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*
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 KevinMD.com*
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*
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*
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*