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Latest Posts

How Our Progress Since 9/11 Has Benefitted Public Health Efforts

The events of 9/11 will forever be engrained in our memories. The attacks on the twin towers, Pentagon, and the anthrax attacks which followed were unimaginable at the time. Ten years after these tragic events, what’s changed?

September 11 Newspapers and Headlines

We now know that terrorist threats are ever present and that our nation must be in a constant state of vigilance in order to protect our communities. We’ve come a long way since 2001 in bolstering our nation’s ability to prepare for and respond to catastrophic events whether natural, accidental, or intentional. We are also learning more and more every day that the resources we need for the big disasters are much the same as the ones we use for everyday public health activities.

Check out my list of top 5 accomplishments in the years after the 2001 attacks: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Public Health Matters Blog*

Judging Illness Severity And The Financial Implications Of Dialing 911

Nora misjudged the height of the stair outside the restaurant, stepped down too hard, jammed her knee and tore her meniscus.  Not that we knew this at the time.  All we knew then was that she was howling from the pain.

There we were on a dark, empty, wet street in lower Manhattan, not a cab in sight, with a wailing, immobile woman.  What to do?  Call 911? Find a cab to take her home and contact her primary care doctor for advice?  Take her home, put ice on her knee, feed her Advil and call her doctor in the morning?

Sometimes it is clear that the only response to a health crisis is to call 911 and head for the emergency department (ED).  But in this case – and in so many others we encounter with our kids, our parents, our co-workers and on the street – the course of action is less obvious, while the demand for some action is urgent.

The question “which action?” has become more complicated of late because:

  • In some communities, there are alternatives to an ambulance or a drive to the nearest ED, such as Urgent Care centers.
  • Disincentives exist for going the route of the ED: in many cash-strapped municipalities we are charged for the cost of ambulance ride; we risk not having our ED visit covered by insurance if we make the wrong decision or fail to notify our health plan in a timely manner.  Or we don’t have insurance and the ED care is expensive.
  • Some of us have a number of clinicians who could guide us about ED versus self care on any urgent health matter, plus our health plan may have a nurse advice line that could do the same.  Which among them to call?  How long will it take to get an answer in the middle of a busy workday or a late night?
  • Many of us have no primary care clinician to call. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

911 Disclaimers Are Absurd

I’m sure you’ve seen them on medical blogs:  Disclaimers that remind readers to call 911 in the event of emergency.

But is someone choking on a hot dog really going to dial up KevinMD or SeattleMamaDoc for help?  Does anyone really believe that 33 charts is the place to deal with your acute airway obstruction when you have a just a couple of minutes to live?

Here’s my theory:  I suspect that the first attorney who came up with the 911 disclaimer did so as some sort of perverse joke.  And rather than seek the input of their own lawyers, all those who followed simply copied the this original language believing it to be judicious and most conservative.  Now it’s the longest running gag in legal history. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

Online ER Booking: Is There A Real Emergency?

This is so wrong.

You can’t make this stuff up.

It seems an emergency department in Memphis, Tennessee is now taking online reservations for their services. Yes, you heard that right, you can now hop online and select the time you would like to be seen for your “emergency”. Just pay $15.00 and you can give your chief complaint, your medical history and your list of medications ahead of time, saving you time and trouble when you pop in with your pesky problem!

What if the problem is serious?

The computer won’t let you register and flashes a “Call 911″ sign at you.

But wait! There’s more!

If you are not seen within 15 minutes of your scheduled time, you money is cheerfully refunded!

I’m not kidding. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Emergiblog*

A Medical Alert Bracelet Inside Your iPhone

mzl.ahygqfzq.320x480-75.jpgOnCall Defender Medical Alert (available via iTunes) is an iPhone app that features 3G connection to a 24-hour security monitoring service. Via a subscription service, you can use your iPhone to send an emergency notification to the service after which local law enforcement or EMT services, depending on the type of alarm, will be dispatched.

The advantage over using 911 is that the monitoring service automatically receives GPS localization of your whereabouts and that you can cancel the emergency call within 15 seconds. The service costs $16.99 a month or $9.99 with a one-year subscription. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at iMedicalApps*

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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