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Is The Adderall Shortage A Harbinger Of Future Drug Supply Problems?

Today, most- if not all- Doctor’s offices are strained by the shortage of some prescription medication or vaccine.  A month ago, President Obama signed his executive order, directing the FDA to take steps to reduce drug shortages as the White House stated that drug shortages have nearly tripled over the past five years reaching the stunning number of 178 in 2010.  These shortages make regular news:  Cancer patients without the chemotherapy needed to keep them alive, antibiotics unavailable to treat life-threatening infections, or intravenous nutrition to support the critically ill fighting to live while medical teams and families search for elusive remedies.

As this new reality plays out in hospitals and homes the media is provided a steady stream of drama for our morning paper or evening news.  Meanwhile, time and focus is repeatedly stolen from physicians, patients, and parents in a myriad of ways.  Currently, my medical practice- in primary care Internal Medicine- has been negatively affected by the shortage of Adderall, a medication used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  What this medical condition may lack in dramatic news-worthiness it more than makes up for in sheer numbers with an estimated 4.5 million Americans living with this condition today.

I had my first inkling several months ago of the affect the Adderall shortage would have on my practice after one of my patients called frustrated  that their pharmacy did not have their Adderall at the prescribed dosage.  By calling several pharmacies I was able to find their medication at a smaller dose. Advising my patient to “double-up” I wrote another prescription and had to direct my patient to return to my office to pick up the rewritten  prescription- a time-consuming process that doctors and patients can ill afford to repeat on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, this scenario -initially thought an exception- has now become the rule monopolizing my own time while draining the daily resources of my staff, nurse, and medical partner.  Most ironically though, Read more »

Patients As Partners

The famous late 19th and early 20th century physician, Sir William Osler, said that “a physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient.” How would he have felt about patients diagnosing and treating themselves? Would he have written in support of the Journal of Participatory Medicine or against it? I also wonder how he would have practiced medicine in the “information age” when many of our patients present with a diagnosis already made, right or wrong.

I recognize that bringing Dr. Osler into a discussion set in the information age is, perhaps, anachronistic. Yet I believe he still has something to teach the 21st century on the topic of patient participation. When he advised that “the first duty of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine,” he offered one of the earliest lessons on a physician’s role as educator.

He also said: “The great physician would treat the patient with the disease while the good physician would treat the disease.” For me, this marches lock-step with the reality of today’s patient as consumer and active participant in the doctor-patient relationship. Simply put, it is impossible to separate the patient from a pre-conceived and often well-researched opinion — correct or not. So to treat the “patient with the disease” requires me to think of my patient as an intellectual partner. Read more »

Practicing Primary Care: A Lesson In Treading Water

As a primary care physician, I am becoming painfully aware of how hard it is to be good –- I mean really good — at what we do today. I would prefer to believe that it has always been so, yet I do not believe that our predecessors in the medical profession found it nearly as difficult to excel in their time as we do now.

With all of the technological and medical advances, you might ask how I could believe this to be true. Too, you might consider it pessimistic or even crazy to suggest that physicians 20, 30, or 100 years ago found it easier to practice medicine well in their time.

You could counter with numerous or obvious examples such as antibiotics, pharmaceuticals, robotic surgical procedures, or even our wondrous ability to peer inside the human body without cutting it open. You also would be correct to point out that the technological advancements of the 20th century opened the way for the medical profession to become a real science thus giving me and my colleagues the chance and knowledge to make a real difference in our patients’ lives today. Read more »

Career Counselor? Thoughts On Becoming A Doctor

As a physician, I’ve had several people ask my “honest” opinion of their plans to become a doctor. I know what my response is to this question, but I wonder what others in my profession would answer. Would your response depend, in large part, on who’s doing the asking — could you answer your own child as you would someone you just met? Be careful, your answer to this question, if honestly given, might shine an unsettling light on your own feelings about your current career choice.

Last week I spoke with a college junior working to fulfill her lifelong plans to become a physician. She told me about a recent conversation with her own doctor where she shared her plans to go to medical school and he’d tried to dissuade her. She couldn’t recall a single cogent reason given for avoiding the medical profession, yet it appeared to me that his odium had negatively imprinted her image of the medical profession, which is a shame. At this time more than ever, we –- doctors and patients alike — need to encourage the most talented of our youth to join the medical profession. Read more »

A Man Is Not Equal To The Sum Of His Medicine Problems

I believe that those controlling the purse strings are steering modern medicine towards the practice of seeing patients more as the sum of their medical problems than as individual people. Patients have become streams of data as opposed to real human lives.

Consider the dynamics of a family: a wife may worry about her husband while their child adores a father she instinctively knows to be irreplaceable. Modern medicine, however, may only see a diabetic with hypertension and a cholesterol-level running too high. The computers programmed for those advocating the power of data to revolutionize medicine would boil this man down to his “meaningful” essence — numbers, for the above imaginary man: 250.00, 401.0, and 272.0. Read more »

Latest Interviews

Caring For Winter Olympians In Sochi: An Interview With Team USA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gloria Beim

I am a huge fan of the winter Olympics partly because I grew up in Canada where most kids can ski and skate before they can run and partly because I used to participate in Downhill ski racing. Now that I m a rehab physician with a reconstructed knee I…

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How Do Hospital Executives Feel About Locum Tenens Agencies And Traveling Physicians?

I recently wrote about my experiences as a traveling physician and how to navigate locum tenens work. Today I want to talk about the client in this case hospital side of the equation. I ve had the chance to speak with several executives some were physicians themselves about the overall…

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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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