Today’s Reading List

Take a break
As a change from some of the usual content I wanted to pass on some general articles on health, medicine and pharmacy practice I enjoyed recently.

Dr. Don: The life of a small-town druggist. From September’s New Yorker, this is an extended and engaging portrait of a pharmacist that sustains a town.  If I was a community pharmacist in a small town, I’d want to have the kinds of customer relationships that Don Colcord has:

Don Colcord has owned Nucla’s Apothecary Shoppe for more than thirty years. In the past, such stores played a key role in American rural health care, and this region had three more pharmacies, but all of them have closed. Some people drive eighty miles just to visit the Apothecary Shoppe. It consists of a few rows of grocery shelves, a gift-card rack, a Pepsi fountain, and a diabetes section, which is decorated with the mounted heads of two mule deer and an antelope. Next to the game heads is the pharmacist’s counter. Customers don’t line up at a discreet distance, the way city folk do; in Nucla they crowd the counter and talk loudly about health problems.

Will Robots Steal Your Job? My father the pharmacist vs. a gigantic pill-packing machine. From Slate. Robots can dispense drugs more accurately than any pharmacist. Will they steal your job? Only if you cling to dispensing as your vocation:

Over the next 10 to 15 years, increasingly intelligent robots, computers, and software package will invade a wide variety of American workplaces. Pharmacists will be some of the first highly skilled professionals who’ll lose their jobs to machines. Today’s pharmacy robots can look up patient records, count out pills, label vials, and bill insurance companies. Some of these systems are buggy, and several pharmacists I spoke to complained that they needed constant human supervision. But they concede that the computers keep getting better, and that today’s best robotic pharmacists are faster and less prone to error than the best human pharmacists.

Blinded by Science: Modern-day hucksters are cashing in on vulnerable patients. From The Walrus. A look at stem cell miracle cures, and how some ignore the science.

While stem cell tourism, which is likely generating hundreds of millions of dollars, is a worrisome development, it’s part of a much broader trend: capitalizing on newsworthy scientific advances as marketing opportunities. Call it “scienceploitation” — the exploitation of both good science and vulnerable patients. Threads of the phenomenon can be found in the ongoing debates about the efficacy of Italian doctor Paolo Zamboni’s liberation treatment for multiple sclerosis and in questions about the value of alternative medicine like homeopathy. Some scientific hoaxes have led to a dangerous clouding of the facts, as in the fraudulent British research that engendered the myth that vaccines cause autism.

At least stem cell therapy is plausible. Homeopathy is a placebo system.

Mythbusting 101: Organic Farming > Conventional Agriculture. From Scientific American Blogs. A great summary of the facts of organic farming:

What makes organic farming different, then? It’s not the use of pesticides, it’s the origin of the pesticides used. Organic pesticides are those that are derived from natural sources and processed lightly if at all before use. This is different than the current pesticides used by conventional agriculture, which are generally synthetic. It has been assumed for years that pesticides that occur naturally (in certain plants, for example) are somehow better for us and the environment than those that have been created by man. As more research is done into their toxicity, however, this simply isn’t true, either. Many natural pesticides have been found to be potential – or serious – health risks.

All of these are excellent, thought provoking reads. Let me know your thoughts, or suggest other articles, in the comments.

Photo from flickr user nanny snowflake used under a CC licence.