Weekend Reading: Spiritual Bedside Manner; Cancer And The Environment

Every week reporter Ankita Rao selects interesting reading from around the Web.

The Atlantic: Should Your Doctor Pray With You?
"I can fix this." The neurosurgeon was nothing if not confident. … Then, just when it looked like the surgeon would head back to the operating room, he instead lowered his head and held the professor's hands. And began to pray. Not pray as in silently meditate by the bedside. But pray out loud, in an almost Pentecostal, sermon-y kind of way. … As physicians, we interact with patients during some of the most important moments of their lives -- at their births and at their deathbeds, at events bursting with spiritual significance. And yet most of us are afraid to talk about spirituality with our patients, much less discuss religion, out of fear that such conversations would be inappropriate (Peter Ubel, 3/18).

Slate: Cancer Cluster Or Chance?
Lay a chessboard on a table. Then grab a handful of rice and let the grains fall and scatter where they may. They won't spread out uniformly with the same number occupying each square. Instead there will be clusters. Now suppose that the chessboard is a map of the United States and the grains are cases of cancer. Each year about 1.6 million cases of cancer are diagnosed in the United States, and epidemiologists regularly hear from people worried that their town has been plagued with an unusually large visitation. Time after time, the clusters have turned out to be statistical illusions—artifacts of chance. ... Of the handful of residential clusters that have not been dismissed as flukes, only two in the United States have been associated, with a great deal of uncertainty, with environmental contaminants. Both involved childhood cancer (George Johnson, 3/19).

The New York Times: The Face Of Future Health Care
When people talk about the future of health care, Kaiser Permanente is often the model they have in mind. The organization, which combines a nonprofit insurance plan with its own hospitals and clinics, is the kind of holistic health system that President Obama's health care law encourages. Kaiser has sophisticated electronic records and computer systems that — after 10 years and $30 billion in technology spending — have led to better-coordinated patient care, another goal of the president. And because the plan is paid a fixed amount for medical care per member, there is a strong financial incentive to keep people healthy and out of the hospital, the same goal of the hundreds of accountable care organizations now being created (Reed Abelson, 3/21). (Kaiser Health News is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

American Medical News: How To Talk About Hospice Care
About once a year, a patient or family member will "jump up and just walk out of the room when I mention hospice," says David Casarett, MD, chief medical officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System's hospice program. … Even though such harsh reactions may be the exception, Dr. Casarett says, they are enough to make many doctors uneasy about bringing up hospice — a program that offers at-home nursing care, pain and symptom relief, spiritual counseling and other services but typically requires patients to forgo disease-directed treatments that aim to extend survival time (Kevin O’Reilly, 3/21).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from more than 300 news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.