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Mike Merrill, MD
I'm a doctor (internal medicine).
Interests: Crossfit Tae Kwon Do Philosophy Economics
Recent Activity
Coronary angiography is the "gold-standard" test for coronary disease. It's considered the final word on whether or not you have it. It involves threading a catheter to the arteries that supply the heart. A liquid that x-rays don't penetrate is injected into the blood, and so with an x-ray (really... Continue reading
Posted yesterday at Dr. Mike Merrill
There's a big difference between how doctors traditionally think about screening and how patients should think about it. Let's say I'm a doctor, and I'm considering all my patients as a group. I have 1,000 men that I'm trying to save from prostate cancer. That's about this many guys: Source:... Continue reading
Posted Nov 9, 2018 at Dr. Mike Merrill
Actually it can be a pretty big deal, especially if you are older and you've had diabetes for a while. Hypoglycemia causes anxiety, tremors and sweating. In more severe cases, you can get confused, lose consciousness, have a seizure, or even die. Think about driving and having all that sneak... Continue reading
Posted Nov 2, 2018 at Dr. Mike Merrill
Human beings are smart, and we keep inventing new things. In medicine, that means more and better tests to analyze us in increasingly sophisticated ways. This trend will continue, so we need to get used to it, and be smart about it. Sometimes when tests get better, they are able... Continue reading
Posted Oct 26, 2018 at Dr. Mike Merrill
A great many things are labelled diseases nowadays. "Caffeine withdrawal" is a formal diagnosis, for example. But there are also examples of existing diagnoses getting expanded, such that more people are classified as unwell. Pre-diabetes and "mild cognitive impairment" (basically pre-dementia) would be examples. This all creates higher risk of... Continue reading
Posted Oct 19, 2018 at Dr. Mike Merrill
Many patients think they will get better care from doctors if they are nice. Some think it's better to be aggressive. Many just want to get away as soon as possible. Of the ones who try to be nice, there's a risk that they will not get what they need.... Continue reading
Posted Oct 12, 2018 at Dr. Mike Merrill
In overdiagnosis, a clinician identifies an abnormality that would never have hurt the patient, and treats it as an actionable pathology. You can never know who is overdiagnosed in real time; it only becomes apparent after the fact, while examining populations. In a way, the term "overdiagnosis" is misleading. It... Continue reading
Posted Oct 5, 2018 at Dr. Mike Merrill
Partly out of habit, physicians frequently order lab tests before surgery, to make sure everything is OK. But this is not always useful. The purpose of pre-operative testing is to figure out what risks there are, and to minimize those risks. If you are going through a low risk surgery,... Continue reading
Posted Sep 14, 2018 at Dr. Mike Merrill
You can't know if an individual has been overdiagnosed. You only see it at the aggregate level. The decision point is the choice to seek a diagnosis. After that point, overdiagnosis can occur. By definition, overdiagnosis will not improve prognosis - it's not going to make you live longer or... Continue reading
Posted Sep 5, 2018 at Dr. Mike Merrill
It's hard to explain the concept of overdiagnosis to the public. Think of overdiagnosis as "pseudo-disease," in which something innocuous is labelled as a disease, and leads the patient down a pathway of unnecessary testing and treatment. An example would be finding and treating a prostate cancer in a 75-year-old... Continue reading
Posted Aug 27, 2018 at Dr. Mike Merrill
Imaging for low back pain (LBP) is only recommended in certain situations. The Choosing Wisely campaign suggests avoiding imaging during the first six weeks in the absence of red flags, like weight loss, a history of cancer, recent trauma, osteoporosis or age greater than 50. And imaging for LBP is... Continue reading
Posted Aug 24, 2018 at Dr. Mike Merrill
I still see some physician offices recommending testicular self-examination for males, adolescent and older. This isn't the right thing to do. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, if you have no symptoms, there is no evidence doing self-examination prolongs life or reduces suffering (the two main goals of... Continue reading
Posted Aug 24, 2018 at Dr. Mike Merrill
Most people want to live a long time, and many people want to be good patients. So they do their screening tests, like mammograms and colonoscopies. Unfortunately, sometimes these tests are done for too long. At an advanced age, these tests are unlikely to be beneficial. For example, the American... Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2018 at Dr. Mike Merrill
Pricking your finger for blood is one of the worst things about having diabetes. It hurts, it's messy, and you have to maintain and carry around a glucometer. it's tremendously important for type 1 diabetes, in which the body does not make enough insulin. The therapy for type 1 is... Continue reading
Posted Aug 10, 2018 at Dr. Mike Merrill
Someone out there may completely understand back pain, but I haven't met them, and it's not me. But there are things we do know. And one of them is that in most cases, an MRI is not useful. The low back is a weak spot in human anatomy because we... Continue reading
Posted Aug 3, 2018 at Dr. Mike Merrill
When my grandmother got hearing aids at age 75, I suddenly realized she was a very intelligent woman. She started making timely, incisive comments in the middle of fast conversations. She started paying attention to things more. And she became funnier. She apparently had had hearing loss for many years.... Continue reading
Posted Sep 27, 2016 at Dr. Mike Merrill
The last years of life can be filled with a repeating cycle of serious illness, and recoveries that seem to restore us to a reasonable state. We can find ourselves moving from one episode of congestive heart failure, or COPD exacerbation, to another, and returning to our homes, back to... Continue reading
Posted Sep 5, 2016 at Dr. Mike Merrill
Probably somebody out there completely understands back pain, but I haven't been able to find them, and it's not me. Nonetheless, certain things are obvious. The low back is a weak spot in human anatomy, because we vertically load weight on it. It's originally designed to hang weight anteriorly (think... Continue reading
Posted Aug 29, 2016 at Dr. Mike Merrill
I'm taking care of a very old, frail man. He can only whisper. I ask him what he needs and he says, "Don't leave." He grabs my hand, weakly. I hold it for a few minutes. Is he going to die tonight? A few minutes later his daughter comes in... Continue reading
Posted Aug 21, 2016 at Dr. Mike Merrill
A proxy is someone who your doctors talk to when you can’t. Let’s say you’re in a car accident and you’re in a coma. Or let’s say you have septic shock and you have been sedated and put on a mechanical ventilator. In these situations, the medical team needs someone... Continue reading
Posted Aug 7, 2016 at Dr. Mike Merrill
In San Francisco recently, I walked down a few industrial streets that were lined with tents. They were all closed up, but voices emerged from a few of them. I wondered how they disposed of their human waste. There was no smell, and no sign of any dumped waste or... Continue reading
Posted Apr 3, 2016 at Dr. Mike Merrill
Being happy as an old person is a problem I deal with every day. I spend a lot of time breaking it down into easily understandable bites, for purposes of counseling my unhappy older patients, and easily implementable changes, to help them recover. A caveat is that this is just... Continue reading
Posted Mar 25, 2016 at Dr. Mike Merrill
We should get used to the idea of climate engineering, also known as geoengineering, the large-scale manipulation of the Earth's climate. This is because it's possible that, eventually, the risks of climate engineering will be smaller than what's already happening. When we try to predict what will happen to us,... Continue reading
Posted Feb 3, 2016 at Dr. Mike Merrill
This is a guest post from Eastern Kentucky's Online Bachelor's in Occupational Safety. Shift work has become a prominent topic of interest lately, predominantly because of the progressive increase in night shift workers. Currently, there are over 15 million U.S. citizens that work full time night shifts, and it is... Continue reading
Posted Sep 6, 2015 at Hacking the Night Shift
People get treated so much at the end of life when there is little to be gained. It's not really ethical. When you're old and sick, you might become tired of the medical care process. In this situation, dying can be pretty straightforward. The hard part is beforehand, sorting through... Continue reading
Posted Sep 3, 2015 at Dr. Mike Merrill