Weekend reads: Doctors debate what ailed Vincent van Gogh

Interesting stories and studies from the past week

The Daily Briefing editorial team highlights several interesting health care stories and studies that didn't quite make this week's Briefing. What are you reading this weekend? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.

Josh Zeitlin's reads

Doctors debate what ailed Vincent van Gogh. A group of medical and art history experts recently met to debate the cause of the artist's "well-documented breakdown" that ended in him cutting off his in ear in 1888, BBC reports. After examining the evidence, which included many of  van Gogh's letters, they concluded that he had some form of repeated psychosis during his last 18 months—he died in 1890 of an apparent suicide—but did not agree on any underlying mental health issue.

An open letter on Zika. Ron Klain, the White House Ebola response coordinator during the Ebola outbreak, penned an open letter to Congress in the Daily Beast chastising lawmakers for going on recess without passing funding to respond to the Zika virus. While lawmakers were away, he wrote, Zika "exploded in Puerto Rico" and "also had a big boom in the continental United States," including the first cases of local transmission. He added, "I would like to say that you are back in the nick of time, but, 'the nick of time' came and [passed] months ago."

What could Yelp mean for patient care? Aaron Carroll writes for the New York Times' "The Upshot" that Yelp reviews tend to correlate strongly with the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems—but that Yelp reviews went further, with patients providing information about doctors' bedside manner and more. Publicly available data such as Yelp, Carroll writes, "may even be more comprehensive than that gathered at the behest of payers. The next question is whether the health care system needs to measure satisfaction—maybe the publicly available data, like at Yelp, is sufficient."

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Aly Seidel's reads

'You can't teach height.' In the Paralympics, volleyball players sit down and pass the ball over a four-foot net. But the Iranian team has what they call a 'secret weapon': Morteza Mehrzad, the tallest man in Iran, is 8 feet 1 inches tall and can see clear over the net when he sits down. Mehrzad, who has physical impediments and a hormonal disorder, was recruited after the Iranian coach saw him on a television show about people with physical abnormalities.

How well trained is your dog? Last week, I read a story that detailed how researchers scanned dogs' brains to measure activity when the animals heard certain words. While the results were interesting, the real question is: How did they train dogs to sit in an MRI machine for eight minutes? The dogs were unrestrained and unsedated, and they could "leave the ... scanner at any time they wanted to—and sometimes they did," one researcher said. To help keep the dogs in the scanner, the researchers turned the MRI machine into a clubhouse. Before the experiment began, all of the dogs were invited into the scanner, where they were given treats and lots of love. "They wanted to be part of the party," the researcher said.

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