Bella Patel

In addition to contributing to Vital Signs, Bella works on strategic marketing and communications projects for Best Doctors Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a B.A. in Business Management and Digital Communications and enjoys traveling, designing and updating her status on social media.
October 23, 2015

What a Pain in the Back

As I begin to write this blog post, I realize I’m the epitome of what “NOT” to do when it comes to posture and back pain: I sit hunched over my desk, which is where I’ve been for several hours, without a break or change in position.backache 72 dpi

Fortunately I’m still young-ish and have an opportunity to fix things. And I should try, because the statistics are startling: back pain is a common problem among adults affecting up to 80% of people at least once in their lifetime. Moreover, the cost of medical expenditures alone for low back pain are estimated between $6 and $12 billion annually with additional costs associated with the impact on society due to the loss in worker productivity from time off work and the associated disability payments.

It seems though there are three main causes for back pain across Canada:

  • Our aging population
  • Our growing waistlines
  • Our increasingly sedentary lifestyles

There’s obviously nothing we can do about our aging population (although my fingers are crossed for the miracle elixir to be on store shelves soon!) but the other two factors are definitely preventable.

To keep our BMI (which is our Body Mass Index, a way to calculate our weight in proportion to our height, age and sex) down, the simple solution is to eat sensibly and maintain a level of physical activity for at least 15-30 minutes a day (although we all know it’s not “that” simple especially this time of year with pumpkin pie and candy corn…but we can at least try)!

But other than changing your career to become a landscaper or mechanic, how else does one “prevent” the sedentary action of sitting at your computer all day? Stats show that over 75% of workers sit for long periods of time – so this affects most people.

First and foremost – take breaks. Instead of sending an email or picking up the phone to your colleague who literally sits 100 feet away from you, walk over! It is said that a 5-minute break every hour is better for the health and safety of workers. Posture at your desk is also very important, and so is the design of your workstation. And if you have an open (and perhaps private if you prefer) space at your office, you can try some quick back and core strengthening exercises – it’s said that training your core muscles is extremely important in stabilizing and sparing undue stress on the spine.

In the long run, taking on these simple tactics and minor changes are definitely worth preventing years of lower back pain and anguish in the future. I know I’ll try it!

As I begin to write this blog post, I realize I’m the epitome of what “NOT” to do when it comes to posture and back pain: I sit hunched over my desk, which is where I’ve been for several hours, without a break or change in position.backache 72 dpi

Fortunately I’m still young-ish and have an opportunity to fix things. And I should try, because the statistics are startling: back pain is a common problem among adults affecting up to 80% of people at least once in their lifetime. Moreover, the cost of medical expenditures alone for low back pain are estimated between $6 and $12 billion annually with additional costs associated with the impact on society due to the loss in worker productivity from time off work and the associated disability payments.

It seems though there are three main causes for back pain across Canada:

  • Our aging population
  • Our growing waistlines
  • Our increasingly sedentary lifestyles

There’s obviously nothing we can do about our aging population (although my fingers are crossed for the miracle elixir to be on store shelves soon!) but the other two factors are definitely preventable.

To keep our BMI (which is our Body Mass Index, a way to calculate our weight in proportion to our height, age and sex) down, the simple solution is to eat sensibly and maintain a level of physical activity for at least 15-30 minutes a day (although we all know it’s not “that” simple especially this time of year with pumpkin pie and candy corn…but we can at least try)!

But other than changing your career to become a landscaper or mechanic, how else does one “prevent” the sedentary action of sitting at your computer all day? Stats show that over 75% of workers sit for long periods of time – so this affects most people.

First and foremost – take breaks. Instead of sending an email or picking up the phone to your colleague who literally sits 100 feet away from you, walk over! It is said that a 5-minute break every hour is better for the health and safety of workers. Posture at your desk is also very important, and so is the design of your workstation. And if you have an open (and perhaps private if you prefer) space at your office, you can try some quick back and core strengthening exercises – it’s said that training your core muscles is extremely important in stabilizing and sparing undue stress on the spine.

In the long run, taking on these simple tactics and minor changes are definitely worth preventing years of lower back pain and anguish in the future. I know I’ll try it!

August 11, 2015

Formula Feeding vs. Breastfeeding: A Few Things to Consider

breastfeeding bottle 72 dpi

Having a baby means making a lot of decisions. What colour should you paint the nursery? Should you go with disposable or cloth diapers? Should you co-sleep with your little one or put baby to sleep in a crib? The list is exhaustive. One of the most important decisions facing new mothers is how to feed their baby: will mom breastfeed exclusively or opt to formula feed instead?

Considering the majority of a baby’s first months of life revolve around frequent feedings, this is a huge and often overwhelming decision, and unfortunately in many cases new mothers are making this decision without much support. According to a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health, many new moms do not receive advice from physicians on various aspects of infant care, including breastfeeding.

August is National Breastfeeding Awareness month, shining a spotlight on the benefits of breastfeeding, which has been linked to everything from a lower risk of ear infections to helping protect against Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

But while breastfeeding advocates say “breast is best,” for many new mothers nursing doesn’t come naturally and can be very difficult. In some cases, a woman may not produce enough breast milk or a baby may have trouble latching, making exclusive breastfeeding impossible.

If you or someone you know is having a baby, here are a few things to keep in mind when considering whether to breastfeed or formula feed.

Breastfeeding

  • Breastfeeding protects babies against several illnesses. Studies have even shown that breastfeeding can reduce a child’s risk of developing certain childhood cancers. Scientists believe antibodies in breast milk may give a boost to a baby’s immune system.
  • Breastfeeding may help children avoid diseases that strike later in life, such as type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • A German study published in 2009 found that breastfeeding (either exclusively or partially) is associated with a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Nursing triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin, which has been found to promote feelings of relaxation. Oxytocin released while nursing also helps the uterus contract after birth, resulting in less postpartum bleeding.
  • Breast milk is always readily available, is always the right temperature and is free. Breast milk also changes in composition to meet a baby’s changing needs as he grows.

Formula feeding

  • Other caregivers can give a bottle to a formula fed baby, allowing mom to share feeding duties. This can be especially beneficial during nighttime feedings.
  • For mothers who are either unable to breastfeed or choose not to, formula is a healthy alternative, providing babies with the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.
  • Formula is less digestible than breast milk, so formula-fed babies usually need to eat less often than breastfed babies (this can make scheduling feedings easier.)
  • Moms who formula feed don’t need to worry about their own diets. Moms who breastfeed may have to avoid certain foods that their babies can’t tolerate.

At the end of the day, it’s important to keep in mind that new mothers have a choice about how to feed their babies and whatever choice a mother makes is the right one for her and her little one. If a new mom has any questions about feeding her child, Best Doctors is here to provide resources and support, alongside her healthcare practitioner. Hopefully we can help make the bumpy journey into parenthood just a little bit smoother.

breastfeeding bottle 72 dpi

Having a baby means making a lot of decisions. What colour should you paint the nursery? Should you go with disposable or cloth diapers? Should you co-sleep with your little one or put baby to sleep in a crib? The list is exhaustive. One of the most important decisions facing new mothers is how to feed their baby: will mom breastfeed exclusively or opt to formula feed instead?

Considering the majority of a baby’s first months of life revolve around frequent feedings, this is a huge and often overwhelming decision, and unfortunately in many cases new mothers are making this decision without much support. According to a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health, many new moms do not receive advice from physicians on various aspects of infant care, including breastfeeding.

August is National Breastfeeding Awareness month, shining a spotlight on the benefits of breastfeeding, which has been linked to everything from a lower risk of ear infections to helping protect against Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

But while breastfeeding advocates say “breast is best,” for many new mothers nursing doesn’t come naturally and can be very difficult. In some cases, a woman may not produce enough breast milk or a baby may have trouble latching, making exclusive breastfeeding impossible.

If you or someone you know is having a baby, here are a few things to keep in mind when considering whether to breastfeed or formula feed.

Breastfeeding

  • Breastfeeding protects babies against several illnesses. Studies have even shown that breastfeeding can reduce a child’s risk of developing certain childhood cancers. Scientists believe antibodies in breast milk may give a boost to a baby’s immune system.
  • Breastfeeding may help children avoid diseases that strike later in life, such as type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • A German study published in 2009 found that breastfeeding (either exclusively or partially) is associated with a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Nursing triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin, which has been found to promote feelings of relaxation. Oxytocin released while nursing also helps the uterus contract after birth, resulting in less postpartum bleeding.
  • Breast milk is always readily available, is always the right temperature and is free. Breast milk also changes in composition to meet a baby’s changing needs as he grows.

Formula feeding

  • Other caregivers can give a bottle to a formula fed baby, allowing mom to share feeding duties. This can be especially beneficial during nighttime feedings.
  • For mothers who are either unable to breastfeed or choose not to, formula is a healthy alternative, providing babies with the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.
  • Formula is less digestible than breast milk, so formula-fed babies usually need to eat less often than breastfed babies (this can make scheduling feedings easier.)
  • Moms who formula feed don’t need to worry about their own diets. Moms who breastfeed may have to avoid certain foods that their babies can’t tolerate.

At the end of the day, it’s important to keep in mind that new mothers have a choice about how to feed their babies and whatever choice a mother makes is the right one for her and her little one. If a new mom has any questions about feeding her child, Best Doctors is here to provide resources and support, alongside her healthcare practitioner. Hopefully we can help make the bumpy journey into parenthood just a little bit smoother.

July 10, 2015

Wearable technology: good or bad for our health?  

Wearable tech 72 dpiPersonal tech devices have become so closely intertwined with our day-to-day lives that it’s nearly impossible to imagine a time when the only gadget people carried was a watch.

Devices that promise to help us become healthier and enable us to obsessively monitor our current state of health are especially popular. If you’re not convinced, you need look no further than Fitbit’s recent initial public offering (IPO). After going public in mid-June, the company, which sells wearable fitness tracking devices, swiftly raised $732 million and is now valued at $4.1 billion, proving the appeal of wearable activity trackers extends far beyond hard-core health and fitness junkies (apparently, even President Barack Obama is a Fitbit fan).

Forget casually going for a stroll to get some fresh air or getting a good night’s rest – these days, we’re armed with devices that track exactly how many steps we’re logging every day and the precise amount of shut-eye we’re getting.

Activity trackers aren’t the only gadgets that are changing our behaviour and impacting our health. Smartphones, tablets and multi-tasking watches each affect us in different ways too.

This begs the question: is all this technology good or bad for our health? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer isn’t black or white. To gain a better understanding, let’s look at the pros and cons:

Pros

  • Some personal technology, like wearable activity trackers or fitness apps, encourage healthier habits and can inspire you to become more active, helping to change behaviour for the better.
  • Technology that allows you to set goals may make you feel more accountable for your health on a day-to-day basis.
  • Personal tech devices help track things like calories burned and calories ingested, making it easier to adhere to a weight loss plan.
  • Some health apps can assist in disease management – for instance, apps that collect blood pressure results by syncing wirelessly with a blood pressure monitor.

Cons

  • Some argue that being hyper-vigilant about every aspect of our daily activity and obsessively tracking and monitoring various metrics induces anxiety.
  • Technology that tracks activity and calories burned may not be completely accurate.
  • Personal technology has been linked to sleep issues. One study found that reading from a light-emitting device such as an e-reader before bedtime can shift the body’s natural clock and delay the onset of sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 95 percent of people engage in some form of screen-based technology close to bedtime at least a few times a week.

The bottom line

Whether personal tech devices are used in a way that is beneficial or harmful to our health ultimately depends on the user. Used properly, there are numerous advantages, whether it’s a health app that can assist you in managing a chronic condition or devices that can help you achieve your weight loss or fitness goals. The key, as with most things, may be to use devices in moderation and remember to shut down our gadgets so that we can properly shut down, which is crucial to maintaining our own optimal health.

 

 

Wearable tech 72 dpiPersonal tech devices have become so closely intertwined with our day-to-day lives that it’s nearly impossible to imagine a time when the only gadget people carried was a watch.

Devices that promise to help us become healthier and enable us to obsessively monitor our current state of health are especially popular. If you’re not convinced, you need look no further than Fitbit’s recent initial public offering (IPO). After going public in mid-June, the company, which sells wearable fitness tracking devices, swiftly raised $732 million and is now valued at $4.1 billion, proving the appeal of wearable activity trackers extends far beyond hard-core health and fitness junkies (apparently, even President Barack Obama is a Fitbit fan).

Forget casually going for a stroll to get some fresh air or getting a good night’s rest – these days, we’re armed with devices that track exactly how many steps we’re logging every day and the precise amount of shut-eye we’re getting.

Activity trackers aren’t the only gadgets that are changing our behaviour and impacting our health. Smartphones, tablets and multi-tasking watches each affect us in different ways too.

This begs the question: is all this technology good or bad for our health? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer isn’t black or white. To gain a better understanding, let’s look at the pros and cons:

Pros

  • Some personal technology, like wearable activity trackers or fitness apps, encourage healthier habits and can inspire you to become more active, helping to change behaviour for the better.
  • Technology that allows you to set goals may make you feel more accountable for your health on a day-to-day basis.
  • Personal tech devices help track things like calories burned and calories ingested, making it easier to adhere to a weight loss plan.
  • Some health apps can assist in disease management – for instance, apps that collect blood pressure results by syncing wirelessly with a blood pressure monitor.

Cons

  • Some argue that being hyper-vigilant about every aspect of our daily activity and obsessively tracking and monitoring various metrics induces anxiety.
  • Technology that tracks activity and calories burned may not be completely accurate.
  • Personal technology has been linked to sleep issues. One study found that reading from a light-emitting device such as an e-reader before bedtime can shift the body’s natural clock and delay the onset of sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 95 percent of people engage in some form of screen-based technology close to bedtime at least a few times a week.

The bottom line

Whether personal tech devices are used in a way that is beneficial or harmful to our health ultimately depends on the user. Used properly, there are numerous advantages, whether it’s a health app that can assist you in managing a chronic condition or devices that can help you achieve your weight loss or fitness goals. The key, as with most things, may be to use devices in moderation and remember to shut down our gadgets so that we can properly shut down, which is crucial to maintaining our own optimal health.

 

 

June 10, 2015

Taking Action Against Cancer

PreventionMost of us have been touched by cancer in some way, whether it has affected us personally or we have a friend, family member or colleague who has faced a cancer diagnosis. Perhaps this isn’t too surprising, considering the disease is the leading cause of death in Canada[1] and the second leading cause of death in the United States[2], with the number of people it impacts projected to rise dramatically in the coming years.

Cancer is expected to claim the lives of nearly 600,000 people in the US in 2015 and more than 1.6 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed[3] while in Canada, an estimated 78,000 deaths from cancer will occur in 2015 and nearly 200,000 new cases of cancer are projected to occur[4].

Although many advances have been made in understanding and treating this devastating disease, as the population ages and grows, the number of cancer cases is expected to skyrocket: in the US, the number of new cancer cases that occur each year is expected to rise 55 percent by 2030[5] and in Canada, new cancer cases are expected to increase by about 40 percent by 2030[6].

Although these figures are bleak, there is a silver lining. Making lifestyle changes and adopting healthy behaviours can help prevent many cancer cases.

Consider this:

  •  All cancers caused by tobacco use and alcohol consumption can be prevented completely. To put this into even greater perspective, consider that in 2015, almost 171,000 of the nearly 600,000 estimated cancer deaths in the US will be caused by tobacco smoking, according to the American Cancer Society.
  • It’s estimated that up to one-third of cancer cases that occur in economically developed countries are related to being overweight or obese, physically inactive, and/or having poor nutrition, according to the World Cancer Research Fund. Lifestyle changes and healthy habits can go a long way towards preventing cancer cases related to these factors.
  • Many cancers related to HPV, hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus and HIV can be prevented by behavioural changes, vaccination or by treating the infection.
  • Many of the skin cancer cases diagnosed in the US and Canada each year could be prevented by protecting the skin from the sun and avoiding indoor tanning.
  • Screening can help prevent colorectal and cervical cancers by allowing for the detection and removal of precancerous lesions. Screening can also allow you to detect cancer early before symptoms appear, resulting in less extensive treatment and more favourable outcomes. Screening is also known to reduce mortality for cancers of the breast, colon, rectum, cervix, and lung.

Armed with all this information, how can you try to prevent yourself from becoming a statistic?

The first thing you can do is take charge of your health by taking care of yourself. While preventive measures can help tremendously, the risk of cancer does increase as we age. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer and you’re not sure where to turn, Best Doctors is here to help. In fact, in Canada, 20 percent of Best Doctors’ InterConsultation cases are oncology and hematology related. Whether you require assistance locating a specialist or need help better understanding your diagnosis, Best Doctors can guide you in the right direction.

 

[1] Statistics Canada (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2014001/article/11896-eng.htm)
[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm)
[3] American Cancer Society (http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@editorial/documents/document/acspc-044552.pdf)
[4] Canadian Cancer Society (http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-101/cancer-statistics-at-a-glance/?region=on)
[5] American Institute for Cancer Research (http://www.aicr.org/press/press-releases/us-cancer-cases-rising.html)
[6] Canadian Cancer Society (http://www.cancer.ca/en/about-us/for-media/media-releases/national/2015/canadian-cancer-statistics-2015/?region=on)

PreventionMost of us have been touched by cancer in some way, whether it has affected us personally or we have a friend, family member or colleague who has faced a cancer diagnosis. Perhaps this isn’t too surprising, considering the disease is the leading cause of death in Canada[1] and the second leading cause of death in the United States[2], with the number of people it impacts projected to rise dramatically in the coming years.

Cancer is expected to claim the lives of nearly 600,000 people in the US in 2015 and more than 1.6 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed[3] while in Canada, an estimated 78,000 deaths from cancer will occur in 2015 and nearly 200,000 new cases of cancer are projected to occur[4].

Although many advances have been made in understanding and treating this devastating disease, as the population ages and grows, the number of cancer cases is expected to skyrocket: in the US, the number of new cancer cases that occur each year is expected to rise 55 percent by 2030[5] and in Canada, new cancer cases are expected to increase by about 40 percent by 2030[6].

Although these figures are bleak, there is a silver lining. Making lifestyle changes and adopting healthy behaviours can help prevent many cancer cases.

Consider this:

  •  All cancers caused by tobacco use and alcohol consumption can be prevented completely. To put this into even greater perspective, consider that in 2015, almost 171,000 of the nearly 600,000 estimated cancer deaths in the US will be caused by tobacco smoking, according to the American Cancer Society.
  • It’s estimated that up to one-third of cancer cases that occur in economically developed countries are related to being overweight or obese, physically inactive, and/or having poor nutrition, according to the World Cancer Research Fund. Lifestyle changes and healthy habits can go a long way towards preventing cancer cases related to these factors.
  • Many cancers related to HPV, hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus and HIV can be prevented by behavioural changes, vaccination or by treating the infection.
  • Many of the skin cancer cases diagnosed in the US and Canada each year could be prevented by protecting the skin from the sun and avoiding indoor tanning.
  • Screening can help prevent colorectal and cervical cancers by allowing for the detection and removal of precancerous lesions. Screening can also allow you to detect cancer early before symptoms appear, resulting in less extensive treatment and more favourable outcomes. Screening is also known to reduce mortality for cancers of the breast, colon, rectum, cervix, and lung.

Armed with all this information, how can you try to prevent yourself from becoming a statistic?

The first thing you can do is take charge of your health by taking care of yourself. While preventive measures can help tremendously, the risk of cancer does increase as we age. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer and you’re not sure where to turn, Best Doctors is here to help. In fact, in Canada, 20 percent of Best Doctors’ InterConsultation cases are oncology and hematology related. Whether you require assistance locating a specialist or need help better understanding your diagnosis, Best Doctors can guide you in the right direction.

 

[1] Statistics Canada (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2014001/article/11896-eng.htm)
[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm)
[3] American Cancer Society (http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@editorial/documents/document/acspc-044552.pdf)
[4] Canadian Cancer Society (http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-101/cancer-statistics-at-a-glance/?region=on)
[5] American Institute for Cancer Research (http://www.aicr.org/press/press-releases/us-cancer-cases-rising.html)
[6] Canadian Cancer Society (http://www.cancer.ca/en/about-us/for-media/media-releases/national/2015/canadian-cancer-statistics-2015/?region=on)

May 01, 2015

A Healthy Approach to Workplace Absenteeism

Workplace absenteeism has important consequences for a company and its employees.

Sick days cost Canada an estimated $16.6 billion each year, with an average of 9.3 sick days taken per year per full-time employee [1], where surprisingly, 54% of Canadians are faking how sick they really are.[2] Unfortunately, employee absenteeism has important consequences that extend far beyond the financial impact, and may be taking a toll on the health of your employees. At company level, chronic or accumulated absenteeism can lead to decreased productivity and performance, as well as increased stress and overwork for coworkers or managers coping with the resulting backlog of work. This in turn can contribute to low company morale and strained employee relations.

Yet when it comes to addressing absenteeism, responsibility lies as much with the employer as it does with the employee.

Turning to social media and technology

When examining the impact of absenteeism on organizations and employees, it is not surprising employers are doing some investigating on frequently absent employees. In an age of 24/7 online connection, there is no better place to start than social media. Employers are also increasingly turning to other innovative measures to address unjustified absences, including so-called Big Data strategies, which analyze absence trends across connected to holidays, weather and sporting events. Specialized absence-management systems which require employees to log their days off with a call center so that they can be tracked and stored are also gaining popularity. Finally, gaming strategies provide non-tangible rewards (like recognition and positive feedback) for employees who successfully “play the game” of attendance. However, such innovations require careful forethought and legal advice, depending on the country and the jurisdiction. In addition, the risk of an employer being seen to be “policing” employees might breed a sense of mistrust and resentment in staff.

Stress and Musculoskeletal (MSK) diseasesbackpain

Before tracking their employees, companies might need to better focus on why it is that they are staying home, legitimately or not. Seasonal ailments aside, stress, exhaustion and musculoskeletal conditions have all been found to be major reasons for absenteeism. According to survey statistics, 65% of those who admitted to faking sick time did so because they were feeling stressed, while 13% attributed it to being overworked.[2] It’s also estimated that 11 million Canadians over the age of 12 are affected by musculoskeletal diseases, which is predicted to rise to 15 million by 2031 due to the aging baby boomer population.[3]

MSK diseases can range from pulled muscles to chronic back pain. When not properly addressed, they can become important and debilitating health issues, which are estimated to cost the Canadian economy more than $22 billion each year, with injuries costing an additional $15 billion annually. “Although the direct costs of MSK diseases and injury are high (e.g., hospital care, physician visits, rehabilitation prescription drugs), three-quarters of the overall costs are indirect (e.g., absence from work and lost potential earnings, underperformance at work).”[4]

The importance of employee wellbeing

Monitoring absenteeism is one thing, yet more and more organizations are becoming aware of the need for policies, programs, and employee benefits that address employees’ health before it becomes an issue. Such initiatives might include counselling, expert medical advice and physiotherapy support. Additionally, “research suggests that the more positive the work environment and employee-employer relationship, the less likely employees are to miss work.”[1]

Best Doctors believes that employee wellbeing is a cornerstone of any successful organization. Our services form an important part of employee benefits packages around the world and make a real difference to employee health and quality of life.

[1] The Conference Board of Canada: Missing in Action
[2] HRInsider: Understanding HR Policies
[3] Canadian Institutes of Health Research: IMHA Facts & Figures
[4] Canadian Institutes of Health Research: IMHA Strategic Plan 2014 – 2018

Workplace absenteeism has important consequences for a company and its employees.

Sick days cost Canada an estimated $16.6 billion each year, with an average of 9.3 sick days taken per year per full-time employee [1], where surprisingly, 54% of Canadians are faking how sick they really are.[2] Unfortunately, employee absenteeism has important consequences that extend far beyond the financial impact, and may be taking a toll on the health of your employees. At company level, chronic or accumulated absenteeism can lead to decreased productivity and performance, as well as increased stress and overwork for coworkers or managers coping with the resulting backlog of work. This in turn can contribute to low company morale and strained employee relations.

Yet when it comes to addressing absenteeism, responsibility lies as much with the employer as it does with the employee.

Turning to social media and technology

When examining the impact of absenteeism on organizations and employees, it is not surprising employers are doing some investigating on frequently absent employees. In an age of 24/7 online connection, there is no better place to start than social media. Employers are also increasingly turning to other innovative measures to address unjustified absences, including so-called Big Data strategies, which analyze absence trends across connected to holidays, weather and sporting events. Specialized absence-management systems which require employees to log their days off with a call center so that they can be tracked and stored are also gaining popularity. Finally, gaming strategies provide non-tangible rewards (like recognition and positive feedback) for employees who successfully “play the game” of attendance. However, such innovations require careful forethought and legal advice, depending on the country and the jurisdiction. In addition, the risk of an employer being seen to be “policing” employees might breed a sense of mistrust and resentment in staff.

Stress and Musculoskeletal (MSK) diseasesbackpain

Before tracking their employees, companies might need to better focus on why it is that they are staying home, legitimately or not. Seasonal ailments aside, stress, exhaustion and musculoskeletal conditions have all been found to be major reasons for absenteeism. According to survey statistics, 65% of those who admitted to faking sick time did so because they were feeling stressed, while 13% attributed it to being overworked.[2] It’s also estimated that 11 million Canadians over the age of 12 are affected by musculoskeletal diseases, which is predicted to rise to 15 million by 2031 due to the aging baby boomer population.[3]

MSK diseases can range from pulled muscles to chronic back pain. When not properly addressed, they can become important and debilitating health issues, which are estimated to cost the Canadian economy more than $22 billion each year, with injuries costing an additional $15 billion annually. “Although the direct costs of MSK diseases and injury are high (e.g., hospital care, physician visits, rehabilitation prescription drugs), three-quarters of the overall costs are indirect (e.g., absence from work and lost potential earnings, underperformance at work).”[4]

The importance of employee wellbeing

Monitoring absenteeism is one thing, yet more and more organizations are becoming aware of the need for policies, programs, and employee benefits that address employees’ health before it becomes an issue. Such initiatives might include counselling, expert medical advice and physiotherapy support. Additionally, “research suggests that the more positive the work environment and employee-employer relationship, the less likely employees are to miss work.”[1]

Best Doctors believes that employee wellbeing is a cornerstone of any successful organization. Our services form an important part of employee benefits packages around the world and make a real difference to employee health and quality of life.

[1] The Conference Board of Canada: Missing in Action
[2] HRInsider: Understanding HR Policies
[3] Canadian Institutes of Health Research: IMHA Facts & Figures
[4] Canadian Institutes of Health Research: IMHA Strategic Plan 2014 – 2018

April 13, 2015

The Costs of Unnecessary Surgery

Imagine undergoing surgery, being in pain and out of commission for several days or weeks, not to mention missing work and time with your family – and then finding out your operation was completely unnecessary.

surgeonsThis may sound implausible, but with reports suggesting that millions of unnecessary surgeries are performed every year, this is a sad reality for many unfortunate patients. Unnecessary surgeries are very costly too: in the United States, they’re estimated to cost at least $150 billion a year[1], while in Canada a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that up to $180 million a year would be saved if the number of potentially unnecessary surgeries performed was reduced and doctors offered the most “appropriate and most cost effective” procedures to their patients[2].

A wide range of surgeries have been found to be unnecessarily performed. This includes several cardiac procedures (angioplasty, stents and pacemakers), spinal surgeries, knee replacements, hysterectomies and caesarian sections, among other procedures that are performed more often than needed[3].

Before delving into the issue further, it’s helpful to explain what is meant by an “unnecessary surgery”. This is defined as an operation that is useless in that it does not benefit the patient – either by not doing what it is supposed to do or because the benefits of it are far outweighed by the costs with regards to risks, morbidity, pain and disability[4].

Given that unnecessary surgeries result in a tremendous waste of human and financial resources, not to mention the needless pain and suffering inflicted on patients, why does this happen with such alarming frequency?

There are a couple of reasons:

  • Many unnecessary surgeries are often the result of a physician’s uncertainty about the effectiveness of an operation. In some cases, physicians are making decisions based on inadequate evidence – the validity of laboratory results, effectiveness of treatment and accuracy of diagnosis are often not completely certain[5]. Other factors aggravate this situation – many patients’ cases are not clear cut or some doctors may not be up to speed on the most recent literature.
  • The desire to act on behalf of a patient also plays a role, as many patients opt for action over inaction. Physicians may be more inclined to operate if this is what the patient prefers and if it is reasonable.

Reducing the number of unnecessary surgeries performed would help lessen the burden on the health care system, save money and avoid placing patients at risk of pain, infection, longer hospital stays, injury or worse when there’s little or no benefit. So what can be done to achieve this?

One solution is having patients obtain a second opinion after an operation is recommended, in order to confirm the diagnosis and the need for surgery. This is where a service like Best Doctors comes in.

Those who contact Best Doctors gain access to the best medical minds in the world – the Best Doctors database includes over 53,000 physicians in more than 450 specialties and subspecialties worldwide, representing a vast range of leading hospitals and medical research centres around the globe.

The fact that 60 percent of Best Doctors’ members end up with a change in treatment plan* underscores the importance of getting a second opinion, particularly when it comes to surgery. In fact, 20 percent of people who contact Best Doctors do so because they question the need for surgery*.

Given the high rate of unnecessary surgeries performed every year and the potentially disastrous consequences this can have, it’s clear that getting an expert second opinion is more than just advisable – it can have a life-altering impact.

*Internal data from Best Doctors Canada. Statistics do not reflect the outcomes in other countries.

[1] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2010-12-30/highest-paid-u-s-doctors-get-rich-with-fusion-surgery-debunked-by-studies
[2] http://www.macleans.ca/general/too-many-unnecessary-surgeries-in-canada/
[3] USA Today study, as cited in http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/06/18/unnecessary-surgery-usa-today-investigation/2435009/
[4] The National Center for Biotechnology Information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1065571/pdf/hsresearch00085-0066.pdf
[5] The National Center for Biotechnology Information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1065571/pdf/hsresearch00085-0066.pdf
[6] The National Center for Biotechnology Information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1065571/pdf/hsresearch00085-0066.pdf

 

 

Imagine undergoing surgery, being in pain and out of commission for several days or weeks, not to mention missing work and time with your family – and then finding out your operation was completely unnecessary.

surgeonsThis may sound implausible, but with reports suggesting that millions of unnecessary surgeries are performed every year, this is a sad reality for many unfortunate patients. Unnecessary surgeries are very costly too: in the United States, they’re estimated to cost at least $150 billion a year[1], while in Canada a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that up to $180 million a year would be saved if the number of potentially unnecessary surgeries performed was reduced and doctors offered the most “appropriate and most cost effective” procedures to their patients[2].

A wide range of surgeries have been found to be unnecessarily performed. This includes several cardiac procedures (angioplasty, stents and pacemakers), spinal surgeries, knee replacements, hysterectomies and caesarian sections, among other procedures that are performed more often than needed[3].

Before delving into the issue further, it’s helpful to explain what is meant by an “unnecessary surgery”. This is defined as an operation that is useless in that it does not benefit the patient – either by not doing what it is supposed to do or because the benefits of it are far outweighed by the costs with regards to risks, morbidity, pain and disability[4].

Given that unnecessary surgeries result in a tremendous waste of human and financial resources, not to mention the needless pain and suffering inflicted on patients, why does this happen with such alarming frequency?

There are a couple of reasons:

  • Many unnecessary surgeries are often the result of a physician’s uncertainty about the effectiveness of an operation. In some cases, physicians are making decisions based on inadequate evidence – the validity of laboratory results, effectiveness of treatment and accuracy of diagnosis are often not completely certain[5]. Other factors aggravate this situation – many patients’ cases are not clear cut or some doctors may not be up to speed on the most recent literature.
  • The desire to act on behalf of a patient also plays a role, as many patients opt for action over inaction. Physicians may be more inclined to operate if this is what the patient prefers and if it is reasonable.

Reducing the number of unnecessary surgeries performed would help lessen the burden on the health care system, save money and avoid placing patients at risk of pain, infection, longer hospital stays, injury or worse when there’s little or no benefit. So what can be done to achieve this?

One solution is having patients obtain a second opinion after an operation is recommended, in order to confirm the diagnosis and the need for surgery. This is where a service like Best Doctors comes in.

Those who contact Best Doctors gain access to the best medical minds in the world – the Best Doctors database includes over 53,000 physicians in more than 450 specialties and subspecialties worldwide, representing a vast range of leading hospitals and medical research centres around the globe.

The fact that 60 percent of Best Doctors’ members end up with a change in treatment plan* underscores the importance of getting a second opinion, particularly when it comes to surgery. In fact, 20 percent of people who contact Best Doctors do so because they question the need for surgery*.

Given the high rate of unnecessary surgeries performed every year and the potentially disastrous consequences this can have, it’s clear that getting an expert second opinion is more than just advisable – it can have a life-altering impact.

*Internal data from Best Doctors Canada. Statistics do not reflect the outcomes in other countries.

[1] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2010-12-30/highest-paid-u-s-doctors-get-rich-with-fusion-surgery-debunked-by-studies
[2] http://www.macleans.ca/general/too-many-unnecessary-surgeries-in-canada/
[3] USA Today study, as cited in http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/06/18/unnecessary-surgery-usa-today-investigation/2435009/
[4] The National Center for Biotechnology Information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1065571/pdf/hsresearch00085-0066.pdf
[5] The National Center for Biotechnology Information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1065571/pdf/hsresearch00085-0066.pdf
[6] The National Center for Biotechnology Information. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1065571/pdf/hsresearch00085-0066.pdf

 

 

March 04, 2015

The Great Vaccination Debate

It’s an issue that’s been dominating headlines lately, one that galvanizes people on both sides of the debate.

A measles outbreak that originated in California’s Disneyland and has spread to several U.S. states and Canadian provinces has ignited a veritable firestorm over the issue of vaccination. “Pro-vaxxers” and “anti-vaxxers” alike have been digging their heals further into the ground as they offer up stories and statistics to bolster their arguments.

What’s clear is that vaccination is a deeply polarizing subject, striking a strong emotional chord with many. But why?

Let’s break down this complex topic by looking at both sides of the debate.

shutterstock_171044057The pro-vaccination argument

Pro-vaccination arguments are grounded in scientific studies, and there are many examples and statistics to support the position of those in the pro-vaccination camp.

Consider this: in the pre-vaccine era (before 1954), measles epidemics were a frequent occurrence. In Canada, measles was responsible for 400 cases of encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and 50 to 75 deaths annually. In the U.S., 3-4 million people were infected each year, an estimated 4,000 suffered encephalitis and 400 to 500 people died annually. Since the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella was introduced in 1963, the number of measles cases has declined by over 99 percent in Canada, while in 2000, the United States declared that measles had been eliminated from the country (defined as the absence of continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more.)[1]

There are similar statistics for other diseases for which vaccines now exist. For example, more than 15,000 Americans died from diphtheria (an upper respiratory tract illness) in 1921, before there was a vaccine. The DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) vaccine was licensed in 1949, and only one case of diphtheria has been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. since 2004[2].

Then there are the examples of what can happen when a disease that had previously been under control returns. For instance, in the 1970s in Japan, vaccinations rates among children for pertussis (whooping cough) dropped from 80 percent in 1974 to only 10 percent a few years later. In 1974, there were 393 cases of whooping cough in Japan and not one pertussis-related death. But in 1979, following the dramatic decline in vaccination rates, more than 13,000 people got whooping cough and 41 died. Routine vaccination ultimately resumed, leading to a drop in the rate of the disease[3].

While this is merely a small snapshot, there are countless other examples of devastating diseases (such as polio) that have now been largely eradicated, particularly in the developed world, thanks to vaccines.

The anti-vaccination argument

Those against immunization claim vaccines can cause seizures, developmental delays in children, paralysis and autoimmune disorders. To be sure, there are stories about children who experienced symptoms soon after being vaccinated. In most of these cases side effects tend to be mild adverse effects, such as fever, crying or minor irritability. A small minority of those who experience symptoms may have more serious side effects, however, in many cases it’s extremely difficult to prove a causal link between the vaccine and the symptoms. Still, personal stories are powerful and fuel the fears that some have about injecting otherwise healthy children with a weakened form of a virus or bacteria.

Anti-vaxxers also often point to a theory that posited a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. This 1998 study has since been retracted by the medical journal in which it appeared, as it contained incorrect information[4]. By the time this was revealed a belief had already firmly taken root in the minds of many, further bolstered by other concerns.

Anti-vaxxers also view compulsory immunization as an encroachment of their individual rights. Pro-vaxxers often counter this argument by bringing up the issue of social responsibility versus personal rights. If the majority of the population is vaccinated, what’s referred to as “herd immunity” is achieved, so that people who can’t get vaccinated (for instance, those with compromised immune systems, such as chemotherapy patients) are protected from certain diseases. This is a complex and nebulous area, pitting individual rights against the greater good.

The final word

Despite all the ink that’s been devoted to the issue, vaccination remains a confusing issue for many. In fact, a recent poll revealed that 40 percent of Canadians say the science behind vaccinations isn’t clear[5].

If you have questions about vaccination, make sure to consult with your family doctor, who can address your concerns and help you make a well-informed decision your  health and the health of your family.

[1] Sources: U.S. Center for Disease Control & Immunization Canada (http://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/faqs.html; http://www.immunize.ca/en/diseases-vaccines/measles.aspx)

[2] http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/whatifstop.htm

[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/whatifstop.htm)

[4] The National Center for Biotechnology Information (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136032/)

[5] http://angusreid.org/vaccines/

It’s an issue that’s been dominating headlines lately, one that galvanizes people on both sides of the debate.

A measles outbreak that originated in California’s Disneyland and has spread to several U.S. states and Canadian provinces has ignited a veritable firestorm over the issue of vaccination. “Pro-vaxxers” and “anti-vaxxers” alike have been digging their heals further into the ground as they offer up stories and statistics to bolster their arguments.

What’s clear is that vaccination is a deeply polarizing subject, striking a strong emotional chord with many. But why?

Let’s break down this complex topic by looking at both sides of the debate.

shutterstock_171044057The pro-vaccination argument

Pro-vaccination arguments are grounded in scientific studies, and there are many examples and statistics to support the position of those in the pro-vaccination camp.

Consider this: in the pre-vaccine era (before 1954), measles epidemics were a frequent occurrence. In Canada, measles was responsible for 400 cases of encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and 50 to 75 deaths annually. In the U.S., 3-4 million people were infected each year, an estimated 4,000 suffered encephalitis and 400 to 500 people died annually. Since the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella was introduced in 1963, the number of measles cases has declined by over 99 percent in Canada, while in 2000, the United States declared that measles had been eliminated from the country (defined as the absence of continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more.)[1]

There are similar statistics for other diseases for which vaccines now exist. For example, more than 15,000 Americans died from diphtheria (an upper respiratory tract illness) in 1921, before there was a vaccine. The DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) vaccine was licensed in 1949, and only one case of diphtheria has been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. since 2004[2].

Then there are the examples of what can happen when a disease that had previously been under control returns. For instance, in the 1970s in Japan, vaccinations rates among children for pertussis (whooping cough) dropped from 80 percent in 1974 to only 10 percent a few years later. In 1974, there were 393 cases of whooping cough in Japan and not one pertussis-related death. But in 1979, following the dramatic decline in vaccination rates, more than 13,000 people got whooping cough and 41 died. Routine vaccination ultimately resumed, leading to a drop in the rate of the disease[3].

While this is merely a small snapshot, there are countless other examples of devastating diseases (such as polio) that have now been largely eradicated, particularly in the developed world, thanks to vaccines.

The anti-vaccination argument

Those against immunization claim vaccines can cause seizures, developmental delays in children, paralysis and autoimmune disorders. To be sure, there are stories about children who experienced symptoms soon after being vaccinated. In most of these cases side effects tend to be mild adverse effects, such as fever, crying or minor irritability. A small minority of those who experience symptoms may have more serious side effects, however, in many cases it’s extremely difficult to prove a causal link between the vaccine and the symptoms. Still, personal stories are powerful and fuel the fears that some have about injecting otherwise healthy children with a weakened form of a virus or bacteria.

Anti-vaxxers also often point to a theory that posited a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. This 1998 study has since been retracted by the medical journal in which it appeared, as it contained incorrect information[4]. By the time this was revealed a belief had already firmly taken root in the minds of many, further bolstered by other concerns.

Anti-vaxxers also view compulsory immunization as an encroachment of their individual rights. Pro-vaxxers often counter this argument by bringing up the issue of social responsibility versus personal rights. If the majority of the population is vaccinated, what’s referred to as “herd immunity” is achieved, so that people who can’t get vaccinated (for instance, those with compromised immune systems, such as chemotherapy patients) are protected from certain diseases. This is a complex and nebulous area, pitting individual rights against the greater good.

The final word

Despite all the ink that’s been devoted to the issue, vaccination remains a confusing issue for many. In fact, a recent poll revealed that 40 percent of Canadians say the science behind vaccinations isn’t clear[5].

If you have questions about vaccination, make sure to consult with your family doctor, who can address your concerns and help you make a well-informed decision your  health and the health of your family.

[1] Sources: U.S. Center for Disease Control & Immunization Canada (http://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/faqs.html; http://www.immunize.ca/en/diseases-vaccines/measles.aspx)

[2] http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/whatifstop.htm

[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/whatifstop.htm)

[4] The National Center for Biotechnology Information (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136032/)

[5] http://angusreid.org/vaccines/

January 20, 2015

Boosting Our Brain Health

As we usher in a new year, many of us have resolved to get in better shape for 2015. Indeed, working out more (or for some, just working out) ranks as a popular New Year’s resolution. But while we often focus on exercise for our bodies, what about exercise for our minds? With rates of Alzheimer’s disease soaring in North America, there’s very good reason to be concerned about our brains as we age.

shutterstock_172743725

January is Alzheimer’s awareness month in Canada, a sharp reminder of just how serious and widespread the disease is. The statistics are alarming: 747,000 Canadians live with it, a number that’s projected to nearly double to 1.4 million Canadians by 2031[1]. In the United States, more than 5 million people are living with the disease, which is ranked as the sixth leading cause of death. One in three seniors in the United States dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia[2]. Alzheimer’s is often associated with the elderly, yet it can also strike at a younger age. Early onset Alzheimer’s affects people in their 40s and 50s – up to five percent of Americans with Alzheimer’s have early-onset.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and its personal toll is devastating. Those affected experience memory loss and a deterioration of their intellectual abilities as symptoms gradually worsen over time. In the later stages of the disease, those afflicted are unable to carry on a conversation and have trouble with daily tasks. There is an effort to increase understanding about the disease – and reduce the stigma that keeps people from talking about it – and talking to their doctors, because early diagnosis is key [3].

While these statistics are sobering, we can also take heart in the fact that there are concrete steps we can take to improve our brain health as we age. These include:

  • Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
  • Reducing stress
  • Challenging the brain by trying something new, playing games (for instance, crossword puzzles) or learning a new language
  • Eating a healthy diet rich in fish, legumes and vegetables
  • Staying socially connected and regularly interacting with others
  • Being physically active
  • Keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and weight within recommended ranges

Taking charge of our overall health must include looking after our cognitive health too, because if we ignore our brain health the costs of doing so could be very high. Right now, there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease so taking active steps to help guard against dementia is our best defence.

[1] Alzheimer Society of Canada http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/About-dementia/What-is-dementia/Dementia-numbers
[2] Alzheimer’s Association  http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_facts_and_figures.asp#quickFacts

[3] Canadian Institute of Health Research. http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/47856.html

 

As we usher in a new year, many of us have resolved to get in better shape for 2015. Indeed, working out more (or for some, just working out) ranks as a popular New Year’s resolution. But while we often focus on exercise for our bodies, what about exercise for our minds? With rates of Alzheimer’s disease soaring in North America, there’s very good reason to be concerned about our brains as we age.

shutterstock_172743725

January is Alzheimer’s awareness month in Canada, a sharp reminder of just how serious and widespread the disease is. The statistics are alarming: 747,000 Canadians live with it, a number that’s projected to nearly double to 1.4 million Canadians by 2031[1]. In the United States, more than 5 million people are living with the disease, which is ranked as the sixth leading cause of death. One in three seniors in the United States dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia[2]. Alzheimer’s is often associated with the elderly, yet it can also strike at a younger age. Early onset Alzheimer’s affects people in their 40s and 50s – up to five percent of Americans with Alzheimer’s have early-onset.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and its personal toll is devastating. Those affected experience memory loss and a deterioration of their intellectual abilities as symptoms gradually worsen over time. In the later stages of the disease, those afflicted are unable to carry on a conversation and have trouble with daily tasks. There is an effort to increase understanding about the disease – and reduce the stigma that keeps people from talking about it – and talking to their doctors, because early diagnosis is key [3].

While these statistics are sobering, we can also take heart in the fact that there are concrete steps we can take to improve our brain health as we age. These include:

  • Avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
  • Reducing stress
  • Challenging the brain by trying something new, playing games (for instance, crossword puzzles) or learning a new language
  • Eating a healthy diet rich in fish, legumes and vegetables
  • Staying socially connected and regularly interacting with others
  • Being physically active
  • Keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and weight within recommended ranges

Taking charge of our overall health must include looking after our cognitive health too, because if we ignore our brain health the costs of doing so could be very high. Right now, there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease so taking active steps to help guard against dementia is our best defence.

[1] Alzheimer Society of Canada http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/About-dementia/What-is-dementia/Dementia-numbers
[2] Alzheimer’s Association  http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_facts_and_figures.asp#quickFacts

[3] Canadian Institute of Health Research. http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/47856.html

 

November 26, 2014

Winter May Be Making You SAD

The shorter days at this time of year may leave many of us feeling down, but for some people it’s more than a simple case of the winter blahs.

SAD womanThe lack of sunlight that begins in late autumn can trigger a type of clinical depression for some people that can last until spring. Aptly referred to as SAD – seasonal affective disorder – this form of depression affects an estimated 10 million Americans (another 10 to 20% may have mild SAD[1]) and up to six per cent of Canadians (another 15% of Canadians experience a milder form of SAD[2]).

So if you’re feeling glum around this time of year, how can you tell if it’s just the winter doldrums or something more serious? Here are a few signs you may be suffering from SAD:

  • Sleeping more than usual (up to two to four hours a day)
  • Feeling lethargic (low energy levels)
  • Craving foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Withdrawal from people and social activities
  • A depressive mood that has occurred over at least two consecutive winters, alternating with a non-depressive mood in the spring and summer.

SAD Facts:

  • Women are up to eight times as likely as men to report having SAD
  • SAD tends to run in families
  • SAD is more common among people who live in northern latitudes
    (Source: Mood Disorders Association of Ontario)

Feeling blue on some days can be normal. But if you feel down for extended periods and this is coupled with difficulty getting motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, changes in sleep patterns or changes in appetite, it may be time to seek medical help. Be sure to tell your doctor about any symptoms you’re experiencing and how they’re impacting your daily life (for instance, if you’re missing work, having trouble getting out of bed, etc.)

Thankfully, there are treatment options available that may help if SAD is seriously interfering with your day-to-day life. For some people – especially those with milder cases of SAD – getting a daily dose of sunlight in the form of light therapy can work wonders.

This consists of regular, daily exposure to a “light box” that simulates high-intensity sunlight. Daily sessions are typically 30 to 60 minutes long and should be continued until there’s sufficient natural daylight (so until the spring.)

Light therapy is ideal for anyone who prefers not to (or is unable to) take antidepressant medication. Studies have even shown that this treatment is as effective as antidepressants in many cases of non-severe SAD, and a bonus is that side effects are also uncommon.

If light therapy doesn’t work or your case of SAD is more severe, antidepressant medication (such as Prozac) may be helpful. Just be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of taking this route with your doctor.

Another treatment option is cognitive behavioural therapy – this is a type of psychotherapy that’s been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression. You’ll need to get a referral for a psychologist who specializes in this area.

If you think you might have SAD and would like a second opinion or need help finding a specialist, remember that Best Doctors is always here to help.

[1] Psychology Today (http://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder)
[2] Mood Disorders Association of Ontario (http://www.mooddisorders.ca/faq/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad)

The shorter days at this time of year may leave many of us feeling down, but for some people it’s more than a simple case of the winter blahs.

SAD womanThe lack of sunlight that begins in late autumn can trigger a type of clinical depression for some people that can last until spring. Aptly referred to as SAD – seasonal affective disorder – this form of depression affects an estimated 10 million Americans (another 10 to 20% may have mild SAD[1]) and up to six per cent of Canadians (another 15% of Canadians experience a milder form of SAD[2]).

So if you’re feeling glum around this time of year, how can you tell if it’s just the winter doldrums or something more serious? Here are a few signs you may be suffering from SAD:

  • Sleeping more than usual (up to two to four hours a day)
  • Feeling lethargic (low energy levels)
  • Craving foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Withdrawal from people and social activities
  • A depressive mood that has occurred over at least two consecutive winters, alternating with a non-depressive mood in the spring and summer.

SAD Facts:

  • Women are up to eight times as likely as men to report having SAD
  • SAD tends to run in families
  • SAD is more common among people who live in northern latitudes
    (Source: Mood Disorders Association of Ontario)

Feeling blue on some days can be normal. But if you feel down for extended periods and this is coupled with difficulty getting motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, changes in sleep patterns or changes in appetite, it may be time to seek medical help. Be sure to tell your doctor about any symptoms you’re experiencing and how they’re impacting your daily life (for instance, if you’re missing work, having trouble getting out of bed, etc.)

Thankfully, there are treatment options available that may help if SAD is seriously interfering with your day-to-day life. For some people – especially those with milder cases of SAD – getting a daily dose of sunlight in the form of light therapy can work wonders.

This consists of regular, daily exposure to a “light box” that simulates high-intensity sunlight. Daily sessions are typically 30 to 60 minutes long and should be continued until there’s sufficient natural daylight (so until the spring.)

Light therapy is ideal for anyone who prefers not to (or is unable to) take antidepressant medication. Studies have even shown that this treatment is as effective as antidepressants in many cases of non-severe SAD, and a bonus is that side effects are also uncommon.

If light therapy doesn’t work or your case of SAD is more severe, antidepressant medication (such as Prozac) may be helpful. Just be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of taking this route with your doctor.

Another treatment option is cognitive behavioural therapy – this is a type of psychotherapy that’s been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression. You’ll need to get a referral for a psychologist who specializes in this area.

If you think you might have SAD and would like a second opinion or need help finding a specialist, remember that Best Doctors is always here to help.

[1] Psychology Today (http://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder)
[2] Mood Disorders Association of Ontario (http://www.mooddisorders.ca/faq/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad)

October 29, 2014

Finding the Right Doctor for Your Family

YoungBoyJust as most of us go for regular haircuts, you’d expect that the vast majority of people would also be going for regular check-ups with their family doctor. But the reality couldn’t be further from the truth – in fact, a significant number of people don’t even have a family doctor to visit.

Consider this: more than 15 percent of Canadians aged 12 and older –around 4.6 million people[1] – do not have a regular family doctor. In the United States, the American Academy of Family Physicians projects the demand for primary care physicians will increase at least through the year 2020, however, the percentage of general practitioners has been declining dramatically[2].

This shines a spotlight on an important issue. Millions of North Americans who don’t have a primary care provider are, quite literally, gambling with their health. Family doctors help give patients access to the full resources of the health care system. They are the first point of contact for most health issues and provide a link to other medical services, including providing referrals for specialists, diagnostic tests (such as ultrasounds, MRIs and X-rays) and prescriptions for medications.

It’s clearly not hard to make a case for why it’s so important to connect you and your family with a general physician. If the very thought of finding a family doctor – let alone, the right doctor for your family – is daunting, here are some tips to ease your search.

  1. In Canada, you can start by checking with the College of Physicians and Surgeons in your province. Some provinces and territories also provide “find a doctor” directories. In the United States, check state-level medical associations, nursing associations and associations for physician assistants for referrals. Many health plans also have websites and/or customer service staff who may be able to help you.
  2. Try visiting your local community health centre or a walk-in clinic and ask about doctors accepting new patients. Even if a doctor is full, maybe you can be placed on a wait list.
  3. Your pharmacist may know about any new doctors that have moved into your community, so try speaking with them. You can also try asking your dentist, optometrist or another health care professional for a referral.
  4. Ask friends, neighbours and co-workers if they have a doctor they like, and ask if they can recommend you as a patient (if the doctor isn’t accepting new patients, ask to be added to their wait list).
  5. Ask the human resources department of your workplace for a referral.

Now that you’re armed with a few tools for locating a family physician, you might find yourself in the position of choosing between potential doctors. If this happens, here are a few questions to consider that will help you decide which doctor is right for you and your family.

Is the doctor part of a group where you can access another doctor if yours is unavailable?

  1. Is the doctor available for appointments outside of typical business hours? Are the hours provided convenient given your schedule?
  2. Is the doctor focused on disease treatment or wellness and prevention? Which approach suits you and your family best?
  3. Is the doctor’s communication style warm and friendly or more conservative and formal? Which style works best for you?
  4. Is the office staff friendly and helpful?

You can also try to get more information about a primary care physician by speaking with the doctor’s patients to help determine if a particular physician is the right fit for your family.

If you’re in the midst of finding a family doctor and need help with a medical issue, or even just general assistance navigating the health care system, always keep in mind that Best Doctors is here to help. And once you find the right doctor, Best Doctors is still here to guide you if you encounter any health challenges, or simply need extra support.

[1] Statistics Canada, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2014001/article/14013-eng.htm
[2] American Academy of Family Physicians, http://www.aafp.org/about/policies/all/workforce-reform.html

YoungBoyJust as most of us go for regular haircuts, you’d expect that the vast majority of people would also be going for regular check-ups with their family doctor. But the reality couldn’t be further from the truth – in fact, a significant number of people don’t even have a family doctor to visit.

Consider this: more than 15 percent of Canadians aged 12 and older –around 4.6 million people[1] – do not have a regular family doctor. In the United States, the American Academy of Family Physicians projects the demand for primary care physicians will increase at least through the year 2020, however, the percentage of general practitioners has been declining dramatically[2].

This shines a spotlight on an important issue. Millions of North Americans who don’t have a primary care provider are, quite literally, gambling with their health. Family doctors help give patients access to the full resources of the health care system. They are the first point of contact for most health issues and provide a link to other medical services, including providing referrals for specialists, diagnostic tests (such as ultrasounds, MRIs and X-rays) and prescriptions for medications.

It’s clearly not hard to make a case for why it’s so important to connect you and your family with a general physician. If the very thought of finding a family doctor – let alone, the right doctor for your family – is daunting, here are some tips to ease your search.

  1. In Canada, you can start by checking with the College of Physicians and Surgeons in your province. Some provinces and territories also provide “find a doctor” directories. In the United States, check state-level medical associations, nursing associations and associations for physician assistants for referrals. Many health plans also have websites and/or customer service staff who may be able to help you.
  2. Try visiting your local community health centre or a walk-in clinic and ask about doctors accepting new patients. Even if a doctor is full, maybe you can be placed on a wait list.
  3. Your pharmacist may know about any new doctors that have moved into your community, so try speaking with them. You can also try asking your dentist, optometrist or another health care professional for a referral.
  4. Ask friends, neighbours and co-workers if they have a doctor they like, and ask if they can recommend you as a patient (if the doctor isn’t accepting new patients, ask to be added to their wait list).
  5. Ask the human resources department of your workplace for a referral.

Now that you’re armed with a few tools for locating a family physician, you might find yourself in the position of choosing between potential doctors. If this happens, here are a few questions to consider that will help you decide which doctor is right for you and your family.

Is the doctor part of a group where you can access another doctor if yours is unavailable?

  1. Is the doctor available for appointments outside of typical business hours? Are the hours provided convenient given your schedule?
  2. Is the doctor focused on disease treatment or wellness and prevention? Which approach suits you and your family best?
  3. Is the doctor’s communication style warm and friendly or more conservative and formal? Which style works best for you?
  4. Is the office staff friendly and helpful?

You can also try to get more information about a primary care physician by speaking with the doctor’s patients to help determine if a particular physician is the right fit for your family.

If you’re in the midst of finding a family doctor and need help with a medical issue, or even just general assistance navigating the health care system, always keep in mind that Best Doctors is here to help. And once you find the right doctor, Best Doctors is still here to guide you if you encounter any health challenges, or simply need extra support.

[1] Statistics Canada, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2014001/article/14013-eng.htm
[2] American Academy of Family Physicians, http://www.aafp.org/about/policies/all/workforce-reform.html