Monday, May 24, 2010


Computers help reduce medication errors, but so can patients

Doctors’ handwriting has been the butt of jokes since the invention of the prescription pad, but it is no laughing matter. Poor handwriting is the culprit in a significant number of medication and other healthcare related errors. Thankfully, protecting yourself from this type of mistake is easier then deciphering hieroglyphics.

Computers dominate most professional fields today and healthcare is no different.

Every hospital, doctor’s office, and pharmacy uses computers in nearly all aspects of patient care. Yet even today, the handwritten medical chart and prescription pad is the most common way a physician communicates orders to nurses, pharmacists and even fellow doctors.

And it is not that doctors handwriting is really any worse then the average Joe, it’s just that what they are writing about is much more important and carries a higher risk of harm when misinterpreted. The Institute of Medicine’s report on medication errors stated that 7,000 patient deaths occur each year because of medication errors, and poor handwriting is a leading cause of those errors.

Taking the pen away is one solution that many experts advocate. E-prescribing, using a computer device to write prescriptions, is growing every day and is currently available to many physicians right in their office and links directly with local pharmacies. Using their computer or a hand-held device, doctors can electronically write a prescription and instantly send it to the pharmacy of your choice without ever needing to put pen to paper.

Besides just eliminating poor penmanship from the prescription writing process, E-prescribing software can also warn the physician of potential drug interactions and dosage errors as well. In hospitals E-prescribing is known as Computerized-Physician Order Entry (CPOE), and it is changing the way medications are prescribed there as well. Backus Hospital has a successful pilot program running now and plans to launch it throughout the institution.

Although E-prescribing is gaining popularity and cures the problem of poor handwriting, it also creates a few new problems as well; the most common one being termed “selection error.” The prescriber may accidently push a wrong button, or choose a medication name that looks just like the one they intended. How can you protect yourself from any of these errors? Do you need your own E-prescribing device? The answer is no, a simple pad and pen will do.

If your doctor is writing you a prescription, either on paper or electronically, make sure they tell you exactly what the medication is, what it is for, how you should take it, and how many times a day to take it.

Write this information down yourself (hopefully you can read your own handwriting, something I have trouble with that). Then when you are at the pharmacy picking up your prescription and going over the directions with the pharmacist, you can refer to what you have written and make sure what the doctor told you the prescription was going to be for, is exactly what the pharmacist is dispensing. If something is different, have the pharmacist call your physician to clear up any discrepancies.

Michael Smith is a pharmacist and Clinical Coordinator in the Department of Pharmacy Services at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Mr. Smith and all of the Healthy Living columnists at To comment on this or other Healthy Living columns, click below or go to the Healthy Living blog at

Monday, May 17, 2010


How to ‘lick’ those extra calories

Americans live for ice cream especially when it is warm. Summer and ice cream go together. Should you treat yourself?

As we already know, how much and how often is the key according to the Food Guide Pyramid: All foods can potentially fit into a healthy, balanced diet. So where does ice cream fit?

Disappointingly for some folks, the pyramid does not count ice cream as a serving from the milk group. Yes, it does contain calcium although it contains more calories and potentially a high fat content depending on what kind you choose as compared to a glass of milk or a serving of leafy greens.

Ice cream is an example of those daily discretionary calories that the pyramid allows. Use your discretionary allowance with some thought because it is fairly small and it depends on your calorie or energy needs to support a healthy weight as well.

Portions sizes in the U.S. have increased in size over the past 30-40 years as this correlates with the increase in obesity rate. Food is available anywhere and everywhere we go, not to mention the aisle-long frozen treat section at the market.

What’s more, food establishments are often judged on the quantity and not necessarily the quality of a product.

For example, a trip to Dairy Queen is planned for an ice cream treat and when you get there, you find that you only have to spend a few dollars for dinner and ice cream. One can order off the Sweet Deals Menu, their version of a value menu, and for only $3 you can pick any two items, including cheeseburger, hot dog, French fries, onion rings, small sundae, etc. Pick any three items for $4; any four items for $5 -- that’s $5 for 1,300 calories (not including the choice of side salad) for a meal, what a deal! This is the total energy needs for some of us or a large percentage of energy needs for others.

Here’s the smart scoop: It can be tough to leave an ice cream shop with a right size treat. A few easy modifications can help you indulge without the bulge:

• Order the kid’s size or a single scoop or even try skipping the cone.
• Hold the toppings, because a tablespoon or two of chopped candy bars or crushed cookies can add up 150 calories more to your treat.
• Scattered among most ice cream shops’ regular offerings are lighter options such as low-fat and low sugar ice cream, sorbet, sherbet and frozen yogurt. These varieties trim calories by limiting fat. Request a sample of the lighter options to make sure you would enjoy a regular serving size.

So have a healthy summer and no doubt enjoy your favorite frozen treat by perhaps modifying your portion or your frequency of indulgence. Try a local made ice cream; go for quality, not quantity. What’s more, take a closer look at your overall diet and evaluate how you can take advantage of all the fresh, local fruits and vegetables available to meet the pyramid’s suggestion of nine servings per day. Now that’s the true summer treat.

Sarah Hospod is a registered dietitian in the Food and Nutrition Department at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Ms. Hospod and all of the Healthy Living columnists at To comment on this or other Healthy Living columns, click below or go to the Healthy Living blog at

Monday, May 10, 2010


Stroke awareness can be a lifesaver

Over the years we’ve made many advances in stroke care, but one thing remains the same: the sooner treatment begins, the better the outcome.

And I’m not just talking about life or death. In fact, most people don’t die directly from strokes, but they must live with the disabling after effects for the rest of their lives. The long-term impact can be devastating to patients and their loved ones.

That’s why it is so important to educate the public on the risk factors and warning signs of stroke, especially because May is National Stroke Awareness Month.

Every 40 seconds someone in the U.S. has a stroke, with 795,000 strokes annually. It is the No. 1 cause of disability and the No. 3 cause of death. The good news is 80 percent of strokes are preventable.

Risk factors include:
The bottom line with strokes is time is of the essence. If you believe you or someone you know is having a stroke, call 911 immediately.
The William W. Backus Hospital is a state-designated Primary Stroke Center, meaning it offers rapid, comprehensive, evidence-based stroke care. But even the best program in the world doesn’t have a chance if too much time is lost.

Cindy Arpin, is a registered nurse and Stroke Coordinator at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your physician. E-mail Ms. Arpin or any of the Healthy Living columnists at To comment on this or other Healthy Living columns, click below or go to the Healthy Living blog at

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


Why men don’t listen

Ladies, have you ever wondered why a man sometimes doesn’t seem to hear or understand what you said?

A study at the University of Sheffield and published in the journal NeuroImage may provide the answer.

These researchers found differences in the way male and female brains process voice sounds. The results of this study demonstrate that, in the male brain, the perception of male and female voices activates different brain regions.

The guys could easily hear and understand other men’s voices. However, women have a greater natural melody in their voices and possess a more complex range of sound frequencies than a male voice.

The men in the study had a harder time deciphering them and really hearing what a woman was saying. When they heard the female voices, they had to decipher them using the part of the brain that processes music — a more complex process than is used in the part of the brain that analyzes a male voice.

This process may worsen as we age, or lose some of our hearing for other reasons.

Also, Dr Michael Hunter, co-author of the study noted that voices allow the brain to determine various factors about a person´s appearance, including their sex, size and age.

It is much more complex than most people think and is an extremely important tool for determining someone’s identity without having to see them.

So, in summary, when listening to a woman’s voice, a man must make an extra effort subconsciously or consciously, to concentrate on what he is hearing. If he can’t (or won’t), then I guess he has an excuse for selective hearing.

Dr. Paul H. Deutsch is board-certified in Internal Medicine, a member of The William W. Backus Hospital Medical Staff and in private practice in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your physician. E-mail Dr. Deutsch or any of the Healthy Living columnists at To comment on this or other Healthy Living columns, click below or go to the Healthy Living blog at

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