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How To Micro-Tweak Diagnosis And Treatment

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A common problem in healthcare is the number of times that small adjustments are needed in a person’s care. Often for these little changes, a physical exam and face-to-face time have nothing to do with good medical decision making.

Yet the patient and doctor are locked in a legacy-industrialized business model that requires the patient to pay a co-pay and waste at least half of their day driving to and from the office, logging time in a waiting room, and then visiting five minutes with their practitioner for the needed medical information or advice.

Today I’d like to visit the case of a patient I’ll call “DD,” who I easily diagnosed with temporal arteritis (TA) through a 15-minute phone call after she’d spent four weeks as the healthcare system fumbled her time with delays and misdirection via several doctors without establishing a firm diagnosis. Read more »

One More Medical Acronym To Add To The Pile

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In medicine, hardly a week passes without the introduction of some new acronym, previously unspoken in the average practice, which then grows to prominence — take HIPAA, PECOS, CPT, ICD, etc. — the list goes on and on.

I believe that after 14 years of practice I’ve earned the right to introduce an acronym of my own: CRAPP. For the last several months, my partner and I have used this term to describe the volumes of denials, pre- and prior- authorizations (is there really a difference?), and faxes that seem to grow like weeds on the fertile planting grounds of our desks.

More specifically, in our office the acronym CRAPP stands for: Continuous Restrictive And Punitive Paperwork. To put it blithely, CRAPP could represent any document you wish someone had put on your partner’s desk instead of yours.

On a more emotional level, this acronym captures the visceral response I have whenever my attention is drawn away from my patients and redirected towards some nonsensical busywork — much like someone yelling at a golfer during their backswing.

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How Direct Access To A Doctor Can Save A Person’s Life

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At my front door stood my neighbor and his daughter making their annual Girl Scout cookie trek. “Should I make it a baker’s dozen?” the girl asked, knowing I wouldn’t refuse. Her father chimed in, “I was just at a wedding where I sat next to someone who said you saved her life. She said some very nice things about your medical practice.”

The name of the patient he was mentioning flashed me back. Mrs. BB (whose name has been altered to maintain privacy) was referred by a mutual acquaintance who already used our practice. This acquaintance felt that maybe I could solve Mrs. BB’s problem, specifically because all of our practitioners are paid for time, which means we can listen and communicate to determine how we can best help our patients.
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The Power Of Comprehensive Healthcare

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Today, in a bold and not too distant place, 300 individuals who are at high risk for multiple health problems predictive of high mortality rates, are participating in a visionary experimental project for telemedicine and health monitoring.

Every day these individuals are tracked through GPS location. Their movement patterns and whereabouts easily can be observed by trained technicians who ascertain that the individuals are getting up and going about their daily activities in a normal fashion. Deviations in movements for any expected individual can be the earliest indicator that something has gone seriously wrong and might warrant an investigatory call or visit to look into a developing heath problem.
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The Primary Care Shortage: Killing The Golden Egg-Laying Goose?

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This past Monday, I was drawn to an article in the Wall Street Journal: “Medical Schools Can’t Keep Up.” The article detailed the growing shortage of primary care doctors in our country and reminded me that we in the U.S. may have something called “insurance reform” now, but without physicians to translate insurance access into healthcare, the state of our healthcare system will continue to beg additional attention and reform.

Although new medical schools are opening and some schools have increased enrollment numbers, there are a limited number of residency positions in this country. The government has always funded these residency positions and our new reform law tries to address the primary care shortage with “slot redistribution,” whereby money from unused residency positions will be deferred to primary care or general surgery residency programs.  Read more »

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.

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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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