reminded of another fine cancer memoir I've cited before, here and here.

Gideon Burrows is still at it, recently publishing a second book. US Amazon link here.


More to come...

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Digitech AI news updates

From NPR's All Things Considered:
Can Computers Learn Like Humans?
The world of artificial intelligence has exploded in recent years. Computers armed with AI do everything from drive cars to pick movies you'll probably like. Some have warned we're putting too much trust in computers that appear to do wondrous things.

But what exactly do people mean when they talk about artificial intelligence?

It's hard to find a universally accepted definition of artificial intelligence. Basically it's about getting a computer to be smart — getting it to do something that in the past only humans could do.
One key to artificial intelligence is machine learning. Instead of telling a computer how to do something, you write a program that lets the computer figure out how to do something all on its own…

From THCB:
Medicine Is a Profession That is Rapidly Losing Control of Its Tools

Artificial Intelligence hype and reality are everywhere. However, the last month or two has seen some thoughtful reflection. HHS / ONC announced “Hype to Reality: How Artificial Intelligence (AI) Can Transform Health and Healthcare” referencing a major JASON report “Artificial Intelligence for Health and Health Care [PDF -817 KB],”. From a legal and ethical perspective, we have a new multinational program: “PMAIL will provide a comparative analysis of the law and ethics of black-box personalized medicine,…”. Another Harvard affiliate writes “Optimization over Explanation” subtitled “Maximizing the benefits of machine learning without sacrificing its intelligence”. Meanwhile, an investigative journalism report from the UK “Google DeepMind and healthcare in an age of algorithms”, “…draws a number of lessons on the transfer of population-derived datasets to large private prospectors, identifying critical questions for policy-makers, industry and individuals as healthcare moves into an algorithmic age”…
Over at

Interesting 4-part (thus far) series:
Living in the Machine
Does technology change the very state of being human?

Artificial intelligence and automation outsources even more of our cognitive functions to machines. What does this mean for art, for relationships — even for our connection to a higher being? What does it mean to be human in the age of the machine?
Comes with audio versions as well. Nice.

From the first post:
From Mining to Meaning 
If you use digital devices, AI is already being sicced on the grotesque bricolage that is your life to eliminate potential sources of “friction” — a tech-speak jargon term that means roughly “whatever grinds your gears.”

Whether it’s by monitoring your calorie intake, presenting you with “optimal” romantic prospects, or making it easier to spend a fortune on Amazon, algorithms are even now insinuating themselves into your every existential crack and crevice like so many squirts of WD-40.

The possibility of using AI to eliminate diseases is undeniably exciting. Excising problems like cancer from society would make for a better future. But is maximizing efficiency the only way to add value to the world?

Most people don’t see the world and its inhabitants simply as a resource to be mined more or less effectively, nor do we tend to think that human value is exhausted by the efficiency or otherwise of this resource mining. Sometimes we just want to make sense of things: to look closely at the world, grasp some pattern in it, and articulate its significance, without some further goal in mind. This desire is what drives people to become scholars, but it’s also why people look at art, listen to music, or strive to build relationships with their grandchildren. If a concern for efficiency is a big part of what makes us human, our desire to grasp significance and share meaningful experiences with others is just as crucial.

Like a world without cancer, a more thoughtful, artistic, and compassionate future strikes us as an unequivocal Good Thing. But adding this kind of value to the world requires something more than maximizing efficiency. Anyone who tries to “hack” being a thoughtful scholar, or a good friend, is kind of missing the point…
Good stuff.


Will robots take your job? Humans ignore the coming AI revolution at their peril.
Artificial intelligence aims to replace the human mind, not simply make industry more efficient.
by Subhash Kak
Robots have transformed industrial manufacturing, and now they are being rolled out for food production and restaurant kitchens. Already, artificial intelligence (AI) machines can do many tasks where learning and judgment is required, including self-driving cars, insurance assessment, stock trading, accounting, HR and many tasks in healthcare. So are we approaching a jobless future, or will new jobs replace the ones that are lost?
According to the optimistic view, our current phase of increasing automation will create new kinds of employment for those who have been made redundant. There is some historical precedent for this: Over a hundred years ago, people feared that the automobile revolution would be bad for workers. But while jobs related to horse-drawn carriages disappeared, the invention of the car lead to a need for automobile mechanics; the internal combustion engine soon found applications in mining, airplanes and other new fields.

The difference, however, is that today’s AI technology aims to replace the human mind, not simply make industry more efficient. This will have unprecedented consequences not predicted by the advent of the car, or the automated knitting machine…
Yeah, this is not a new concern. I've hit on the topic a number of times before. See also here.

BTW, another new read. Just getting started. A lot of technical overlap between AI, IA, AR, and VR.

Strongly recommend you tour his Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab website.

From NPR's Science Friday (March 2016):

How advances in virtual reality will change how we work and communicate.

My specific interests go to the potential utility of this technology in health care -- inclusive of clinical pedagogy. I'll reserve judgments until I've finished Jeremy's book.

BTW: Jeff and April, recall, are deploying VR in their startup,


Any tangential AI/VR connection here? From Medium this morning:
We are our own typos

Everyone seems to be writing about the recently announced effort by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase to attack their employee health costs. It is certainly newsworthy, and I am generally interested in whatever Amazon may do in healthcare.

They may very well have some success with this effort, but until I read a positive story about employee working conditions at Amazon, I’m going to be skeptical that any disruption in healthcare they accomplish with it is something that I shouldn’t be worried about.

So, instead, I’m going write to about why we can’t recognize our own typos, and what that means for our health.

As Wired summarized the problem a few years ago: “The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.” They go on to explain that one of the great skills of our big brains is that we build mental maps of the world, but those maps are not always faithful to the actual world.

As psychologist Tom Stafford explained: “We don’t catch every detail, we’re not like computers or NSA databases. Rather, we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.”

Thus, typos.

Unfortunately, the same is often true with how we view our health. We don’t think we’re as overweight as we are. We think we get more exercise than we do. We think our nutrition is better than it is. Overall, we think we’re in better health than we probably are.

Over the past few decades, the U.S. has been suffering “epidemics” of obesity, diabetes, asthma, and allergies, to name a few. Over half of adults now have one or more chronic conditions. Yet two-thirds of us still report being in good or excellent health, virtually unchanged for at least the last twenty years.

Something doesn’t jibe…

I'm reminded of the old QA auditor's saying, "you get what you INspect, not what you EXpect."

More news. Margalit is back with a vengeance:

Ambergan Prime

Dear primary care doctor, Jeff Bezos is about to devour your lunch. All of it. And then he’ll eat the table, the plates, the napkins and the utensils too, so you’ll never have lunch ever again. Oh yeah, and they’ll also finally disrupt and fix health care once and for all, because enough is enough already. Mr. Bezos, it seems, got together with two of his innovator buddies, Warren Buffet from Berkshire Hathaway and Jamie Dimon from J.P. Morgan, and they are fixing up to serve us some freshly yummy and healthy concoction.
Let’s call it Ambergan for now.

This is big. This is huge. It comes from outside the sclerotic “industry”. And it’s all about technology. The founders are no doubt well versed in the latest disruption theories and Ambergan will be a classic Christensen stealth destroyer of existing markets. When the greatest investor that ever-lived combines forces with the greatest banker in recent memory and the premier markets slayer of all times, who happens to be the richest man on earth, all to bring good things to life (sorry GE), nothing but goodness will certainly ensue.

Everybody inside and outside the legacy health care industry is going to write volumes about this magnificent new venture in the coming days and months, so I will leave the big picture to my betters. But since our soon to be dead industry has been busy lately bloviating about the importance of good old fashioned, relationship based primary care, perhaps it would be useful to understand that Ambergan is likely to take the entire primary care thing off the table and stash it safely in the bottomless cash vaults of its founders. It’s not personal, dear doctor. It’s business. Ambergan will be your primary care platform and you may even like it…
LOL. Read all of it.

The Cherry on top:
"The Amazon platform IS the network, and there will be terms, conditions, stars and promotions. There certainly are many legacy obstacles to overcome, and perhaps that is why Amazon couldn’t or wouldn’t go it alone. Throwing highly regulated markets wide open requires two strong lobbying arms, and a federal government willing to play fast and loose. The stars are indeed perfectly aligned for the first true disruption of our health care since 1965."

Happy Birthday to me (72 today). What's the joke? "If I'd known I was gonna live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself."

apropos of the overall topic of this post, another must-read has just come to my attention, via my latest issue of Science Magazine, in a book review entitled "The fetishization of quantification."

From the Amazon blurb:
How the obsession with quantifying human performance threatens our schools, medical care, businesses, and government

Today, organizations of all kinds are ruled by the belief that the path to success is quantifying human performance, publicizing the results, and dividing up the rewards based on the numbers. But in our zeal to instill the evaluation process with scientific rigor, we've gone from measuring performance to fixating on measuring itself. The result is a tyranny of metrics that threatens the quality of our lives and most important institutions. In this timely and powerful book, Jerry Muller uncovers the damage our obsession with metrics is causing--and shows how we can begin to fix the problem.

Filled with examples from education, medicine, business and finance, government, the police and military, and philanthropy and foreign aid, this brief and accessible book explains why the seemingly irresistible pressure to quantify performance distorts and distracts, whether by encouraging "gaming the stats" or "teaching to the test." That's because what can and does get measured is not always worth measuring, may not be what we really want to know, and may draw effort away from the things we care about. Along the way, we learn why paying for measured performance doesn't work, why surgical scorecards may increase deaths, and much more. But metrics can be good when used as a complement to—rather than a replacement for—judgment based on personal experience, and Muller also gives examples of when metrics have been beneficial.

Complete with a checklist of when and how to use metrics, The Tyranny of Metrics is an essential corrective to a rarely questioned trend that increasingly affects us all.
'eh? "Data, Learning, Experience, Perception, Meaning..."

Frrom the Science Magazine (non-paywalled) summary:
Although the numbers whose "tyranny" forms the subject of Jerry Muller's timely book share some of the attributes of scientific measurement, their purposes are primarily administrative and political. They are designed to be incorporated into systems of what might be called "data-ocracy," often for the sake of public accountability: Schools, hospitals, and corporate divisions whose numbers meet or exceed their goals are to be rewarded, whereas poor numbers, taken to imply underperformance, may bring penalties or even annihilation. In The Tyranny of Metrics, Muller shows how teachers, doctors, researchers, and managers are driven to sacrifice the professional goals they value in order to improve their numbers.
Yeah. While, hey, I'm a long-time "quant guy," a "QI guy," I've had the Brent James training ("if you can't measure it, you can't improve it"), I too have concerns that the phrase "data-driven" can often mean putting your brain in "park." One of the cautions regarding "machine learning" goes to the concern that the machines will "learn" all of our bias errors.

The Science Magazine book review concludes:
In 1975, the American social psychologist Donald Campbell and the British economist C. A. E. Goodhart articulated independently the principle that reliance on measurement to incentivize behaviors leads almost inevitably to a corruption of the measures. Muller explains the logic of this corruption and defends, in place of indiscriminate numbers, an ideal of professional knowledge and experience.

Measurement, he concludes, can contribute to better performance, but only if the measures are designed to function in alliance with professional values rather than as an alternative to them. Good metrics cannot be detached from customs and practices but must depend on a willingness to immerse oneself in the work of these institutions.
Add another book to the stash.


Speaking of "data," heard this in the car yesterday. The new "Panopticon":
With Closed-Circuit TV, Satellites And Phones, Millions Of Cameras Are Watching
Journalist Robert Draper writes in National Geographic that the proliferation of cameras focused on the public has led "to the point where we're expecting to be voyeur and exhibitionist 24/7."

See my November post "Artificial Intelligence and Ethics." See also my "The old internet of data, the new internet of things and "Big Data," and the evolving internet of YOU."


Interesting long-read article:
The Coming Software Apocalypse
A small group of programmers wants to change how we code — before catastrophe strikes.

By James Somers

Just heard Emily Chang interviewed on MSNBC.

Will have to read this one too. Brings to mind this prior post of mine.


The ultimate utility of AI/NLP?


This came across my Twitter feed. My first reaction was "yeah, right, this is straight outa SNL."

Nope. Some "As-Seen-on-TV" vendor fleecing the rubes on cheesy cable channels for months now. Making Bank.

Is this a great country, or what?

More to come...

Monday, January 29, 2018

Practice Fusion: canary, meet coal mine?

Back when I was with the REC, I had some clinics on Practice Fusion. It was OK. They gave us all "sandbox" "registered user" accounts so we could kick the WKFL tires -- as did a number of other vendors. 

Most of my caseload was eCW, and I had to be up to speed on about a dozen others.

I didn't care all that much for PF, but my docs seemed to like it. Interesting story on them of late.
Employees at Practice Fusion expected IPO riches, but got nothing as execs pocketed millions
  • Practice Fusion sold for $100 million, after reports in 2016 said the company might go public at a $1.5 billion valuation.
  • Documents show the company was looking for a buyer and that bids were a fraction of that price.
  • Executives pulled in millions as part of a pre-arranged deal, while common shareholders were wiped out.
CNBC, Christina Farr: @chrissyfarr
Allscripts' Practice Fusion Deal Brings EHR Consolidation Down to Small-Practice Level

When the healthcare information technology (IT) firm Allscripts announced this month its $100 million cash deal to acquire the cloud-based electronic health records (EHR) vendor Practice Fusion, the Chicago-based company said part of its rationale was the desire to grow its reach among smaller providers.

“Practice Fusion's affordable EHR technology supports traditionally hard-to-reach independent physician practices, and its cloud-based infrastructure aligns with Allscripts forward vision for solution delivery,” said Rick Poulton, Allscripts’ president, in a press release announcing the agreement.

The deal highlights what has been a persistent challenge for many EHR vendors: penetrating the small-practice market…

Allscripts had 2016 revenues of $1.55 billion, and although it’s still significantly smaller than competitors like Epic and Cerner, the company has been growing its footprint in the hospital sector, most notably through its August 2017 acquisition of McKesson Corp.’s Enterprise Information Solutions business.

Allscripts believes the deal will be a win for Practice Fusion’s clients, as they say their acquisition will add value and additional services to its offerings. That could help the merged company stand out in the crowded field.

However, Allscripts won’t necessarily need to alter its services to help smaller practices…

Sorry. Just a Photoshop Moment. It's a chronic affliction.

More news,
Health IT eyes M&A as market grows up

Allscripts CEO Paul Black issued a prescient ultimatum in October on a stage at Health 2.0.

"Either we need to disrupt ourselves or somebody in this room will come in and disrupt us because it's too easy now that everything is digital," he said.

Allscripts revealed this week it had purchased its cloud-based competitor Practice Fusion for $100 million.

Practice Fusion once touted a $1 billion valuation and toyed with going public. In the end, the company was sold for less than the investment capital it raised. Venrock investor Bob Kocher called the news "disappointing."

The story points to a larger consolidation trend sweeping across the industry. A confluence of factors is driving the pairings-up, including exhausted Meaningful Use funds, a tapped EHR market and shift toward consumer-centric models. That's driving larger players like Allscripts to hunt for new revenue streams with smaller targets to add code, staff or customer reach.

But the larger companies can't rest on their laurels; new entrants — some major players the likes of Apple — are lurking in every garage in Silicon Valley.

"The EHR market is saturated [and] consolidation is very clear," Kenneth Kleinberg, vice president of research at Chilmark Research, told Healthcare Dive. "Four, five [or] six players is about what we're looking [at] for 2018.”…
Be interesting to see what shakes out this year. There's a ton of ambulatory EHRs out there, but the Meaningful Use gravy train is now over.

The EHR griping continues, too.
Highly Experienced Physicians Leaving Medicine Due to Electronic Medical Records
Yves here. We’ve posted off and on for at least the past five years, via the dogged coverage at the Health Care Renewal website, over the way that electronic medical records are undermining the delivery of health care. Some readers instinctively reject that idea, but that is due to not understanding that these systems are entirely about billing, not about diagnosis or treatment, and regularly force doctors to navigate through numerous irrelevant screens before they get to the parts that are relevant to their patient. That wastes time and dilutes the doctor’s focus…
Yeah. Recall my recent little Twitter spat with "Healthcare_Kate?"

Paper is not better. And -- tedious to keep repeating -- that is not to assert that EHRs are adequately aligned uniformly in support of clinical cognition, clinical WKFL, and patients needs.

More to come...

Friday, January 26, 2018

Precision Medicine panel at Davos

Reported by STATnews:

apropos, my current journal read of interest (given my daughter's ever-more-exigent plight) at

Probably paywalled. I didn't check. I'm an AAAS member. You should be as well.
Accumulating evidence indicates that dysregulation of microbiota-host interactions associates with various diseases, including inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), colorectal cancer, diabetes, and liver cirrhosis (1). Recently, research has generated paradigm shifts in concepts about the interactions between bacteria and cancer therapeutic drugs. For example, bacteria modulate the antitumor efficacy in preclinical models of various chemotherapies (2–4) and immunotherapeutic agents (5, 6). Conceptually, these findings suggest that bacteria-mediated interactions with the immune system are essential for optimal drug efficacy. However, there is limited information regarding the functional impact of the composition of the human microbiome and therapeutic outcomes in cancer patients. On pages 91, 97, and 104 of this issue, Routy et al. (7), Gopalakrishnan et al. (8), and Matson et al. (9), respectively, address this important issue and demonstrate that patients can be stratified into responders and nonresponders to immunotherapy on the basis of the composition of their intestinal microbiomes, suggesting that microbiota should be considered when assessing therapeutic intervention…
[Conclusion] The relationship between microbial communities and antitumor drug responses are complex. On the one hand, depletion of selective bacterial taxa by means of antibiotic exposure or other stressor conditions may diminish immunotherapy responses. On the other hand, the presence of specific microorganisms in local or distant sites may interfere with treatment through metabolic activities (14). For example, bacteria of the Enterobacteriaceae family, such as Escherichia coli strains, decrease efficacy of the chemotherapeutic agent gemcitabine by metabolizing and deactivating the active form of the drug, thereby negatively interfering with tumor response (15). Therefore, the presence of specific strains of bacteria may be able to modulate cancer progression and therapeutics, raising the possibility that precision medicine directed at the microbiota could inform physicians about prognosis and therapy. One could view the microbiota as a treasure trove for next-generation medicine, and tapping into this network may produce new therapeutic insights.
My daughter is now on a 3-weeks-on/1-week-off chemo regimen of Abraxane+Gemcitabine. I rather doubt they're assaying her gut microbiome. "Next generation medicine."


Given that Davos is about "economics" and the foregoing video focuses on innovations that will hopefully bring us effective "precision medicine," one of my new reads seems quite timely.

The Innovation Economy

The Innovation Economy begins with discovery and culminates in speculation. Over some 250 years, economic growth has been driven by successive processes of trial and error and error and error: upstream exercises in research and invention, and downstream experiments in exploiting the new economic space opened by innovation. Each of these activities necessarily generates much waste along the way: dead-end research programs, useless inventions and failed commercial ventures. In between, the innovations that have repeatedly transformed the architecture of the market economy, from canals to the internet, have required massive investments to construct networks whose value in use could not be imagined at the outset of deployment. And so at each stage the Innovation Economy depends on sources of funding that are decoupled from concern from economic return…

Janeway, William H., Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy (p. 1). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.
Wonderfully written. Stay tuned, I'm early on in the book. Bill Janeway is a Sensei. You can freely avail yourselves of the extensive introduction in full here.

More to come...

Monday, January 22, 2018

Trump's HHS establishes an Office of Religious Bigotry

From Time Magazine:
New Trump Office Will Protect 'Conscience and Religious Freedom' Rights of Doctors

(WASHINGTON) — Reinforcing its strong connection with social conservatives, the Trump administration announced Thursday a new federal office to protect medical providers refusing to participate in abortion, assisted suicide or other procedures on moral or religious grounds.Leading Democrats and LGBT groups immediately denounced the move, saying “conscience protections” could become a license to discriminate, particularly against gay and transgender people.The announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services came a day ahead of the annual march on Washington by abortion opponents, who will be addressed via video link by President Donald Trump. HHS put on a formal event in the department’s Great Hall, with Republican lawmakers and activists for conscience protections as invited speakers…
"Conscience" and "Religious Freedom," 'eh?

Mother Jones reports:
The Trump Administration Just Gave the Craziest Justification for Allowing Doctors to Deny Care to Women and LGBT People
Cue inappropriate comparisons to the Holocaust and Martin Luther King Jr.

The Trump administration just made it easier for doctors to deny care to women and LGBT people. On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a new division devoted to “conscience and religious freedom” that will protect health workers who refuse to treat patients because of moral or religious objections—a move that critics fear could jeopardize access to birth control and abortion, hormone therapy for transgender people, fertility treatment for lesbian couples, or medications for HIV and AIDS.

In a press conference about the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, Roger Severino, a senior HHS official, said it was necessary to shield medical staffers who deny care on religious grounds, comparing their situation with that of Jews who were slaughtered during the Holocaust and Martin Luther King Jr. in his quest for racial justice…
UPDATE. From Wired:

WHEN MARCI BOWERS consults with her patients, no subject is off limits. A transgender ob/gyn and gynecologic surgeon in Burlingame, California, she knows how important it is that patients feel comfortable sharing their sexual orientation and gender identity with their doctor, trust and honesty being essential to providing the best medical care. But Bowers knows firsthand that the medical setting can be a challenging place for patients to be candid. That for LGBT people, it can even be dangerous.

"I know from talking with patients that they're often denied services, not just for surgery and hormone therapy, but basic medical care," Bowers says. "I've had patients show up in an emergency room who were denied treatment because they were transgender."

Experiences like these are what make the creation of a new "Conscience and Religious Freedom" division within the US Department of Health and Human Services so troubling. Announced last week by acting secretary of HHS Eric Hargan, the division's stated purpose is to protect health care providers who refuse to provide services that contradict their moral or religious beliefs—services that include, according to the division's new website, "abortion and assisted suicide."

But the division's loose language could leave room for physicians to provide substandard care to LGBT patients—or abstain from treating them altogether…
From The Atlantic:
When the Religious Doctor Refuses to Treat You
The Trump administration is making it easier for medical providers to object to procedures on religious grounds. Will patients suffer as a result?

In 2014, a 27-year-old nurse-midwife named Sara Hellwege applied for a job at Tampa Family Health Centers, a federally qualified health center. She was a member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a professional association that opposes abortion.

“Due to religious guidelines,” Hellwege wrote to the clinic’s HR director, Chad Lindsey, in an email, “I am able to counsel women regarding all forms of contraception, however, cannot Rx [prescribe] it unless pathology exists—however, have no issue with barrier methods and sterilization.”

In his response, Lindsey cited the health center’s participation in a government family-planning program, Title X, as grounds for rejecting her as an applicant. “Due to the fact we are a Title X organization and you are a member of AAPLOG, we would be unable to move forward in the interviewing process,” he wrote. The clinic did not, he added, have any positions available for practitioners who wouldn’t prescribe birth control.

Hellwege sued through the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group, on the grounds that a federally funded clinic should not be able to disqualify applicants because they “object to providing abortifacient contraceptives.”

The case settled, and on Thursday, Hellwege reappeared on the national scene: She spoke at the national press conference announcing the creation of a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at the Department of Health and Human Services…

The directly relevant Constitutional clauses:
Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment XIV
Section 1.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Roger Severino, Trump's HHS Director of its Office of Civil Rights, interviewed on NPR:
SEVERINO: Well, it comes down to the president's May 4, 2017, executive order, which was a turning point. He said that we're going to vigorously enforce federal law protecting religious freedom. He said, we're a nation of tolerance, and we'll not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore. And this is just a natural outgrowth of that. We have a lot of statutes and laws on the books that protect conscience. They protect religious freedom. They have not been enforced as they deserve to be enforced, and this is a crucial civil right that is now getting the attention that has been long overdue.
Google "Roger Severino HHS" -
"Mr. Severino was previously chief operations officer and legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty."
"Becket Fund."

The mind boggles considering where to begin with this autocratic/theocratic mendacity. Among other things, we will examine VP Pence's Indiana Senate Bill 101 (SB0101), which Mr. Piety eagerly signed into law while governor (I call it "The Christian Pizza Protection Act"), and "FADA" (HR 2802, the federal "First Amendment Defense Act"). I have dubbed this beaut "The Show-Your-One-Man-One-Woman-Marriage-License-At-Marriott-Checkin" bill).

Recall my mention of this back in December while commenting on the Trump Tax Cut bill Senate-House reconciliation draft:
The "Personhood at Conception / Unborn Child Tax Credit" provision in the House bill got removed -- “an unborn child means a child in utero, and the term child in utero means a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.“
Were Trump's Fundies able to re-write (and condense) Constitutional amendments, we'd simply get these:
Amendment I
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Amendment XIV
Section 1.
"No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, unless such privileges contravene the provisions of revised Amendment I."
Hey' we're "cutting government regulations. Let's just cut out that pesky 'free press' part of the First Amendment."
In short, the thrust of these kinds of unconstitutional forays is to subordinate the equal protection provisions of the 14th Amendment to the religion clauses of the 1st.
Donald Trump has made scant secret of his lust for infringing on inconvenient "free speech." to wit, as reported by the intrepid Marcy Wheeler recently reported regarding the recently renewed FISA law:
…it’s the unreviewable authority for Jeff Sessions bit that is the real problem.

We know, for example, that painting Black Lives Matter as a national security threat is key to the Trump-Sessions effort to criminalize race. We also know that Trump has accused his opponents of treason, all for making critical comments about Trump.

This bill gives Sessions unreviewable authority to decide that a BLM protest organized using or whistleblowing relying on Tor, discovered by collection done in the name of hunting Russian spies, can be referred for prosecution. The fact that the underlying data predicating any prosecution was obtained without a warrant under 702 would — in part because this bill doesn’t add teeth to FISA notice — ensure that courts would never learn the genesis of the prosecution. Even if a court somehow managed to do so, however, it could never deem the domestic surveillance unlawful because the bill gives Jeff Sessions the unreviewable authority to treat dissent as a national security threat...

With respect to this whole "religious liberty" thing and civil (including patient) rights, I am reminded of passages in Ann Neumann's brilliant book.

After the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Catholic and Evangelical leaders formed an alliance that had previously been unthinkable. Part backlash to the liberalizing politics of the 1960s and early 70s, part enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend, part trepidation at declining church enrollment and restructuring of the nuclear family, Catholics and Evangelicals found that their cooperation on so-called traditional values was a holy alliance. “This political and cultural realignment even helped melt divisions among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, as religious identity came to matter less than one’s moral and political positions regarding a host of key issues, including abortion, premarital sex, birth control, divorce, and homosexuality,” writes Petro in After the Wrath of God. It intertwined grassroots church networks, priests who were willing and able to pressure legislators, international influence (for example, in US health policy abroad, that excluded condoms or abortion access), media empires (from Trinity Broadcasting Network to Jim Bakker and Oral Roberts), and American religious fervor. Since the 1970s, the Christian Right has ebbed and flowed, with various organizational forces rising to prominence and falling apart. From Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, founded in 1979, to Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, founded in 1989, their “successes at political mobilization— pushing apolitical religious conservatives to become voters, voters to become activists, and activists to become candidates— have become woven into the fabric of our national political life, particularly within the GOP,” wrote journalist and scholar Frederick Clarkson, a senior fellow at Political Research Associates, on its website in 2013.

Rather than measure this group’s achievements by the number of politicians who have risen to power, Clarkson writes, “Its greatest success, in fact, has been somewhat under the radar: creating an institutional network that fosters young conservatives and encourages them to translate conservative ideas into public policy.” In 2009, prominent conservative Catholic and Protestant leaders signed the Manhattan Declaration, a manifesto declaring, “We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right— and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation— to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence.” (The entire text can be found online at

In the declaration’s formulation, legalized abortion is a keystone on which other issues like same-sex marriage, contraception, stem cell research, and euthanasia rest; the challenge to stop such corruptions can be understood through the study of the shifting definition of religious liberty in the United States.

According to Clarkson, these groups are invested in the “idea that those who favor reproductive choice and marriage equality are non-religious or anti-religious, and thus are prepared to trample the religious liberty of everyone.” Religious liberty is now being used as a defense of a religious ideology’s existing authority, at the expense of others’ diversifying worldviews and rights; it’s become an accusation that those who don’t agree with a particular frame are simply wrong, fallen, depraved, or misguided.

The early foundational idea of religious liberty— in theory, if not in practice— was meant to protect individual conscience, to prevent authoritative powers of any sort from dictating the religious beliefs of citizens. But as Clarkson writes,

The signers of the [Manhattan] Declaration cast themselves as patriots challenging “tyranny” in the tradition of the American Revolution and as warriors for social justice. While laying claim to the mantle of the Revolution is not new or unique to this group, the Declaration has ratcheted up the seriousness with which Christian Right leaders are treating the nature of the confrontation. “We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” they conclude. “But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”
By reinterpreting religious liberty (or stubbornly adhering to existing and/ or idealistic forms), the Manhattan Declaration and its signatories claim their moral values to be rightly privileged above all others. In an increasingly diverse country where a multitude of moralities— religious and otherwise— exist, “pro-life” organizations are brazenly working to shape laws, systems of power, and national conversations to their own beliefs...

Neumann, Ann. The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America (pp. 109-112). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
I've also had a good run at Ann's book here, on Medium. A must-read, IMO.

Again, stay tuned. I'm hardly done yet. There's much more to unpack here.


The crux of FADA (still a [for now dormant] bill, from the 114th Congress, not yet enacted):
SEC. 3. PROTECTION OF THE FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND MORAL CONVICTIONS.  (a) IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Federal Government shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.
A transparent attempt to end-run the SCOTUS ruling on "marriage equality."

Pence's Indiana SB0101 comprises a much broader overreach:
  • "Religion" is anything the claimant says it is (and consequently not a federally unconstitutional "Establishment of Religion");
  • A protected "Religious Person" spans the gamut from actual persons through for-profit corporations;
  • The so-called "religious rights" are presumptive (though, tell it to Sikhs or Muslims, etc);
  • The state is required to come to the legal aid of "religiously burdened" claimants (e.g., Pizza shops or florists owned by Fundie "Christians").
I repeat:
VP Pence's Indiana Senate Bill 101 (SB0101) ... (I call it "The Christian Pizza Protection Act"), and "FADA" (HR 2802, the federal "First Amendment Defense Act" ... "The Show-Your-One-Man-One-Woman-Marriage-License-At-Marriott-Checkin" bill).
Decide for yourselves.


Need I really spell it all out?


I obviously don't think so. I (mostly) tend to choose my words with care. While I have no doubt of the frequently genuine -- if often inadequately reflective and rational -- moral convictions of numerous clinical "protectees" within the targeted purview of this HHS initiative, this new HHS undertaking is anything but that which might be characterized by the phrase "religious tolerance."

It is dispositively (and unconstitutionally) theocratically sectarian, transparently intended to circumscribe the civil rights of a breadth of marginalized cohorts (including those of women writ large).

More to come...

Friday, January 19, 2018

Caregiver and nascent care recipient

This button was on my press pass to the Fall 2017 Health 2.0 Conference. I thought at the time, 'yeah, nice, that's pretty cool' given my ailing daughter's situation after her March 29th dx of Stage IV pancreatic cancer. She just had her second chemo round of a new 2-drug chemo regimen after 9 months of her first Folfirinox chemo cocktail. Folfirinox works until it no longer does -- roughly 9-12 months. We are now there.
Danielle also had to go in for an interventional radiology ovarian cyst drainage px this week, as if there wasn't enough to deal with. It was a "success," albeit another long day.
Below, the entrance to our weekly Kaiser-Permanente schlep.

Luckily for us, this K-P facility is merely 7-8 minutes from our house.

I lost my first-born (Danielle's elder half-sister) to cancer 20 years ago this July 1st. I thought nothing would ever be more difficult than that.

I was wrong. On so many levels.

Not the least of which being that a year of unremitting stress (commencing with the election of the brutish Donald Trump) has caught up with me.


My late Dad had his aortic valve replaced (along w/ a bypass px) in 1996 at age 80. My late Mother had chronic CAD as well, eventually having to have a pacemaker implant.

So, cardiovascular disease is in my bloodline genetics. I've been on relatively low-dose statins and BP meds for years. I do what I can: sparse with the red meat and fats and junk foods, gym rat devotee, not obese (5'10," 174 lbs at age 71). I did a cardiac treadmill about a dozen years ago, and never did get up to "heart rate." Barely broke a sweat (those were my heavy full-court hoops days).

Continuing delusions of grandeur, 2016

I ended up in the hospital with sepsis in early April 2015 in the wake of my prostate cancer biopsy. Wrote about that lovely entire experience here. While admitted, I had a cardiac echo px. Nothing ever came of it until my new Primary noticed a "heart murmur" during a subsequent exam quite some time later. He looked in my chart (Epic) and quickly found the earlier Muir Medical Center cardiac echo report. It had been deemed of "non-clinical" import. Which is probably why no one brought it up, and, admittedly, I'd not looked via the patient portal. I had other things to deal with at the time.

After Danielle fell ill, I saw my Primary again, and asked for several referrals, worried about my persistent daily stress levels, and the potential impact on my renewed "caregiver" duties.

Among the docs I subsequently saw was a cardiologist (whom I really like). I had a full workup, including bloodwork, static EKG, treadmill EKG, and another cardiac echo.

My EKGs were fine. My bloodwork panel assays were all in the normal range, my BP is "normal range," my BMI is normal.

My new cardiac echo, however, indicated a worrisome decline in my aortic valve viability ("stenosis"), and, while my "ejection fraction" was normal, prudence would dictate "active surveillance" follow-ups.

In December I had yet another cardiac echo px.

Further worsening of stenosis, and a drop in ejection fraction (the latter getting closer to the line). Time to discuss action.


Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement. A "non-invasive" alternative to "SAVR," (the onerous traditional open-heart surgery). Sedation and a Local, and you go home a day later with a sore groin.

Dr. Chang (my cardio doc) had mentioned it, saying that it's becoming the "standard of care" outside the U.S. But, while the TAVR px is done in the states, it's only approved here for "high" or "prohibitive surgical risk" patients (i.e., older and sicker patients).

And, that cohort restriction problematically biases the relative TAVR vs SAVR outcomes stats, making it difficult to make a fully-informed choice under the pressure of time.

Given that the TAVR option appears to not be an unalloyed outcomes blessing in any event (to the extent we can truly know, via the relative paucity of current data), I am likely to opt for the SAVR px, and will soon meet with a recommended cardiac surgeon to discuss it. I suppose I could go all "Medical Tourist," fly to Germany or Switzerland, pay cash (~$100k), and do a TAVR.

Probably not. I could pay for it (ugh), but, probably not, all things considered.

Beyond the well-known patient post-op adversities of the SAVR px per se, my daughter's relentlessly worsening condition dictates that I address this sooner rather than later.

So if this blog goes increasingly dark for a while, you'll know why.

If this blog goes away, I guess you'll know why as well.


Next up, HIMSS 2018. Given all of the foregoing, I rather doubt I'll be there, notwithstanding that it's again being held in my old Las Vegas stomping grounds.
In 2012, just on a lark, I applied for a HIMSS Conference press pass. To my utter surprise, they approved it!
Why do I continue this ankle-biting effort?



Planning to have open heart surgery anytime soon? You might want to ask your cardiologist to book an afternoon slot in the OR.

New research shows that heart operations performed in the afternoon produced better outcomes than those done in the morning.

Because afternoon heart surgery syncs with the body's circadian clock (the internal body clock that controls when people sleep, eat and wake up), it reduces the risk of heart damage, the French researchers said.

"Currently, there are few other surgical options to reduce the risk of post-surgery heart damage, meaning new techniques to protect patients are needed," said study author Dr. David Montaigne, a professor at the University of Lille.

In one part of the study, his team tracked the medical records of nearly 600 people who had heart valve replacement surgery for 500 days, to identify any major cardiac events such as a heart attack, heart failure or death from heart disease. Half had surgery in the morning while the other half had it in the afternoon.

The risk of a major cardiac event was 50 percent lower among patients who had surgery in the afternoon than in those who had surgery in the morning. That would work out to one less major cardiac event per 11 patients who have afternoon surgery, the researchers said…
Link here.


My friend the Health Care Futurist Joe Flower and his wife Jennifer are selling their Sausalito live-aboard tug.

I've been on it, it's magnificent. I'd buy it in a heartbeat had I the money. I've had my eye on this one up on Vancouver Island, BC. Seriously.


I met with the referral cardiac surgeon, really like him. I am totally comfortable doing the SAVR under him ("open heart"). He wants to evaluate a "cardiac echo stress test" first, and sees no dire exigency, given my total picture.

My daughter's cancer, however, has taken a significant turn for the worse. She spent M-W in the hospital, and we've had to buy a bunch of "DME" for her return home. They want us to get a "hospital bed," too. Talk of "Palliative Care Unit" and "hospice" is in the air.

The stress, man...

More to come...