Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Do patients report symptoms better than physicians?

There is a very interesting article in the New York Times today that discusses how doctors need to pay more attention to patient complaints.  For example, the author opens the article discussing how she stopped taking Bextra after she started to develop a large red blister on her tongue.  Her physician said the symptom was most likely a coincidence, but the drug was taken off the market shortly thereafter because it caused dangerous side effects (including mouth blisters).  Although it is impossible to say what caused the mouth blister in this case, the author does a good job of demonstrating that the doctor should have taken her complaint more seriously.

I found this article to be especially exciting because it emphasizes that patients can directly provide powerful information for evaluating medical treatments and diagnostics.  This reminds me of the success of medical databases based upon information provided directly from patients, such as PatientsLikeMe.  Interestingly, the article also describes a side effect database from the FDA called MedWatch, which allows doctors and patients to report negative systems experienced with various treatments.  I was very excited to see that even the FDA appreciated the value of information reported directly from patients.  I think a system similar to MedWatch can significantly improve the process of conducting clinical trails.

Of course, I should emphasize that the article is not trying to say that medical information should only be based upon information from patients.  Physicians definitely need to play a role in assessing medical treatments.  However, I think databases of patient feedback can be a powerful tool that can help reshape health care and drug development.

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