The 22nd year of the 21st century, like most years before it, had its share of turbulence, offering opinion/perspective authors a wealth of topics to write about. STAT published nearly 500 First Opinion essays in 2022, written by more than 700 authors from the biopharmaceutical industry, health care, academia, government, and private life in the United States and beyond.
It’s no surprise that, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to evolve from an all-hands-on-deck crisis to something that may be more manageable, many essays focused on this modern scourge and responses to it. But First Opinion authors also tackled other issues, like drug pricing, the dearth of funding for nutrition research, fixing the bias in health care-related artificial intelligence applications, personalizing the “death note” in medical records, and much, much more.
The six most widely read First Opinion essays of 2022 (two were tied for pageviews) are listed below. If you didn’t see them when they first appeared, they are still worth reading now. And I note with pride that the first four were among the 10 most read of all STAT stories in 2022.
And if you’re a podcast fan and haven’t discovered the First Opinion Podcast, we published 26 episodes in 2022, covering everything from how burnout at the bedside is causing a crisis in nursing to the “underground market” for insulin and diabetes supplies. (The full list is available here.)
1. Confessions of a ‘human guinea pig’: Why I’m resigning from Moderna vaccine trials. Jeremy Menchik enrolled in a clinical trial of Moderna’s mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccine in the summer of 2020, just a few months after the pandemic exploded in the United States. A little over a year later, he wrote, “If I knew then what I know now about the company’s quest for profits, I wouldn’t have done that.”
2. Researching collagen to help his achy knees, a statistician explores the painfully weak evidence. Leave it to a statistician to dive into the evidence. And that’s just what Paul T. von Hippel did when he went searching for a remedy for his achy knees. Collagen supplements have gotten a lot of attention. But the data weren’t impressive. “The fact that there hasn’t been [a randomized trial] suggests that collagen executives aren’t at all confident about how it would come out,” he wrote. “They’re not actually sure that their product works. And if the people who sell collagen supplements don’t really believe in them, why should anyone with achy knees buy them?”
3. Mrs. J wanted a blanket in the emergency department. Saying no chips away at my soul. A rule handed down from the top that forbade emergency department staff from giving people in the waiting room blankets hit emergency physician Jay Baruch personally when a patient angrily asked why she couldn’t have one. “I am ashamed and angry to be part of a system that puts health care workers in positions where satisfying a basic human need becomes a form of risk management,” he wrote.
4. Medicine needs to do right by patients prescribed opioids. One day when he was a medical student, Haider J. Warraich was injured while exercising, causing chronic back pain. That experience shaped his insights into the plight of the 50 million Americans living with chronic pain, and how there needs to be a better reckoning for responsible opioid prescribing.
5. Surgeons fold against Medicare’s stacked deck. Andrew Wickline, an orthopedic surgeon, took part in the Medicare Bundled Payments for Care Improvement Advanced program, which was supposed to reward surgeons who saved money for Medicare. But, like a casino that always wins, “Even though my program featured one of the lowest costs in the country, Medicare lowered my target price even further, he wrote. “Once I realized it had rigged the game, I cashed out before I lost my shirt.”
6. If you think health care is dysfunctional now, just wait until after January 1. In a somewhat-related essay, Greg Jasani, an emergency physician, explains how Medicare’s proposed payment cuts to primary care physicians, who perform essential work trying to keep people healthy and out of the hospital, will likely make accessing primary care harder than it is today and drive people to already overcrowded emergency departments, which aren’t set up to deliver the best primary care.
A new year offers new opportunities, along with new crises and challenges. My aim is for 2023’s First Opinion essays to reflect all of those, and more. Please keep reading, and if or when the muse strikes, send your submission to [email protected].
As we look ahead to a New Year, hoping for peace and happiness but expecting the worst, be well as we continue to navigate the realities of Covid and the white water ahead.
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