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High-Profile People, High-Profile Health Conditions

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This week, the world has learned a lot about two very different health conditions.

Google CEO Larry Page silenced fears on his Google+ page about the mystery surrounding his health after missing a few key shareholder meetings and conference calls. He announced that he suffers from a condition called vocal cord paralysis—an ailment that occurs when the nerve impulses to the vocal cords box are interrupted. Although the cause can be difficult to determine, the resulting symptoms of hoarseness, choking or coughing are familiar to anyone who has every suffered from a common cold.

So now that millions have just learned of vocal cord paralysis, should all of us suffering from a sore throat go immediately to our own doctors’ offices and get checked out? Probably not. But how can we educate patients and allay their newfound fears?And speaking of new health fears, famed actress Angelina Jolie announced this week that she recently underwent a preventive double mastectomy after learning that she carries a mutation of the BRCA1 gene which has been said to sharply increase the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, potentially inherited from her mother who passed away at 56 from ovarian cancer. Jolie explained that after hearing from her doctors that she had “an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer” as a result of possessing the gene, she decided to have the surgery to drop her breast cancer risk to under 5 percent.

There has been much debate this week over making such a decision based on something that may occur later in life. Should all women with a family history of these cancers get this test? When is a preventative mastectomy warranted?

Both of these people in the public eye made the brave decision to share their personal health issues and, as a result, have vastly increased public awareness and perhaps disease avoidance. But will this publicity also result in irrational fears or unnecessary testing?

No matter the medical specialty, patient education is a vital component of patient care. And in the current climate of 24/7 news and constant social media updates, patients are inundated with stories like these on a near daily basis.

The Department of Health and Human Services has reported that only 12 percent of U.S. patients understand and use the health information given to them – and that lack of comprehension costs the U.S. health care system $238 billion a year.

So what does all of this mean? The majority of patients just don’t understand their doctors’ explanations. Wouldn’t it be nice if those patients understood enough information from their own doctors to be able to read these celebrities’ stories and not panic? We think better patient education is the key.

Let us know your thoughts on the recent publicity given to these two stories: good or bad for U.S. patients?

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