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Am Fam Physician. 2007;75(1):16

It isn't fiction—writing work-shops may help residents better connect with their patients, says a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. According to the authors of the study, writing can help residents develop observational skills and empathize with their patients. Researchers recruited 15 residents for a three-day workshop and asked them to write about compassion, dysphoria, and when they feel powerless as physicians. Participants reported that the writing allowed them to express their emotions about medicine and helped them focus on each patient as a person, not just in reference to his or her condition. The workshop also created a sense of community among the residents and stimulated an interest in writing. (J Gen Intern Med, October 2006)

If there's a game on, a trip to the emergency department isn't exactly a touchdown for sports fans. According to a study from a University of Maryland researcher, there often is an influx of emergency department visits during the four-hour period starting 30 minutes after the end of televised sporting events such as professional football. The largest increase in emergency department visits was noted after college football games compared to the same time period on nongame days. The study findings were presented at a conference for emergency physicians. Another physician who ran an emergency clinic at a major league baseball field during his residency estimated that one third of his patients who attended the games had asked to wait to go to the hospital until after a sporting event was over. (MSNBC, October 11, 2006)

Do you have the winter itch? According to the Mayo Clinic Health Letter, it's probably caused by the weather. To relieve dry winter skin, patients are advised to soak in the bathtub. Lukewarm water is best, and adding bath oil to the water may help replenish the skin's natural oils; however, using too much soap, especially heavily scented products, may cause irritation. Patients should pat their skin dry with a towel, rather than wiping or rubbing their skin. Skin moisturizers are a must, but those containing alcohol should be avoided. Finally, a humidifier should be used to keep indoor air moist. (Mayo Clin Health Lett, December 2006)

Pregnant women infected with Toxoplasma gondii are more likely to give birth to a boy than to a girl compared with women who test negative for the parasite, according to a study published in Naturwissenschaften. Researchers analyzed the medical records of 1,803 infants born from 1996 to 2004, including information on each mother's age and her concentration of anti–T. gondii antibodies. They found a greater likelihood of the infant being a boy if the mother was infected with the parasite. For every 260 boys born to women with high levels of anti–T. gondii antibodies, only 100 girls were born. Although the study does suggest that the parasitic infection affects the sex of the child, the researchers note that they cannot establish the exact cause and effect. (Naturwissenschaften, October 2006)

Let your phone be your guide to the correct sun protection factor! HappySun, a service from the European Space Agency, delivers the ultraviolet (UV) index directly to mobile phones. Using the agency's satellite data, the service calculates the UV index throughout the day and sends the information to a user's phone. To help protect users against skin cancer, the tool calculates safe sun exposure time based on a person's location and the time of day and then suggests the right amount of sun protection factor for each user. (European Space Agency press release, October 12, 2006)

Do you expect a plate overloaded with food when you eat out? The chef thinks you do! According to survey results presented at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society, food portions at restaurants have increased since the 1970s and contain at least 60 percent more calories than meals prepared at home. Of 300 chefs surveyed, 76 percent said their restaurant portions were “regular” size; however, 60 percent admitted to serving steaks that are 12 oz or larger at their restaurants, which is four times the size of the government-recommended portion. Although 86 percent of chefs believe customers would notice a portion decrease of 25 percent, about 60 percent of the chefs polled said a 10 to 15 percent reduction in portion size may be more reasonable. (USA Today, October 21, 2006)

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