Best Health Care Podcasts of 2021

December 9, 2021

We look back on some of the best health care podcast episodes of the year with help from a few of our podcast host friends.

Listen to the full episode below, read the transcript or scroll down for more information.

If Tradeoffs has been one of your favorite podcasts this year, please consider donating to support our work. Through the end of 2021, your donation will be doubled thanks to the NewsMatch program from the Institute for Nonprofit News.

Top Health Care Podcasts of 2021

As another historic year in health policy winds down, we asked some of our favorite health care podcast hosts to tell us what episodes have stood out to them from 2021. (They weren’t allowed to recommend their own shows, but we certainly think you should check them out, and you can do so by clicking on their name or picture.)

Bapu Jena
Bapu Jena, MD, PhD, Professor of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital (Credit: Steven Lipofsky)

Bapu’s Pick: A Hidden Shame in Nursing —  The Daily, Sept. 14

“There was this increasing concern about antipsychotics being prescribed in nursing home settings because staff might be prescribing these drugs to some extent to make their jobs easier because sometimes patients with dementia or cognitive and behavioral problems can be very difficult to manage. … And what Katie Thomas’s reporting kind of illuminated was that there was this huge increase in the diagnoses of schizophrenia after this policy. … It was a beautifully done podcast for a few reasons. One is the topic is important. Two, it reflects unintended consequences of public policy, which is as an economist, that’s something I’m always interested in. And … it told a story.”

More recommendations from Bapu:

Kimberly Seals Allers, Birthright

Kimberly’s Pick: Goodbye public bathroom metal tampon dispensers, Hello Aunt Flow!FemTech Focus, Sept. 13

There was one about the innovator … creating a new approach to the tampon box in the bathroom … and as a woman, that just really annoys me the way that we have to, you know, put [in] a quarter. It’s just so old. It’s like there has to be a better way. … Unfortunately, what we’ve seen is a lot of men running women’s health and that hasn’t worked out so well for us. So this idea of women innovators being at the center of the conversations of how we transform the health care system for women, I find really interesting.”

More recommendations from Kimberly:

Maiken Scott, The Pulse

Maiken’s Pick: Eating DisordersMillennial Health, Oct. 11

I spent a good bit of time this year looking for podcasts that are produced and hosted by physicians. [Host Dr. Jay-Sheree Allen] tackled several things that were related to mental health like burnout and depression and anxiety … She also did an episode about eating disorders. … I feel like one of the challenges during the pandemic for all of us doing health journalism has been to investigate things that are happening and try to make sense of all of this information. And whenever we can do that, I think that’s a good day.”

More recommendations from Maiken:

Celine Gounder, Epidemic

Celine’s Pick: Season 2This Land, 2021

[Host Rebecca Nagle] digs into this … current federal lawsuit called Brackeen vs. Haaland, which is really about an adoption dispute in Texas. The Indian Child Welfare Act is meant to protect Indigenous kids and their connection to their communities, their tribe, their culture, their language, and to make sure that if they cannot live with their own birth families, they are placed with other Indigenous families. … If you look at Indigenous peoples, they are among the groups that have some of the highest rates of mental health issues. … Your public health approaches to that are going to be different if you understand [this community’s] history [with issues like sovereignty and slavery] versus if you don’t.”

More recommendations from Celine:

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Episode Resources

More Podcast Recommendations from the Tradeoffs Staff:

Bad Blood: The Final Chapter (John Carreyrou, Three Uncanny Four)

Dolorology (PAIN) with Rachel Zoffness (Ologies with Alie Ward, 11/10/2021)

Shall Furnish Medicine Parts 1, 2 and 3 (The Modern West, PRX and Wyoming Public Radio, 9/15/2021-11/10/2021)

Breaking Mad: Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (Aria Code, WNYC Studios, 8/25/2021)

The Spike in Gun Violence (Today, Explained; Vox; 7/29/2021)

Mind My Mind and Parents (Helen Zaltzman, The Allusionist, 6/27/2021 and 11/7/2021)

Home/Front: Battle Rattle, Battle Lines and Battle Borne (Rough Translation, NPR, 6/2/2021-6/16/2021)

Hazardous to Your Health Official (Anna Maria Barry-Jester, This American Life, 4/23/2021)

The Crime of Refusing Vaccination (The Experiment, The Atlantic, 3/25/2021)

Other “Best Of” Podcast Lists:

The 10 Best Podcasts of 2021 (Reggie Ugwu, New York Times, 12/1/2021)

Apple Podcasts presents the Best of 2021 (Apple Podcasts, 11/30/2021)

The Best Podcasts of 2021 (Emma Carey and the Esquire Editors, Esquire, 11/29/2021)

Best new podcasts of 2021 (Jess Joho, Mashable, 11/23/2021)

Episode Credits


Celine Gounder, MD, Host of American Diagnosis and Epidemic

Maiken Scott, Host of The PulseWHYY

Kimberly Seals Allers, host of Birthright

Bapu Jena, MD, PhD, Host of Freakonomics, M.D.

The Tradeoffs theme song was composed by Ty Citerman, with additional music this episode by Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions.

This episode was produced and mixed by Andrew Parrella. It was produced for the web by Ryan Levi.

Additional thanks to:

Candace Benjamin, Emma Tyrell, Katie Long, Charlotte Landes, Lyra Smith, the Tradeoffs Advisory Board and our stellar staff!