Physician Medical Blog

Kate Scannell, MD

Medical Writer

Selected Works

Fiction -- Interconnected Short Stories
Torrential rains pour into Thalburg Canyon, California. Flooding ensues, and a universal human drama unfolds as the interconnected stories of the canyon residents are acted out on center stage.
Nonfiction, Physician Memoir
The author begins her medical career as a young physician caring for people who are dying with AIDS during the 1980s.
Book Reviews -- Examples
Journalist Rebecca Skloot’s new book is a gripping read that embodies all abstractions about research ethics in a compelling tale about Henrietta Lacks – a woman whose microscopic cancerous cells shook the world’s medical establishment in 1951.
Newspaper and Online Opinion and Medical Columns
Since 2000 -- Syndicated medical opinion columns about the sociopolitical and ethical dimensions of American health care.
Medical Essays
Documentary, executive producer
DVD -- Journey by Heart -- an engaging and intimate view of Alzheimer's Services of the East Bay.

Recent Newspaper & Online Columns by Kate Scannell MD

We are getting older

November 16, 2014

Tags: aging, increasing lifespan, National Center for Health Statistics, Groucho Marx, Oscar Wilde, getting older

Kate Scannell, MD, Syndicated columnist
First published in print: 11/16/2014

In my medical practice, patients often asked what they could do in hopes of attaining long lives. But the funny thing was, no one wanted to accomplish that if it required actual aging -- which it most certainly did. Like Oscar Wilde's fictional character Dorian Gray, they hoped to pass through time without time passing through them, affecting their bodies and health, stealing their youth.

But, looking at the proverbial big picture, it's quite evident that "getting older" is what we are, indeed, doing. New research released last month by the National Center for Health Statistics confirms that the average life expectancy -- the expected average number of years of life remaining -- continues to lengthen for people in the U.S. (more…)

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The imperiled health of homeless people

November 3, 2014

Tags: health and homelessness, cancer and homelessness, Margot Kushel, Michele, Deanie Hubbell, Women's Cancer Resourcse Center, Lancet, medical respite model

By Kate Scannell, MD, Syndicated Columnist
First published in print: 11/02/2014

“The bottom line," she says, "is that I'm dying."

Michele's words are not merely philosophical speculation about our universal human condition. Rather, she speaks from her painfully acute personal circumstances that are shaped by her advanced cancer and her inability to access life-sustaining treatment -- treatment that remains beyond her reach because she is homeless. (more…)

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Healthcare -- Small steps lead to big strides in Kenya

October 19, 2014

Tags: Tiba Foundation, Matibabu Foundation, Gail Wagner, Daniel Ogola, Ukwala, Kenya, health care, philanthropy, Mary Ann van Dam School of Nursing

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated Columnist
First published in print: 10/19/2014


She jabbed her walking stick into the dirt path ahead, then she pulled her body forward. Her legs, paralyzed since childhood by polio, dragged behind. Over and over, she repeated this maneuver until, finally, she had arranged the corn she hoped to sell in front of her hut. A single mother, she needed the money to send her five children to school and buy their uniforms.

That is how community health workers found this woman during their outreach rounds through rural Kenya. Due to lack of mobility, she'd been isolated from health care and confined to a small area around her home. "It took her an average of 10 minutes for every 10 feet she could move along a path," said Gail Wagner, a Bay Area physician who founded the Tiba Foundation, which funded the outreach effort. “Can you imagine that?” she asked. (more…)

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When mosquitoes go viral -- Public health at global crossroads

September 22, 2014

Tags: global warming, climate change, health, mosquitoes, west nile virus, chikungunya, dengue, American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, California Department of Public Health, transboundary

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First published in print: 09/21/2014

You can always find me in a crowd -- if you're a mosquito.

I could be concealed within total-body protective gear, adorned with mosquito-repellant bands on my ankles and wrists, lathered with DEET and oil of lemon eucalyptus, topped with a permethrin-infused hat, and, still, if there's a mosquito within flying distance it will hunt me down and bite me. It will release pheromonal signals, inviting all its friends to join the blood fest.

It's not just the ferocious itching from these bites that bothers me. Or my cortisone---slathered ankles making it look as though I'm always wearing white athletic socks. Or being haunted by the nightmarish image of a blood-sucking mosquito that had been magnified to gigantic proportions in a pre-med biology seminar.

No, I'm primarily disturbed by the terrible efficiency of these biting creatures to transmit human diseases. Nasty diseases, like West Nile Virus, dengue fever, chikungunya virus, yellow fever and malaria.

In particular, mosquito-borne viral infections have been receiving much attention lately. The buzz is that many have been spreading beyond their traditional geographic confines due to shifts in mosquito habitats instigated by changes in temperature and precipitation associated with global warming. (more…)

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Carbs vs. fats: Studies cause heartburn

September 7, 2014

Tags: diet, carbs, fats, surrogate endpoints, surrogate markers, diet studies, low fat, low carbohydrates

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First published in print: 09/07/2014

Reading and writing about new diet studies is bad for my weight and health. I often develop headaches trying to make sense of them because they're usually so muddled and imprecise. That means frequent reaching for food to prepare my stomach for anti-inflammatory pain relievers.

Nonetheless, with bagel in hand, I'm now prepared to discuss the two megawatt diet studies released last week. (more…)

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Remembering Robin Williams

September 2, 2014

Tags: Robin Williams, death, suicide, depression, Parkinson

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First published in print: 08/24/2014

Nearly everyone at the table last week had a personal story to tell about Robin Williams. That surprised me a little, because this gathering of friends was so diverse -- and so Oakland. One person talked about Williams coming over to shake hands with her then-young son who, awestruck and shy, had spotted Williams from afar at a local museum. Another recalled the time Williams broke away from some assembly to help our cane-dependent friend -- yes --- cross the street. A psychotherapist said that most of her clients had talked about Williams' death throughout the week with sadness and affection. And I relayed my story of meeting Williams and his family on a beach many years ago -- they could not have been friendlier to me. (more…)

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Ebola virus and our epidemic of fear

August 20, 2014

Tags: Ebola, fear, media fear mongering, mixed messages, Emory University Hospital, CDC, Z-mapp, ethics

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First published in print: 08/16/2014

I spent last week with an elderly, housebound friend -- and Ebola. Ebola virus everywhere! Ebola sneaking into the U.S.! Ebola lurking under our beds!

My friend, near 90-years old, was watching a 24-hour news station and becoming increasingly upset by fear-mongering and anxiety-amping commentary concerning the Ebola outbreak in Africa. In his small Midwest living room where he had lived for six decades and endured many of life's great tribulations, he was feeling increasingly fearful about Ebola. (more…)

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VA scandal shows we must speak up about the deadly silences in health care

August 6, 2014

Tags: deadly silence, healthcare, VA scandal, Shuttle Columbia, medical mistakes, speak up, patient safety, veterans administration

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated clumnist
First published in print: 08/03/2014

What does "patient safety" have to do with the catastrophic 2003 explosion of the space shuttle Columbia, killing all seven of its crew members?

A lot, according to patient-safety experts. They regularly discuss the Columbia disaster as a classic case study of the potential for silence to kill -- whether in an organization like the National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA) or a large health care system like the VA. Silence, it's been shown repeatedly, can be deadly not only when individuals don't speak up about problems risking human safety, but also when organizations silence those who do. (more…)

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The nocebo effect -- When negative expectations can make you ill

July 20, 2014

Tags: nocebo effect, placebo effect, Jodi Halpern

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First published in print: 07/20/2014


As far as I know, my grandmother never used the term "nocebo effect," but she did understand its meaning. "Expect things to go badly, and they will," she'd caution.

More formally, the Oxford English Dictionary defines "nocebo effect" as, "A detrimental effect on health produced by psychological or psychosomatic factors such as negative expectations of treatment or prognosis, cultural beliefs about illness, personality traits, etc." (more…)

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Tips for quitting tobacco from former smokers -- a CDC summer sequel

July 6, 2014

Tags: antismoking, smoking, tips from former smokers, CDC, Lucy Popova, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education

By Dr. Kate Scannell, Syndicated columnist
First published in print: 07/05/2014

On Monday, coming to a theater near you -- and to TV, radio, online sites, newspapers and billboards as well -- the newest sequel to the national anti-smoking media campaign, "Tips from Former Smokers."

Produced by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the upcoming sequel again features actual former smokers whose lives were damaged or endangered by tobacco products. Their painfully true stories are regularly disturbing and consistently grim. In their telling, each participant hopes to encourage other smokers to quit, and to discourage prospective smokers from ever lighting up. Collectively, their messages provide a deadly serious reminder of the many -- and, perhaps, surprising -- ways that tobacco can disfigure a body, ruin a life, and cause human suffering. (more…)

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