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EMR And The Pathologist: A Winning Combo

A pathologist uses the EMR to find out just a little more about the patient whose cerebro-spinal fluid she has under her microscope — and changes her diagnosis:

This patient had a diagnosis of plasma cell myeloma with recent acute mental status changes. So the lone plasma cell or two I was seeing, among the lymphs and monos, could indicate leptomeningeal spread of the patient’s disease process. I reversed the tech diagnosis to atypical and added a lengthy comment – unfortunately there weren’t enough cells to attempt flow cytometry to assess for clonality of the plasma cells to cinch the diagnosis. But with the information in the EMR I was able to get a more holistic picture on a couple of cells and provide better care for the patient. I cringe to wonder if I might have blown them off as lymphs without my crutch.

The much-hoped-for improvement in quality due to the adoption of EMRs has been elusive to date, so anecdotal experiences like this will be important evidence to consider in judging the impact of the EMR on healthcare outcomes.

Kudos to pathologist Gizabeth Shyner, who writes over at Mothers in Medicine and her own blog, Methodical Madness,  for “thinking outside the box.”

*This blog post was originally published at The Blog That Ate Manhattan*

False Positives In Medical Tests: How They Can Kill Patients

I’ve written in the past that more medicine and tests do not necessarily reflect better care.

There is no test that is 100 percent specific or sensitive. That means tests may be positive, when, in fact, there is no disease (“false positive”), or tests may be negative in the presence of disease (“false negative”).

It’s the latter that often gets the most media attention, often trumpeted as missed diagnoses. But false positives can be just as dangerous. Consider this frightening case report from the Archives of Internal Medicine:

A 52-year-old woman presented to a community hospital with atypical chest pain. Her low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein levels were not elevated. She underwent cardiac computed tomography angiography, which showed both calcified and noncalcified coronary plaques in several locations. Her physicians subsequently performed coronary angiography, which was complicated by dissection of the left main coronary artery, requiring emergency coronary artery bypass graft surgery. Her subsequent clinical course was complicated, but eventually she required orthotropic heart transplantation for refractory heart failure. This case illustrates the hazards of the inappropriate use of cardiac computed tomography angiography in low-risk patients and emphasizes the need for restraint in applying this new technology to the evaluation of patients with atypical chest pain. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

Psychiatric Diagnosis And “Early Closure”

Meg sent me a link to Happiness in The World (what an upbeat name for a medical blog!) and The Danger of Early Closure. She wanted to know how it pertains to psychiatry. The author writes:

Sometimes doctors gather all the clues correctly, think all the right things based on those clues, and still get it wrong. But in this case, another significant thought error contributed to the misdiagnosis: My tendency to come to early closure.

Early closure, it turns out, is a danger that lies in wait mostly for seasoned clinicians (far more commonly, at least, than for medical students and residents). Because seasoned clinicians rely more on pattern recognition to make diagnoses and often come to their conclusions rapidly, they’re at far greater risk for leaping toward those conclusions without examining all other should present (luckily for us all, this is the exception and not the rule).

At other times, however, these mistakes are made because the physician was simply in a hurry, or tired, or didn’t care enough to think through the evidence in ways he should have, saw a pattern he thought he recognized, and stopped asking the most important question a physician can ever ask: What else could this be? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Plenty Of Speculation

Humans love to find patterns in the world. Sometimes patterns exist, sometimes they are imaginary. Sometimes you can see a pattern that may be interesting and ignore its significance. As a resident I used to say that anyone who smokes three packs of cigarettes a day has to be schizophrenic. It was meant more as a joke when, in fact, it was later discovered that tobacco helps ameliorate the symptoms of schizophrenia. I need to pay more attention.

Part of my job is to look for patterns as a key to the patients diagnosis. Diseases and pathogens tend to (more or less) cause reproducible signs and symptoms and looking for that pattern is often the most helpful clue towards finding the diagnosis. Of course things are never as easy as one would like, as you have to consider whether you are seeing common manifestations of a common disease, uncommon manifestations of a common disease, common manifestations of a uncommon disease and, the hardest, uncommon manifestations of an uncommon disease. When I have a complex or uncertain cause, I explicitly run through that, and other, litanies so I do not miss a unusual diagnosis.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has, at least to my way of thinking, two patterns. I see the occasional CFS patient in clinic and, I hope, pay attention to their disease patterns. I keep in mind I may be seeing a pattern that does not exist, but looking for disease patterns is what doctors are trained to do. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

My Brother, The Red Sox, And A Wrong Diagnosis Gone Right

How often do people get the wrong diagnosis? Too often.

There are things you can do help protect yourself. Things like, asking questions, being sure everything makes sense to you, not doing anything you’re not sure about.

At Best Doctors, helping people do this is what we do every day, and so I want to tell you a story. It’s about my brother. I want to tell it to you it because it will help you understand the important work we do here, and because of something very special that happened for him this weekend. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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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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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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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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