'Best Health Care Podcasts of 2021' Transcript

December 9, 2021

Note: This transcript has been created with a combination of machine ears and human eyes. There may be small differences between this document and the audio version, which is one of many reasons we encourage you to listen to the episode!

Sfx: Podcast noise 

Dan Gorenstein: There are some freaky-deaky podcasts out there. And…

Sfx: Podcast noise

DG: There are more than 3 million podcasts just on Spotify!

Sfx: Obviously we’re talking about Anthrax. We like to roll them bones, baby!

DG: And even health care podcasts? 

Sfx: Health care podcasts montage

DG: …there are still hundreds!

So how do you even make sense of all that? Well, lucky for you, Tradeoffs has got your back. We are here with our annual Best Of podcast! With help from some friends, we’ve got a bunch of recommendations.  

The list is not long, nor is it complete, but just like Tradeoffs, these podcasts bring a little clarity to the confusing, costly world of health care. Today, a look at some podcasts from 2021 that we think you’re gonna like.

From the studio at the Leonard Davis Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, I’m Dan Gorenstein, and this is Tradeoffs.


DG: It’s December, which means that it’s time for a visit from the guy who, for reasons that remain murky, describes himself as a jolly old elf.

Andrew Parrella: Hey, Dan.

DG: Sound Designer Andrew Parrella. I guess you are calling yourself an elf because you come bearing gifts — podcast gifts.

AP: You know it! I’ve been talking with some of our friends in the health care podcasting world to get their recommendations. 

DG: And you gave them some guidelines in advance.

AP: Yeah, nothing too restrictive. The rec has to be about health policy or health care, it has to have been released in 2021, and they can’t talk about their own work.

DG: Or Tradeoffs, right? 

AP: Right, a fig leaf of modesty to ensure an objective look at this.

DG: Fig leaf of modesty. Only you, Parrella. Okay, let’s kick this off with someone I actually spoke to, so we’ll catch up with you in a few.

AP: Good luck, we’re all counting on you back here.

DG: Yeah, I may need a little luck with our first guest. It’s an old friend of the podcast, and he always keeps me on my toes! Bapu Jena.

Bapu Jena: What up? Oh, hold on, let me put the microphone here. Can you hear me now?

DG: Yeah! So how are you doing, man? How’s the show going? 

BJ: It’s going well because the stuff that I’m doing is like stuff that I do normally, like the kind of fun stuff. So I like that part of it. 

DG: Bapu Jena is not only an economist and doc at Harvard Medical School — the dude’s now hosting the podcast Freakonomics, MD!

Sfx: Freakonomics, MD excerpts

BJ: So let me just ask you: Do you think hospitalizations for hyperglycemia go up among children with diabetes after Halloween?

Guest 1: Yes. 

Guest 2: Yes.

BJ: No they don’t.

Guest 1: Really?

BJ: Cause if they did, I wouldn’t have written a paper about it!

DG: And what’s the show all about? 

BJ: I would say that every episode should be something that if you have no interest in health care, you would listen to it and say, “A, I get it.” And “B, that’s really interesting.”

DG: Alright, Bapu, now that you are a host yourself: What’s an episode or show that you really liked this year?

BJ: So there’s a bunch of shows that are focused on health care. But one actually stood out for me, and it’s not actually a health care show. It was an episode from the New York Times’ Daily podcast. I listen to it from time to time as I’m driving on that 45 minute commute to work. If my daughter lets me listen to that as opposed to, you know, the Frozen soundtrack. 

Sfx: “Let It Go” from Frozen

BJ: There was one that I heard not too long ago, which was, I think the journalist’s name was Katie Thomas.

And 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. 

But the government started measuring antipsychotic use in nursing homes to make sure that nursing homes weren’t doing too much of it. But there are certain exclusions, so if patients had a diagnosis of schizophrenia, that use didn’t have to be reported. And what Katie Thomas’ reporting illuminated was that there was this huge increase in the diagnoses of schizophrenia after this policy. 

Sfx: The Daily excerpts

Katie Thomas: We found that since 2012, the number of nursing home residents who are diagnosed with Schizophrenia has soared by 70%.

Michael Barbaro: Wow, that’s a huge increase.

KT: Yeah, and to put that into perspective, that’s one out of nine nursing home residents.

BJ: 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 as an economist, that’s something I’m always interested in. And the third thing and you would really, I think, appreciate this because I know you do a lot of this in Tradeoffs — it told a story.

MB: Katie, tell me about David Blakeney. 

KT: What I know about David Blakeney is through his wife, Yvonne Blakeney, and she lives in South Carolina.

Yvonne Blakeney: When I’d go see him, he would be like sleeping, something he never did before he went in there.

KT: At this facility she was really shocked by how quickly he declined. 

BJ: Yeah, the moment in the episode that actually stuck with me most is when the wife was describing how her husband had transitioned after he got into the nursing home.

YB: He kept losing weight, he kept losing weight. 

KT: She started to see this once robust man, she could see his ribs sticking out. And he developed bed sores because he was always in his bed or in his wheelchair asleep.

YB: One day I went and his foot wasn’t looking right.

KT: Several months after he arrived, he had to have one of his feet amputated because the bedsores got so bad. 

BJ: And what the podcast illuminated for me was how public policy can create unintended but expected consequences. That’s a long-winded way to say that that particular episode in The Daily, I thought was really well done. And, you know, I enjoyed listening to it.

DG: Sounds like a really powerful podcast and on point with the kind of work we’ve both been interested in for years. Thanks so much for sharing.

Congratulations on Freakonomics, MD, and thanks for being on the show with us today, Bapu.

BJ: Thank you for having me, it’s always fun!

DG: We’re going to bring back our own Andrew Parrella. 

AP: Hey.

DG: So you’ve been chatting with some folks too. 

AP: Yeah this was pretty fun. I got to talk to really cool folks about my favorite subject.

DG: Penguin jokes? 

AP: Weeeelllll, maybe a close second: podcasts.  

One of my first calls, Dan, was to Kimberly Seals Allers. 

Sfx: Welcome to Birthright, a podcast about joy and healing in Black birth…

AP: Kimberly’s a long-time journalist. She’s worked at places like Fortune and Essence magazines and newspapers before she started her podcast focused on maternal health.

Kimberly Seals Allers: As a storyteller, I was deeply concerned about the narrative in Black maternal health, which in the mainstream media often focused on negative statistics. And so I really wanted to create a narrative tool that countered this mainstream narrative by telling positive and joyful Black birth stories. 

AP: A constant thread in Birthright, Dan, is mental health. She often has new moms on the show sitting down with therapists, and they just talk about that mom’s problems. And here’s why I think Kimberly’s perfect for our show today: As she’s developed her podcast, she’s been listening really carefully and critically while learning about this new medium. 

KSA: I’ve, you know, spent 20 something years focusing on my words and not on my voice. And to kind of have your voice is a very different skill set. So shout out to all the podcasters. I have learned, and I am still learning.

AP: And one of her go-to podcasts is FemTech Focus

KSA: …which really focuses on women’s health as a lens into the health care system, new technology. 

Brittany Barreto: I’m your host, Dr. Brittany Barreto, in today’s episode…

KSA: So 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 really women innovators being at the center of the conversations of how we transform the health care system for women, I find really interesting.

BB: In today’s episode I interview Clair Coder…

KSA: There was one about the innovator creating a new approach to the tampon box in the bathroom… 

BB: If you’ve ever been in a women’s public restroom, you’ll notice this strange metallic box hanging on the wall. It offers the lowest quality tampons and pads for a quarter. These are so out of date it’s not even funny.

KSA: …and as a woman that just really annoys me the way that we have to, you know, put a quarter in. It’s just so old. It’s like there has to be a better way.

BB: Well here’s a FemTech solution, bringing bathrooms to the 21st century… 

KSA: Just the very realness of those innovations has really spoken to me because pretty much every time I’m like, “Yeah, I hate that.” Or, “Why is that?” Or, “Why isn’t that better?” So I’m usually getting in my rage, you know, around things that could be so much better that we haven’t really fought for. 

DG: “Getting in my rage,” you know, AP, I think that strikes a chord with a lot of us when we think about health care in the U.S.

AP: Definitely, Dan. And Kimberly’s interested in podcasts that are trying to address real problems honestly and move forward.

KSA: I’m very interested in podcasts that center the unique needs of people of color and women of color in the health care landscape. Because across the board, look at any disparity: The system is failing Black and brown people disproportionately. So voices that lift up how health care could be more equitable are really important to me.

DG: We’ll be right back with more 2021 picks, but first, a quick word. One reason we make this “Best of the Year” episode is because we like to highlight work that helps people have smarter, more informed health care conversations.

That’s why we produce stories about topics like the lack of gun violence research, the questionable effectiveness of a controversial Alzheimer’s drug, and the side hustle insurance companies work. 

We think these stories are valuable, and clearly, you do too. Your tax-deductible, year-end donation right now is more than just supporting Tradeoffs — you’re helping create a conversation that shapes health care decisions. 

And contributions will be matched dollar for dollar. Please make your gift now at tradeoffs.org. And thanks. 


DG: Okay, we’re back. We’re taking a look at some of the best health care podcasts from 2021.

AP: Not just podcasts….

DG: That’s our Sound Designer, Andrew Parrella, who’s been talking to people on this subject.

Uh, what did you say? 

AP: The recommendations from our guests — not just podcasts. We kept the guidelines pretty loose. While we’re just talking about podcasts in this episode, our next guest, for example, loves watching TikTok videos from a med student who talks about social disparities in health and everything he’s NOT learning in med school. 

DG: And who’s our next guest, then?

AP: Maiken Scott. She hosts The Pulse, the health and science radio show and podcast.

Maiken Scott: Sometimes we’ll talk about Mars or about plastic. And then a lot of times we’ll talk about big health care issues.

AP: And, Dan, in my conversation with Maiken, she told me she spent some time as a patient this year, and it got her really interested in understanding how doctors and nurses view our health care world.

MS: I know health care as a reporter and as a patient, but they are experiencing this in a totally different way. So I spent a good bit of time this year looking for podcasts that are produced and hosted by physicians. 

Jay-Sheree Allen: Hey and welcome to the MH, I’m Dr. Jay-Sheree Allen, a board-certified family physician… 

AP: One thing Maiken really likes about Millennial Health is the format. 

As you know, Dan, The Pulse, is a lot like Tradeoffs, where the team pours a lot of time into things like character development, sentence structure.

DG: Agonizing over the right piece of music. 

AP: Agonizing over the right piece of music. Exactly. 

Maiken says she’s really enjoyed shows like Millennial Health because they’re just raw conversations between doctors. 

MS: She tackled several things that were related to to mental health like burnout and depression and anxiety, 

JSA: What are some of the more subtle ways that this can show up? 

Guest Jessi Gold: Yeah. So my warning signs are like, “I am so annoyed at emails!” like, I don’t want to open my inbox. I’m angry about it.

MS: She also did an episode about eating disorders and what do eating disorders look like and what kind of misconceptions do people have about them? 

JSA: As a health care professional, it’s one thing to recognize that we may have a problem here, but a lot of us get trapped in the what do I do about it?

Guest Chelsea Kronengold: For eating disorders, it can be a big challenge to discuss this with patients and family because there remains this stigma about mental health.

MS: 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.

AP: Maiken Scott, thanks so much for joining us today, and thanks for your recommendations. 

MS: Thank you so much! Same to you guys! 

DG: AP, thanks for talking to folks and producing this show. It’s always great working together. It’s like being back in Concord!

AP: Happy to, Dan. See you on the Zooms!

DG: And we have one final guest today.

Dr. Celine Gounder is an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist, and she’s also a podcast host. Actually, she hosts two.

Celine Gounder: The American Diagnosis podcast on health and social justice, and the Epidemic podcast, the first season of which covered the coronavirus pandemic.

DG: Celine has done a lot over her career, and at every turn she found herself playing some kind of science/medicine translator type role.

CG: That was the throughline in everything that I had done. How do you have an impact through policy? And to me, that was very much a question of communication and ultimately journalism.

DG: There’s a social justice theme that runs through the podcasts Celine produces and in what she listens to.

Mux: This Land theme [singing] 

Host Rebecca Nagle: You’re listening to This Land, a podcast about the present day struggle for Native rights. From Crooked Media, I’m your host, Rebecca Nagle…

CG: People might not immediately think of this as a health podcast. 

RN: This season, we’re following how a string of custody battles over Native children turned into a federal lawsuit, threatening everything from tribal sovereignty to civil rights.

CG: 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. 

RN: For the past four years, I’ve been following one court case. 

CG: So she digs into this investigation into a current federal lawsuit called Brackeen vs. Haaland, which is really about an adoption dispute in Texas. 

RN: On one side, there are foster families and states saying the Indian Child Welfare Act is unconstitutional. And on the other side are tribes and the U.S. federal government defending the law. 

DG: As you say, people might not immediately think of This Land as a health care or health policy podcast. In your mind, what makes it one?

CG: Well, we know that the country has been afflicted by an epidemic of depression, anxiety, suicide, substance use, and I think if you look at Indigenous peoples, they are among the groups that have some of the highest rates of these mental health issues. 

RN: Piper’s parents went to jail and Piper went to foster care.

Robin: I was going to get her out and bring her home with me. They wouldn’t share any information with me. And they said I had no grandparents’ rights.

RN: At the time, Piper was three years old. She spent the next three years — half her life — in foster care.

CG: And so when you reframe and understand that this is the historical impact of that — that you see many Indigenous teens with mental health issues — your public health approaches to that are going to be different if you understand that history versus if you don’t. 

DG: So it sounds like the topic is one that you think is really important and underexposed. And what do you hope this particular podcast leads to? 

CG: I think for people to understand that these injustices continue to the present day. I think very often we think about things like how land and rights were stripped of Indigenous people as something in the past. We think of slavery as something in the past, and the the sad truth is, much of this is still very present.

RN: We’re still waiting to find out whether or not the Supreme Court will hear the case, and whatever they decide, it will have an enormous impact. The Supreme Court can help Native communities heal from generations of family separation, or it can set the stage for more generations to be taken.

DG: That was Dr. Celine Gounder and her recommendation is This Land, a podcast hosted by journalist Rebecca Nagle, a member of the Cherokee tribe. 

A reminder that you can find links to all of today’s recs — and other recs we couldn’t fit in — on our website, tradeoffs.org. Share your favorites from the year on Twitter. Find us there @tradeoffspod.

A final note. 2022 is shaping up to be as busy of a year as 2021. We’ve got stories about low-value care, the new mental health hotline 988 coming next July, and the always wild world of price transparency.

Your gift today helps us cover those issues next year, so now is a great time to become a Tradeoffs supporter. Make your tax-deductible, year-end gift at tradeoffs.org. Thanks.

I’m Dan Gorenstein, and this is Tradeoffs.

Want more Tradeoffs? Sign up for our weekly newsletter!

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, MD

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!