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Telemedicine (the ability to get medical care by text, phone, or video chat) is increasingly combined with Direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug advertising. This seems to represent an attempt to increase sales of prescription medications by lowering the barriers and inconveniences of visiting a doctor. Many of the medications are for discretionary treatments. In some cases, the pitch includes a seeming medicalization of normal aging, such as the increased difficulty getting or sustaining erections and hair loss in men. It may also benefit pharmaceutical companies to suggest that normal aspects of human existence, such as performance anxiety, are conditions to be treated with a pill.
In DTC telemedicine, people complete an initial questionnaire that is reviewed by a clinician. Once select patients are notified over the phone or a video call, the prescription is either sent electronically to a local pharmacy or the medication is mailed directly to the patient’s home, often paid for out of pocket.
DTC telemedicine visits have several potential advantages over traditional clinic visits as a more standardized, efficient, convenient, and accessible model of care. The questionnaire can be structured to increase clinician efficiency. The increased efficiency and decreased overhead costs of an in-person clinic lower patient costs while increasing profit margins.
People may also benefit from the convenience of obtaining these medications without leaving their home, which may result in increased access to care for those in rural areas, patients without insurance, and those who feel uncomfortable talking about these sensitive health issues in person. An example of where this convenience might make sense is for prescribing and delivering birth control pills.
However, DTC telemedicine raises concerns about its effect on quality of care. The questionnaire is focused on screening for patients who don’t qualify to take the medication offered, rather than on finding the best possible treatment for a patient’s medical problem. The questionnaire may deemphasize the importance of healthier daily habits, accommodating the body’s changes, and working to improve mindset and circumstances for optimal health. In the guise of convenience, companies may be profiting from exploitation of individual vulnerabilities and insecurities, as well as the medicalization of aspects of a healthy human life.
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Fitness trackers are increasingly used by people trying to get and stay healthy. Trackers can show daily activity progress, read your heart rate, and log exercise sessions. Some, like the Apple Watch, can even log hours of sleep and sense atrial fibrillation.
A recent study suggests that while fitness trackers might help you bump up your daily steps and avoid a sedentary lifestyle, there is skepticism about their health benefits in the long run. Even participants incentivized with cash to walk more did not lose any weight, lower their blood pressure, or improve their resting heart rate. It is likely that those wearing trackers chose to reward themselves for meeting exercise goals with a dietary indulgence.
Perhaps what’s missing are motivational tools and social features that may help individuals establish healthy eating and activity habits. Users might benefit more if they focus not just on walking more, but on incorporating their individual health needs and a healthy diet.
Photo from Jamaica Hospital Medical Center
The butter-for-a-burn remedy has become widely accepted, because it is believed that the greasy substance can be cool and soothing. However, there are no clinical studies that support the use of butter to limit the burn or to aid healing or comfort. While butter may afford some temporary relief from the sting of a recent burn, it has no known antiseptic, antibiotic, or long-term pain-relieving properties.
Since burns are the result of tissue injury caused by excessive exposure to heat, it is helpful to immediately cool the skin in order to stop the damage from the burning process. Butter and other oily products may actually worsen the effects of the burn, because the grease slows the release of heat from the skin. Butter may also contain bacteria that could lead to an infection, and the thick, greasy substance makes it more difficult to properly clean the area.
The best way to treat a burn is with cool water, which gently removes heat from the area and may alleviate pain. Contrary to popular opinion, ice and ice water should be avoided, because extreme cold and extreme heat can both damage skin.