Noah Brier | January 17, 2020

Why is this interesting? - The Health Reads of 2019 Edition

On blood tests, pregnancy, and dentists

Noah here. Two weeks ago I wrote a bit about my favorite links of the year list from 2019 and shared my business picks. I also promised to share some more of the links for those that didn’t read through the entire 6,000-word writeup. Today I thought I’d share another category of favorites: Health.

Before we dive in, a few caveats that I shared in the business links edition as well: I’ve made an important change to the way I’m thinking about the list as compared to previous years. Whereas I was trying to catalog longform in the past, I’m much more interested in that which has stuck with me most over the last twelve months. A better description of this list, then, is my most memorable pieces of writing (I decided to leave podcasts out as I’ve put together a separate page for cataloging those). To that end, I’m calling this Favorite Reads of 2019 for simplicity’s sake. Also, it’s far from all-encompassing. For that, I’d suggest you check out’s 2019 picks. Okay, onto the links.

Why is this interesting?

Two shorter pieces that made the list before I get into the longer stuff. “They Want It to Be Secret: How a Common Blood Test Can Cost $11 or Almost $1,000” comes from The Upshot and covers the massive range of prices something as simple as a blood test can cost. It’s hard to think of anything else that works this way:

If you’re a patient seeking a metabolic blood panel, good luck finding out what it will cost. Although hospitals are now required to publish a list of the prices they would like patients to pay for their services, the amounts that medical providers actually agree to accept from insurance companies tend to remain closely held secrets. Some insurance companies provide consumers with tools to help steer them away from the $450 test, but in many cases you won’t know the price your insurance company agreed to until you get the bill. 

Speaking of things we don’t understand very well, “Project Placenta A little-studied organ gets its scientific due.” outlines the latest attempts to better understand the placenta. 

The Human Placenta Project is working to change that. This $80 million research initiative at the National Institutes of Health is using MRI and other technologies to study how the placenta functions in real-time. The placenta is known for making life, for supplying a fetus with oxygen, water, nutrition, and a waste-removal system. It also acts like a gatekeeper, filtering out pathogens and other harmful substances to protect the fetus. But for all its wonders, the placenta can take life, even the mother’s, when it doesn’t perform as it should. It’s critically important to human health and yet the least understood and least studied of all human organs. 

My pick in this category is also about pregnancy. The Logic piece “What Not to Expect” from Hesper Desloovere Dixon walks through where a pregnant woman turns when a pregnancy doesn’t go according to plan. It’s a story about miscarriage, but also about the relationship between health and technology and the strange incentives that exist for the businesses who operate the places we turn when we need it most. Here’s an excerpt: 

When I reached out to one such site, The Bump, to find out more about its community, a representative was keen to steer me toward their social media content instead. She explained that while their forums “originally served our users by fostering a sense of community for new and expectant parents,” they have “taken note of the shift away from forums and towards social media” and shifted their own attention accordingly. I had a hard time squaring this supposed migration with the numbers: The Bump’s Facebook page has fewer than 300,000 followers, while over at the message boards, the “Trying To Get Pregnant” section alone has 223,500 discussions and nearly three million comments. A single thread titled “what does a positive pregnancy test really look like??” has over 500,000 views. 

Finally, this Atlantic piece felt like it said all the things I always kind of believed about dentistry. While it’s mostly about a particularly unethical dentist, it’s also about the whole profession:

The uneasy relationship between dentist and patient is further complicated by an unfortunate reality: Common dental procedures are not always as safe, effective, or durable as we are meant to believe. As a profession, dentistry has not yet applied the same level of self-scrutiny as medicine, or embraced as sweeping an emphasis on scientific evidence. “We are isolated from the larger health-care system. So when evidence-based policies are being made, dentistry is often left out of the equation,” says Jane Gillette, a dentist in Bozeman, Montana, who works closely with the American Dental Association’s Center for Evidence-Based Dentistry, which was established in 2007. “We’re kind of behind the times, but increasingly we are trying to move the needle forward.” 

Every time I write these up I feel more grateful to all the amazing work journalists do. If you finish these excellent articles up and want more, you can find the rest of the 56-link list on my website. (NRB)

Stamp of the Day:

The Royal Mail has issued a set of commemorative stamps to celebrate great British videogames. Lemmings, Worms, and Wipeout are amongst the selections. [via WITI contributor Gianfranco Chicco] (NRB)

Quick Links:

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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