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Are physician salaries too high?

I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.

–Mark Twain

As we consider the wastefulness of the healthcare system, I have heard many people complain that physician salaries are one of the main culprits in escalating costs.

Dr. Reece compares the average income of some of the highest paid physician specialists, with that of hospital executives, medical insurance executives, and fortune 500 CEOs. Check this out:

Highest Paid Physicians

1. Orthopedic, spinal surgery, $554,000
2. Neurosurgery, $476,000
3. Heart surgeons, $470,000
4. Diagnostic radiology, Interventional, $424,000
5. Sports Medicine, surgery, $417,000
6. Orthopedic Surgery, $400,000
7. Radiology, non-interventional, $400,000
8. Cardiology, $363,000
9. Vascular surgery, $354,000
10. Urology, $349,000

Executive Pay for Massachusetts Hospital CEOs

1. James Mongan, MD, Partners Healthcare, $2.1 million
2. Elaine Ullian, Boston Medical Center, $1.4 million
3. John O’Brien, UMass Memorial Medical Center, $1.3 million
4. David Barrett, MD, Lahey Clinic, $1.3 million
5. Mark Tolosky, Baystate Health, $1.2 million
6. James Mandell, MD, Children’s Hospital, Boston, $1.1 million
7. Gary Gottlieb, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, $1 million
8. Peter Slavind, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital, $1 million

2005 Total Annual Compensation for Publicly Traded Managed Care CEOs

1. United Health Care $8.3 million
2. Wellpoint, Inc, $5.2 million
3. CIGNA, $4.7 million
4. Sierra Health, $3.4 million
5. Aetna, Inc, $3.3 million
6. Assurant, Inc, $2.3 million
7. Humana, $1.9 million
8. Health Net, $1.7 million

Top Corporate CEO Compensation

1. Capital One Financial, $249 million
2. Yahoo, $231 million
3. Cedant, $140 million
4. KB Home, $135 million
5. Lehman Brothers Holdings, $123 million
6. Occidental Petroleum,, $81 million
7. Oracle, $75 million
8. Symantec, $72 million
9. Caremark Rx, $70 million
10. Countrywide Financial, $69 million

But the real story here is the salary of our primary care physicians – those unsung heroes of the front lines. KevinMD pointed out a recent news article citing $75,000.00/year as the average salary of the family physician in the state of Connecticut, and that their malpractice insurance consumed $15,000.00 of that. Although this is certainly below the national average for pediatricians (they start at about 110,000 to 120,000), I’ve seen many academic positions in the $90,000 to 100,000 range.

Now I ask you, does it seem fair that the vast majority of physicians (the primary care physicians) are making one tenth of the average hospital executive salary? Should doctors really be in the cross hairs of cost containment?

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Are socks dangerous?

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.

–Mark Twain

Today I realized that I have spent the majority of my adult daytime hours enduring a continuous, sock-induced lower extremity discomfort. Socks feature a type of tourniquet system that slowly squeezes calf flesh into red indented rings, crowning edematous ankles. Why must socks be so painful? The manufacturers believe that their ability to “stay up” far outweighs the importance of comfort – and so like the sock zombies we are, consumers continue to purchase them under the assumption that painful elastics are simply part of the sock experience.

I decided to search the Internet for sock commiserators, and lo and behold, I found a comment in a diabetes forum about the dangers of tight socks. This person argues that socks can predispose to blood clots, and promote ulcers in those who have preexisting circulatory problems. She goes on to recommend a special type of diabetic sock that is non-binding, manufactured by a company called “sugar free sox.”

I performed a Medline search for articles about “socks” and “stockings” and there were surprisingly few articles. In fact, the majority of articles only mentioned a specific type of medical sock known as “compression stockings” (or T.E.D.s). I didn’t see any studies confirming the potential dangers of the garden variety sock, but it does make intuitive sense that anything that acts as a tourniquet cannot be a good thing for the circulatorily challenged.

Therefore, my recommendation is that if you are diabetic or have any known problems with your circulation, you should do your best to avoid tight socks. I myself am planning to try out these diabetic soft elastic, stretchy socks – and I will wear them proudly about the office in utter contentment and comfort.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Do the right thing

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.

–Mark Twain

My favorite writer of all time is Mark Twain. His keen observations and uncanny ability to combine wisdom and wit makes his writing incredibly entertaining, don’t you think? I thought it would be fun to take a few of his quotes and illustrate them with true stories from my mental archives.

Today’s quote is about doing the right thing. I remember a case where a young internal medicine intern was taking care of a 42 year old mother of 3. The mother had HIV/AIDS and had come to the hospital to have her PEG tube repositioned. Somewhere along the way, she required a central line placement, and as a result ended up with a pretty severe line infection. The woman’s condition was rapidly deteriorating on the medicine inpatient service, and the intern taking care of her called the ICU fellow to evaluate her for admission to the intensive care unit.

The fellow examined the patient and explained to the intern that the woman had “end stage AIDS” and that excessive intensive care management would be a futile endeavor, and that the ICU beds must be reserved for other patients.

“But she was fine when she came to us, the line we put in caused her downward spiral – she’s not necessarily ‘end stage,’” protested the intern.

The fellow wouldn’t budge, and so the intern was left to manage the patient – now with a resting heart rate of 170 and dropping blood pressure. The intern stayed up all night, aggressively hydrating the woman and administering IV antibiotics with the nursing staff.

The next day the intern called the ICU fellow again, explaining that the patient was getting worse. The ICU fellow responded that he’d already seen the patient and that his decision still stands. The intern called her senior resident, who told her that there was nothing he could do if the ICU fellow didn’t want to admit the patient.

The intern went back to the patient’s room and held her cold, cachectic hand. “How are you feeling?” she asked nervously.

The frail woman turned her head to the intern and whispered simply, “I am so scared.”

The intern decided to call the hospital’s ethics committee to explain the case and ask if it really was appropriate to prevent a young mother from being admitted to the ICU if she had been in reasonable health until her recent admission. The president of the ethics committee reviewed the case immediately, and called the ICU fellow’s attending and required him to admit the patient. Soon thereafter, the patient was wheeled into the ICU, where she was treated aggressively for sepsis and heart failure.

The next day during ICU rounds the attending physician asked for the name of the intern who had insisted on the admission. After hearing the name, he simply replied with a wry smile, “remind me never to f [mess] with her.”

The patient survived the infection and spent mother’s day with her children several weeks later.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

What the heck is a "rehab doc?" Part 2

- continuation of previous post -

What does a PM&R doc do?

The foundational principle upon which rehabilitation medicine is based, is this: physical modalities (exercise, movement, muscle strengthening) are critical components of achieving the highest level of wellness and functionality. The goal of a PM&R specialist is to maximize a person’s functional ability within the constraints of their physical limitations. So that if a person is an amputee, or has had a spinal cord injury, or stroke – the goal is to make them as independent as possible, using prosthetics, orthotics, adaptive equipment, physical training or family assistance.

The rehab physician works tirelessly to enable the disabled. Whether the patient has temporary (such as after a broken bone) or permanent (such as a spinal cord injury) disability, the rehab doctor wants to seamlessly reintegrate the patient into society, into meaningful work, and into a joyful participation in life to the max.

PM&R physicians are the ultimate integrative medicine specialists – they practice a combination of physical and medical healing techniques, while leading a team of specialists to help their patients achieve their goals (nurses, social workers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, cognitive therapists and psychologists, speech & language pathologists, prosthetics & orthotics specialists, and more).

I guess I could sum it up like this: when the proverbial Humpty Dumpty “has a great fall,” the surgeons knit his bones back together, the internists maintain his vital signs, but the rehab doc finds him some crutches, teaches him how to walk again, gets him cognitive therapy and counseling, helps him reintegrate into society, and stimulates his progress towards physical independence and emotional wellness.

Why did I choose this “odd ball specialty?”

Well, truthfully, I didn’t hear much about PM&R during medical school. I happened to meet a group of exceptionally happy residents in the hallway one day, and I asked them why they were smiling. (My only experience with residents was that they were tired, bedraggled, ill-tempered and hen-pecked – and this group defied the stereotype).

They explained to me that they were “rehab residents” and that’s why they were happy. That seemed like a non-sequitur to me, so I investigated the specialty in more detail, and became convinced that there was no higher call than to care for the disabled. I had been a home health aid in college, taking care of young adults with cerebral palsy, and I spent my summers at a camp for disabled adults, sponsored by the March of Dimes, so this was familiar territory and seemed to be a good fit for my nurturing temperament.

As we look at Americans’ current medical needs, we don’t see hundreds of thousands of war amputees (though there is a steady trickle coming from the war in Iraq), or polio victims – but what we do see is a population disabled by obesity and its collateral damage: diabetes (with its amputations), heart disease, stroke, severe arthritis, and various pain syndromes.

I believe that Rehabilitation Medicine, as a specialty, should adapt to serve the needs created by this new obesity epidemic. We have always been the masters of physical exercise for healing – now we should apply those principles to help Americans lose weight and keep it off. I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Jim Hill, who believes that dieting leads to weight loss, but exercise leads to weight loss maintenance (the real key to long term health benefits).

As I have argued in the past, America needs to be rehabilitated. And I hope that my work at Revolution Health will contribute to improving the general wellness of our citizens.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

What the heck is a "rehab doc?" Part 1

One medical specialty has managed to avoid (nearly completely) the public eye: Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (or PM&R). Physicians who choose this specialty are referred to as “physiatrists” or “rehabilitation medicine specialists” or “rehab docs.” But the truth is that very few people understand what they do, and unfortunately the rehab docs haven’t made much of an effort to explain themselves to their peers or the world at large.

A dear friend and mentor once asked me, “why did you choose such an odd ball specialty?” This rather direct question forced me to ponder my career decision, and to determine how it came to pass that PM&R was given the unhappy reputation of “odd ball specialty.” I’ll begin with a little background about the specialty and then explain why I chose to devote my life to it.

The history of PM&R

PM&R really traces its roots back to the American Civil War (1861-1865). This gruesome battle resulted in over 620,000 casualties and over 60,000 limb amputations. The modern specialty of general surgery developed through life saving trial and error on the battlefield. Massachusetts General Hospital, for example, was performing an average of 39 surgeries/year before the civil war, and this increased to 2,427 in the late 1800’s.

But physicians and surgeons were not prepared for the aftermath of war – tens of thousands of maimed and partially limbless now trying to live out their careers in a disabled condition. One confederate soldier, James E. Hanger, lost a leg in the war, and subsequently created America’s first prosthetics company, still in operation today. Unfortunately for the disabled, though, there was no guarantee that appropriate accommodations would be made for them to be fully reintegrated into society.

With the rise of surgery came a major realization: patients did not do well after surgery if they remained in bed. Conventional medical wisdom suggested that bed rest and inactivity were the most effective way to recuperate, but now with thousands of post-operative patients in full view, it became painfully clear that the patients who did the best were the ones that got up and returned to regular physical activity as quickly as possible.

Following this realization, the University of Pennsylvania created (in the late 1800’s) an orthopedic gymnasium for “the development of muscular power with apparatus for both mechanical and hot air massage, gymnastics and Swedish movement.”

A young Canadian gymnast trained in Orthopedic Surgery, Dr. Robert Tait McKenzie, was recruited to U. Penn to develop a new field in medicine: “Physical Training.” Dr. McKenzie created a medical specialty called “Physical Therapy” and he was the first self-proclaimed “Physical Therapist.” He wrote a seminal book on the subject called “Reclaiming the Maimed” (1918) and continued to practice orthopedic surgery until his death in 1938.

Other major medical institutions followed U. Penn’s lead, creating “Medicomechanical Departments” at Mass General and the Mayo Clinic. Technicians were trained to assist in helping post-operative patients to become active and reclaim their range of motion – these technicians were known as “physiotherapists” and formed the first physiotherapy training program at the Mayo Clinic in 1918.

World War I (1914-1918) resulted in millions of additional amputations, thus flooding the health system with disabled veterans. In response, the army created two medical divisions: The division of orthopedic surgery and the division of physical reconstruction. By 1919, 45 hospitals had physiotherapy facilities, treating hundreds of thousands of war veterans.

And then there was polio. Suddenly a viral illness created a whole new wave of disabled individuals, further stimulating the need for orthotics (leg braces and such) and rehabilitative programs.

World War II (1940-1945) resulted in yet another influx of disabled veterans. All the while the medical community was developing innovative programs to maximize veterans’ functionality and integration into society and the work place through the burgeoning field of Physical Medicine & Rehabiltiation.

Key players in the development of the specialty:

Dr. Frank Krusen developed the first physical medicine training program at the Mayo Clinic in 1935 and the “Society of Physical Therapy Physicians” (now the American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation) in 1938. He coined the term “physiatrist” to describe the physicians who specialized in physical modalities for rehabilitating patients.

Dr. Howard Rusk founded the Institute for Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation in 1950 at NYU.  Excellent research in the field ensued.

Dr. Henry Kessler founded the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, in New Jersey, 1949.  More medical research was developed.

Mary E. Switzer successfully lobbied for the enactment of Public Law 565 which mandated that government funds be channeled towards rehabilitation facilities and programs for the disabled.

What’s in a name?

So as you can see, there is some good reason to be confused about the modern specialty of PM&R. It has undergone several name changes, molded by historical circumstance. Today, physiotherapists (they still go by that name in Canada) or physical therapy technicians have become a well known and respected profession: Physical Therapy.

Physicians who specialize in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation are called rehabilitation medicine specialists or “rehab docs” or “physiatrists.”

-See Next Post for the rest of the story -
This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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