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Leana Wen, M.D.
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Leana Wen, M.D., is an emergency physician and Director of Patient-Centered Care Research at George Washington University. She is a former Rhodes Scholar and received her training at the University of Oxford and Brigham & Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, where she was on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. She has served as a consultant to the World Health Organization, Brookings Institution, China Medical Board, and the National Institutes of Health.

Inspired by her own childhood illness and then her mother's long battle with cancer, Dr. Wen is passionate about guiding patients to advocate for better care. She has been featured in TIME, Newsweek, ABC News, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, The New York Times, Washington Post, and the award-winning HBO documentary Reporter. Dr. Wen speaks regularly across the U.S. and internationally on patient-physician communication, healthcare reform, and her best-selling book, When Doctors Don't Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests (St. Martin's Press). Follow @DrLeanaWen.

Entries by Leana Wen, M.D.

Going Beyond 'Band-Aid' Care

(1) Comments | Posted August 5, 2014 | 12:36 PM

When I was a medical student, I worked with an NGO in Rwanda to provide medical care to women with HIV. Nearly all had witnessed their family members murdered during the genocide, and many became afflicted with HIV as a result of rape. Our initial focus was on getting antiretroviral...

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One Year After: A Tribute From an ER Physician

(0) Comments | Posted April 15, 2014 | 11:54 AM

On April 15, 2013, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and walked to Mass General Hospital to begin my ER shift. It was the day of Boston marathon, and we were prepared for the usual influx of people with heatstroke and dehydration. That day, as other days, we also treated...

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Can China's Health Care Dystopia Become Our Future?

(1) Comments | Posted February 6, 2014 | 3:28 PM

What does a health care dystopia look like?

In this TED video, you are introduced to a world where people die waiting for health care, where corporate interests reign, and where doctors get paid to do more rather than to the right thing.

I'm a Chinese-born, American-trained physician. A couple of years ago, I was given an opportunity to conduct a research project on China's health care system. I traveled to 15 cities, from Beijing to Inner Mongolia, visited over 50 hospitals, and had unprecedented access to doctors, medical students, nurses, administrators, and government officials. Given how China's developed into a major world power, I expected to find a fair, functional system.

However, instead of this utopia, I found a dystopic world. People spoke about the 1980s, when universal health care was dismantled and 900 million people lost coverage overnight. Everyone had a story of friends and family who died in front of hospitals because they couldn't pay.

Doctors were unhappy too. Imagine you're a doctor, and you trained all your life to listen and heal; suddenly, overnight, you're a businessman and you have to work your patient to get every cent.

On the other hand, if you're a well-off patient and you hear that poor people get denied services, what do you want for yourself? You want everything to be done. Because you have the money, nobody will tell you about the risk of radiation of a CT scan. Same for expensive but untested medications, or potentially dangerous procedures. People got what they wanted, but at what cost?

No doubt, China has been very successful. The government has lifted millions out of poverty. But there is a fundamental problem, a blind spot that's been missed in the rush towards economic reform.

This blind spot is our belief that being a consumer enables choice, and that choice is power. I'm all for empowering people to have choices. But turning patients into consumers means that healthcare is a commodity, not a right. It becomes possible to deny life-saving treatment, and to sell unnecessary, even harmful, interventions. The doctor-patient relationship becomes a transaction between salesman and client.

That blind spot, and the consequences, are not unique to China. Here in the U.S., costs of health care are escalating out of control. While millions remain uninsured, 30 percent of all tests and treatments are done are unnecessary. It's far more profitable to peddle drugs than prevent illnesses. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, 94 percent of doctors have some affiliation with drug and medical device companies.

By no means am I romanticizing the pre-1980s Communist state. My family left on political asylum, and I am very grateful for the opportunities afforded to me by my adopted country. But capitalism doesn't have to equate consumerism, and the beauty of a democracy is that we as citizens can decide what type of society we want to live in.

To prevent further problems in our country, and to stop the rest of the world from following us down this path, we have to make a difficult decision. We must decide if it's important to us to preserve our core tenets of liberty, democracy, equity, and justice. If not, we know what the dystopic future will look like. If so, the time is now to decide that there are some things that are not for sale, and that we must realign incentives to help people be their best...

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What Do People Want From Their Health Care? How My Book Tour Turned Into a 'Listening Tour'

(0) Comments | Posted January 16, 2014 | 4:34 PM

One year ago, I published a book on patient advocacy. I had a plan to travel to 48 cities, crisscross the U.S. from Massachusetts to California and back, and speak at bookstores, libraries, nursing homes, universities, and community centers.

What I didn't anticipate was that this "speaking tour" would...

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How to Fight Fear and Restore Trust in Medicine

(4) Comments | Posted October 17, 2013 | 11:04 AM

For the last week, I've been trying something new. This is how I've been introducing myself to my patients in the ER:

"I'm Dr. Leana Wen. I'm your doctor. I belong to an initiative called "Who's My Doctor," that aims for transparency in medicine. I accept no money from drug...

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'Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!'

(0) Comments | Posted August 22, 2013 | 11:04 AM

My last blog post discussed why medicine is so intolerant of uncertainty and inaction, and how this has resulted in a culture of overtesting and overtreatment.

All of us as patients and doctors are at fault for feeding into this system of waste and harm. However, there are...

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When More Medicine Isn't Better

(31) Comments | Posted August 11, 2013 | 2:34 PM

It was the beginning of my third year of medical school. I had just started my first clinical rotation. My very first patient was Ray, a middle-aged man with pancreatitis.

I presented his case to the team. "What are Ranson's criteria?" the attending physician asked.

My mind went blank....

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The Low-Tech Revolution to Health Care Reform

(2) Comments | Posted July 22, 2013 | 2:52 PM

Steve is a 52-year-old father of four. Soon after losing his job as a carpenter, he begins to have sharp stomach pains. His primary doctor examines him for a few minutes and then sends him to specialists: a GI doctor, who performs an endoscopy, and a cardiologist, who performs a...

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Rebranding 'Patients' as 'Health Care Consumers': Tread With Extreme Caution

(27) Comments | Posted July 12, 2013 | 4:53 PM

A few months ago, I had the privilege of serving as the keynote speaker for an excellent conference in Boston. "Empowering Healthcare Consumers: a Community Conversation" brought together an impressive array of people to discuss how to improve health care through empowerment. In attendance were more...

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From a Young Doctor: A Tribute to Nurses

(1) Comments | Posted May 13, 2013 | 3:39 PM

It was my first shift as an emergency medicine intern, and I was terrified. I was assigned to the "Fast Track" area of the Mass General ER -- a section designated for those with straightforward issues: lacerations, sprained ankles, etc. Overnight, though, I would be the...

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12 Ways to Stay Safe in Hospitals

(12) Comments | Posted May 13, 2013 | 8:14 AM

Hospitals can save you, but they can also harm you. In my last blog post, I discussed how medical errors affect 1 in 3 hospitalized patients, and the 10 types of errors that happen.

How can you stay safe in hospitals? Follow these 12 life-saving...

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10 Things That Can Kill You in the Hospital

(2) Comments | Posted April 3, 2013 | 10:44 AM

Hospitals can be dangerous places. According to the Institute of Medicine, 100,000 people die every year due to medical error -- more deaths than from car accidents, diabetes, and pneumonia. Far more patients are victims of medical error. In a stunning 2011 Health Affairs...

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What the US Can Learn From China's Health Care Reform

(2) Comments | Posted March 14, 2013 | 1:20 PM

Wang Li is a 48-year-old farmer from Dalian, China. After a two-day trip to the major provincial hospital, he's heading home to his village to die. Wang has lung cancer, and even with insurance, his surgery will cost him 20,000 RMB -- $3,000, which is twice his annual salary. The...

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Test Your Winter Stomach Bug IQ: 6 Facts and Myths of Norovirus

(3) Comments | Posted February 11, 2013 | 10:56 AM

Winter is the season for norovirus! Norovirus is a virus that's the most common cause of "stomach flu," or gastroenteritis. It strikes fast; those with it come down with vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping. About 1 in 5 adults get gastroenteritis every year. Nearly everyone has it at some...

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6 Tips to Get Your Doctor to Listen

(67) Comments | Posted January 25, 2013 | 7:20 AM

Have you ever gone to the doctor and felt like he wasn't listening to you? Have you tried to tell your story, only to have him interrupt with a checklist of questions: do you have chest pain, shortness of breath, fevers, cough, and so forth? Have you ever...

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5 Steps to Building a Great Partnership With Your Doctor

(0) Comments | Posted January 14, 2013 | 7:16 AM

The last time you went to your doctor, did you feel like he listened to you? Did he figure out what's going on and help you feel better? Or did you feel ignored, and left with more questions than answers?

The New Year is the time to make changes in...

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Why Diagnosis Is the Key to Your Health -- And the Health of the Nation

(8) Comments | Posted January 4, 2013 | 10:37 AM

May is a recent divorcee in her early 60s. She was working out at the gym when she began to feel queasy and lightheaded. She awoke in the back of an ambulance, and soon, she was in an ER, getting blood drawn. "We need to make sure you...

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8 Tips for Staying Healthy and Happy During the Holidays

(12) Comments | Posted December 22, 2012 | 10:00 AM

Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year's -- these are supposed to be times of celebration, togetherness, and happiness. Yet, they can bring challenges to our physical and emotional health. Here are eight tips for staying healthy and happy during this season of joy.

#1. Eat well. It's common to pack on 5-10...

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'Inappropriate Use of the ER': An Emergency Physician's Flirtation With the ER

(5) Comments | Posted December 10, 2012 | 3:18 PM

How often do you hear stories about the "bad" reasons patients have for using E.R.? "Back pain for three months? Headache for a year? Why are they here now?" As an emergency physician, I've certainly heard these stories. Providers and patients alike voice their discontent. "Can't they see...

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10 Things To Bring With You To Every Doctor's Appointment

(0) Comments | Posted November 27, 2012 | 7:00 PM

Has this ever happened to you? You are at an appointment with your doctor. She asks you for something, say, the dosage of your cholesterol medication or the results of your recent blood draw you had. You think to yourself, shoot, if only I brought that with me!

Every...

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