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Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(7):1965

Wait a minute, Mr. Postman, now there's something faster! A recent report in Physician's Financial News predicts that computers will revolutionize medical practices in the near future. Despite recent advances provided by computers, such as the ordering of supplies online, downloading laboratory results directly into patients' files and filing medical claims electronically, only one third of the nation's physicians use the Internet in clinical practice. Of physicians who rarely or never use e-mail to communicate with patients, 28 percent say security is the main concern. Other reasons they don't use e-mail include liability worries, increased office workload or the fact that their patients don't use e-mail.

It's a good idea to keep your patients in focus. Less than 9 percent of patients perform a thorough skin self-examination every few months, reports Family Practice News. The scans, which often help patients recognize melanoma early, should include a complete examination of the lower back and the backs of legs. Fifty-eight percent of the 200 respondents polled said their physicians never examined their backs, and 83 percent said their legs went unexamined by their doctors. Women and patients who had been advised to perform self-examinations were most likely to examine their skin regularly.

Don't forget to remind your patients that spring cleaning shouldn't stop with their closets. The Council on Family Health offers some good tips on cleaning out the family medicine chest. To help keep up-to-date, experts suggest that home medicine supplies be purged every year. All out-of-date medicines should be tossed. Proper disposal includes flushing the contents down a sink or a toilet and disposing of the container in the trash. Medicines should be stored in a cool, dry place. This is especially important during travel; it is important that medicines not be left in the trunk or the glove compartment. Patients also should be reminded never to take medicines in front of young children or to tell children that medicine tastes like candy. They also need to be reminded that dietary supplements and vitamins are often just as potent as other medication and should be kept out of the reach of children.

We've come a long way, baby! Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report recently listed the top 10 greatest public health achievements of the past century. The list, which included items such as the vaccination, safer workplaces, control of infectious disease and more, charts the reactions to such health threats as poor hygiene, poor sanitation, poor nutrition, poor maternal and infant health, and threats associated with injuries resulting from unsafe workplaces or hazardous occupations. Other accomplishments listed were motor vehicle safety, decline in deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke, safer and healthier foods, healthier mothers and babies, family planning, fluoridation of drinking water and recognition of tobacco use as a health hazard.

Veggie Viagra? What's next? According to researchers at Newcastle University in England, the addition of Viagra can double the shelf-life of fruits, vegetables and flowers. Viagra produces nitric oxide, which inhibits the production of ethylene, a gas that causes plants to age. The pill is unfortunately too expensive to serve as a food preserver, but researchers are already working on a cheaper nitric oxide vehicle.

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