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This Hawai‘i Doctor is Helping to Change the Rules for Your Medical Care

Dr. Chien-Wen Tseng is the first local physician to help set national recommendations for regular screenings and tests with the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.


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Dr. Chien-Wen Tseng

Dr. Chien-Wen Tseng
photo: courtesy of john a. burns school of medicine

 

Every week, Hawai‘i family physician Dr. Chien-Wen Tseng has to join a very important call. She is one of 16 national medical experts on that regular teleconference call setting policy as part of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

 

The task force, USPSTF to those in the know, was created in 1984. Its job is to keep on top of new data and science, setting recommendations for preventive screenings, medications and even counseling to improve the health of people in the U.S. The USPSTF’s guidelines can influence what tests health insurance companies cover and what screenings your doctors will suggest including breast and prostate cancer, osteoporosis, aneurysms, suicide risk and depression.

 

Tseng joined the USPSTF in 2016. Since then, she has worked, researched and considered policy changes for more than 30 topics ranging from heart disease to preventive care for kids and pregnant women. The Punahou School alum says her experience growing up in the islands, and as a practicing physician here for the last 20 years, has been a valuable perspective for the national organization.

 

“We also need to understand what good preventive care looks like in the real world,” she says. “Being from Hawai‘i means I talk about diversity, culture, or even something as simple as how easy or hard it is to find a primary care doctor, when we’re working on each recommendation.”

 

One of the topics Tseng is passionate about is preventive care for young people before they develop health problems. “We want to know when or when not to screen for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, smoking cessation, or certain infections such as hepatitis B. In Hawai‘i, one in five residents are overweight, one in three have high blood pressure, and one in eight have diabetes.”

 

It’s not just for kids. Tseng says the task force has recently focused on why some people don’t get the preventive care that could stop long-term health problems. “We need more evidence to know if we should screen for high blood pressure in kids, osteoporosis in men who have not had a fracture, or for hearing loss in adults before they have symptoms.”

 

Tseng teaches medical students and family physician residents at the John A. Burns School of Medicine. Also, as the HMSA endowed chair in health services and quality research, she is looking into ways to help people who can’t afford medical care. This includes work on national policies to lower the price of medicine and a website run by UH pharmacology professor Camlyn Masuda and UH Hilo students that tells clinicians which drugs are covered by insurance (prescribingguide.com).

 

This is in addition to those weekly task force conference calls, regular meetings in Washington, DC and all hundreds of pages of medical evidence she needs to review.

 

“I don’t think any Task Force member turns off their phone or email on evenings or weekends,” she says. “My kids miss me, but on the plus side, they get treats from Trader Joe’s.”

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Honolulu Magazine December 2018
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