There's a lot of medical news out there every week, and it raises questions from us and our regular medical analyst Dr. Jon Hallberg. So, each first Tuesday of the month here on MPR's All Things Considered, we're going to delve into Dr. Hallberg's medical bag. We want your help, too. If you have any questions on health care or medical headlines you see, tweet your questions to @TomCrann, and we'll run some of them by Dr. Hallberg.
Tom Crann: First, a follow up to last week's conversation about obesity. There's news that Medicare for seniors will extend coverage for obesity. What does it mean?
Dr. Jon Hallberg: Just after we spoke it was announced that Medicare is now going to cover more intensive behavioral therapy for physicians. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but they are going to allow me to bill Medicare patients who are obese to see them every week for a month and then every other week for up to five months after that if they still need help. I'm not sure what I'm going to be doing during those visits. We have very few guidelines with this. I'm sure it will be working with my nurse, working with my staff to encourage them to lose weight, but I think this is well-intended and there's some work to do to figure out what has to be done to make this happen.
Crann: Then onto some study news, this time from the Radiological Society of North America about the brain. One study wants us to eat more baked fish, saying it's good for the brain?
Hallberg: That was the conclusion. It's interesting that this study would come from this group but I think it had to do with the fact that they were imaging the brain and looking at the brain for signs of Alzheimer's disease. They found that people who had one serving of baked or broiled fish a week could significantly reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's later in life. Now this is opposed to eating fried fish, because it seems frying fish breaks down the omega 3 oils we know are good for the brain. I don't have a lot of information about the study so we have to go over this kind of cautiously.
Crann: When we see these studies coming out of annual conventions like the one for radiologists, what do we have to keep in mind?
Hallberg: I think the overwhelming thought is caution. These big groups get together and there's very interesting information that's coming out of those conventions, but I think people are so quick to get the information out there we don't have time to digest it, really look at the studies, and they make for great headlines. So all of this needs a lot of caution surrounding it.
Crann: We've got a question here from Twitter: Now that the cholesterol medication Lipitor has a generic equivalent, should I be taking it? Should I be taking it if I'm borderline?
Hallberg: If you're just borderline, the answer is no, there's so much more to it than that. There are a lot of risk factors that we need to look at, so it's not just an automatic thing. Some people have heard rumors that all the cardiologists are taking this, and there's been rumors like that in the past — I remember hearing rumors that all the cardiologists were taking vitamin C and E and aspirin.
Crann: However, this is good news for people who are currently taking Lipitor, right?
Hallberg: It's great news. I think this is the most eagerly anticipated switchover from a name brand to a generic in years and I think the only one that will rival this will be Viagra when that eventually goes over. With Lipitor, the generic is going to save people hundreds of dollars a year and it should work just as well, and the good news is we can actually measure the results. After being on it a few weeks you can check to make sure it's working just as well as the name brand.
(Interview transcribed by MPR reporter Elizabeth Dunbar.)