KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Longer Looks: Doctors’ Uncertainty; History Of Homesickness; Abortion Polling

Each week, KHN's Shefali Luthra finds interesting reads from around the Web.

The Atlantic: When Doctors Should Say 'I Don't Know'
Medicine is a high-stakes game of uncertainty, complicated by the fact that people are naturally predisposed to seek certainty whenever possible. If you don’t know what something is, it could be a threat, out there on the ancient savannah of evolutionary psychology logic. That goes for patients and doctors alike, and if both parties are in agreement that certainty is best, it’s possible that they’ll just blow past the risks of a treatment, or the dubiousness of a diagnosis, for the sake of having an answer. (Julie Beck, 2/29)

Vox: How America's Criminal Justice System Became The Country's Mental Health System
Kevin Earley of Fairfax County, Virginia, knows too well what it's like to be on the bad side of a police officer as a person with bipolar disorder — scared you're about to die. Prior to the encounter, Kevin's father, Pete, called police when Kevin, now 36, acted violently on a night in 2005. Kevin refused to surrender and tried to flee, thinking police were trying to hurt him. Officers blasted him twice with a Taser, shocking him with 50,000 volts of electricity each time. (German Lopez, 3/1)

PBS NewsHour: One Family’s Lonely Struggle Against Their Child’s Rare Disease
To visit the Shillinger family’s rural Maryland home, you first pass red barns and white silos that dot green farm country and streets with names like English Muffin Road. It feels as if you’re driving through a child’s bedtime story. Lauren and Sean Shillinger moved here in July 2014 with their eight-month-old daughter, Brynleigh. They couldn’t wait to watch their only child grow up walking to the nearby elementary school or taking annual family trips to Disney World. (Laura Santhanam, 2/29)

New York Magazine: The Little-Known Medical History of Homesickness
From the ads, it would appear that the Academy Award–nominated film Brooklyn tells a romantic story about a complicated love triangle. And it does. But if you’ve seen it, or read the book by Colm Tóibín, you know it’s not really a love triangle between Saoirse Ronan’s Eilis Lacey, her Brooklyn love, and her Irish suitor, or at least not entirely so. It’s also between Eilis, Brooklyn, and County Wexford — as in, the woman and the geographical places themselves. It’s a film about homesickness, in other words, a feeling we tend to take rather lightly today — it’s a childish emotion, the stuff of summer camps and (maybe) freshman college dorm rooms. In Eilis’s 1950s era, people tended to brush it off, too. But in the years before World War II, stretching back to the 17th century, European and American medicine took this particular type of heartache incredibly seriously. For many years, “hypochondria of the heart,” as it was sometimes called, was considered a “curable disease”; left untreated, the illness could be, and often was, fatal, the mainstream medical community at the time argued. (Melissa Dahl, 2/25)

Vox: We Polled 1,060 Americans About Abortion. This Is What They Got Wrong.
Most Americans — Democrats and Republicans, men and women, pro-choice and pro-life — all share a belief about abortion: that it's rare. Twenty-seven percent of Americans think fewer than 10 percent of women will have an abortion in their lifetime; 51 percent say it’s fewer than 20 percent, a new Vox poll of 1,060 registered voters conducted by communications firm Perry/Undem shows. This turns out to be a significant underestimate. (Sarah Kliff, 2/29)

The Atlantic: The Instagrams Of Food Deserts
Food deserts, or places where people have limited access to fresh food, are usually measured by the distance people have to travel to get to a large grocery store. What’s harder to measure is what the residents of these areas are actually eating day to day. (Julie Beck, 3/1)

N + 1: On Heroin And Harm Reduction
You complain of ceaseless fatigue, a haze in your head. You list your medications: lithium, Topamax, prazosin, Thorazine, lorazepam, also methadone, more I am forgetting, they are always changing. Frankly I am astonished at, worried by, the number of medications you are taking. The lithium concerns me most. I know that it has dangerous side effects. I know that it is used in batteries. Never once does it occur to me that you seem all right because of the meds and not despite them. You are impressionable and take what I say seriously. The only people you talk to are social workers, counselors, medical doctors, psychiatrists, and you do not seek to inform yourself about your own condition. You are not a skeptic. You do not read. You trust what others tell you. The source is of no relevance. (Sarah Resnick, February 2016)

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