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Latest Posts

A 3-Point Solution To Long Waits At The Doctor’s Office

I have an easy solution to a vexing problem in today’s healthcare crisis. A problem so widespread that it’s worth hundreds of words in the Wall Street Journal: Long wait times at the doctor’s office.

But first, before I give my simple, pragmatic, master-of-the-obvious solution, let me say something truthful: I try. I try really hard — to run on time, that is.

I’ve been there myself — a patient in a gown, in a cold room with only big pharma-sponsored propaganda on the walls to stare at.

At the risk of a sounding like a…blogger, let it be said that practicing quality medicine in the current luxury of technology is much more complicated than it used to be. Such complexity devours our most precious treasure: Time with the patient. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

Public Health Should Be Apolitical

You can be for freedom. You can be for smaller government that intrudes less. You can be for lower taxes. You can be for most anything, but if you’re interested in improving the sagging health of American citizens, get on Michael Bloomberg’s wheel.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, NYC mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to bar city residents from using food stamps to buy sugary soft drinks. It turns out that last year $135 million in food stamp money was used for the consumption of these obesity-fostering beverages in NYC alone.

Mr Bloomberg is morphing into a real-world public health super star. Previously, he was a pioneer in banning smoking in restaurants and bars. They said it could not be done, or that it wouldn’t work. Well, the naysayers were dead wrong. Now public smoking bans our commonplace and, backed by objective data, are accepted as having prevented thousands of heart attacks. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

When The Body Rights Itself

It’s been a very busy few weeks. Medicine is like that — seldom is “business” steady. Like rainy weeks in the southeast when you think it will never be sunny again, there are weeks when you think everyone’s atria are fibrillating. So there were shocks, and burns, and wires installed. The heart rhythm was rocking, and so were we.

But in all this fury two cases stand out as a reminder that in spite of, not always because of, what we doctors do, the human body can right itself — like it did before their were drugs, procedures, and surgery. (Keep this quiet, though.)

Case 1: A semi-emergent consultation for atrial flutter (AF’s crazy sister) came in. “Something has to be done, Dr. M,” was the message. She was symptomatic and scared (not necessarily in that order), but after a bit of simple doctoring (a pill), the heart rate had slowed and the symptoms abated somewhat. Then after a heavy dose of an AF doctor’s greatest weapon, reassurance and education, we mutually decided on one of my secret treatments for acute AF/AFlutter: A deep breath, a chair, a book, and time. Just in case, though, a cardioversion (shock) was set up for the next morning. I knew that since this was a first episode, that given some time the heart may right itself, without any fury.

Bingo. The text message came the next morning: “Cardioversion cancelled. Patient converted to sinus rhythm right after you saw her yesterday.”  (Grin.) Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

The PPACA: Does It Pass The Playground Test?

Could understanding the tacit rules which govern play on a neighborhood playground help us explain why some aspects of implementing healthcare reform are unlikely to succeed? Recent news involving McDonald’s Corporation suggests so.

On the playground, there are some simple precepts — like the fact that older and stronger kids get to make up the game, and the rules. That’s understood and mostly okay. As if these leaders are considered modestly benevolent and the rules are workable, the game is good and all benefit. And all players on the playground know this basic tenet of fairness: That the rules of the game shouldn’t change in the midst of the competition, and, taking it one step further, if the rules have to be changed they weren’t very good in the first place. Soon, if those in power become too controlling, too conflicted, or too self-serving, kids stop showing up, and the games cease.

In enacting this, our government gave us a very complicated game, with oodles of rules. (For the record, the PPACA of 2010 is 475 pages and 393,000 words.) But then, on further consideration of the rules, important players (McDonald’s) decided that they could not play. They were pulling out of the game, and they had many friends (Home Depot, CVS, Staples, etc.) who may not have spoke outwardly, but surely felt the same way. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

In Front Of The Mirror Of Middle Age

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

An intermission, the curtain has closed on youth, but the next act awaits.

Caring for hiccups of the heart, like atrial fibrillation for example, often throws me in front of the mirror, of middle age that is, and sadly the reflections show imperfections. Since I am middle aged myself, there are my own experiences. But everyday at work, on my job site, I see the effects of these same middle-age experiences on the atrium of my patients. The results are often profound. So must be the pressures.

I read a passage in the wee hours of the quiet morning, in the dark, with a flickering book light. It grabbed me. It is from Elisabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, Olive Kitteridge. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

Latest Interviews

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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How To Make Inpatient Medical Practice Fun Again: Try Locum Tenens Work

It s no secret that most physicians are unhappy with the way things are going in healthcare. Surveys report high levels of job dissatisfaction burn out and even suicide. In fact some believe that up to a third of the US physician work force is planning to leave the profession…

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Latest Cartoon

Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.

***

Click here for a musical take on over-testing.

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Latest Book Reviews

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

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