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Choosing The Best Health Care For You: What Information Helps You Decide?

Our ailing economy has boosted the number of people who are unemployed, without health insurance or with minimal coverage. The popularity of high deductible health plans is soaring as employers and individuals look for affordable insurance.  Twenty-nine percent of bankruptcies are said to be caused by medical bills. Many of us now choose health care services and providers carefully, trying to stay within tight budgets.

The American people, long protected from the price of health care by insurance, are now forced to act as consumers.  This situation is a free marketer’s dream.  According to this model, we will rationally calculate the price/quality trade-offs of each doctor visit, procedure, test and drug.  We will stop overusing services. We will demand better care. And the result will be reduced health care costs for the nation while the quality of care and the health of individuals will remain the same, if not improve.

There’s nothing like a good theory.

But the theory can only be tested if a) It’s easy to find publicly reported, relevant quality information about the services we need, matched with what we would pay out of pocket; and b) We use that information as the basis of our health care decisions. Neither of these conditions can be met today.

A new Cochrane review Read more »

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

Convincing The Public Of The Importance Of Evidence-Based Medicine

On October 4th, 2011, I delivered the Alex Drapos Memorial Lecture at Clark University as part of their ongoing President’s Lecture Series.  Here’s what Jim Keogh, Director of News and Editorial Services, reported about my talk:

Gruman said American health care treads a fine line between trying to serve the good of the many and the interests of the individual. But no one has yet figured out a cost-effective, yet humane, way to do both. She asserted that the skyrocketing expense of health care — expected to rise to $4.64 trillion by 2020 — isn’t reflected in the quality of treatment people receive.

“Should we be able to choose whatever medicine we want, even if there’s no evidence it’s effective?” ~ Jessie Gruman

“There is much ineffective, extra, inappropriate care being delivered,” Gruman said. As an example she cited Read more »

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

Is The Prescription Of Real Exercise Underused?

I recently wrote about the incredible sensations that come with vigorous exercise. Perhaps it was the post ride cannabinoid flurry, but it’s possible that I went too far in suggesting that ‘we’ (doctors, patients, the whole of Western Society) default first to pills before healthy living.

Two commentors called me out on this snark. They wrote about valid points.

One comment focused on the fact that her AF medicines were causing side effects that made vigorous exercise difficult. The second objected to my inference that exercise alone could substitute for the many benefits of modern medicine.

To the idea that medicine Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

Multaq Simply Does Not Work To Control AF, So Why Is It Still So Over-Hyped?

Did you know September is AFib awareness month?

As a believer in education as the first, and best treatment of AF, I think it’s great to enhance the public knowledge of this highly-misunderstood disease.

By all means…

Tell people about AF’s risks: stroke and heart failure.

Tell them that their fatigue, poor exercise tolerance and breathlessness might not be old age; it might be AF.

Tell them about the importance of early intervention.

Tell them that obesity, inactivity, sleep disturbances, alcohol, and incessantly worrying about everything makes AF more likely to occur, and to stay.

Tell them that Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

Cardiovascular Problems? Stay Out Of The Heat

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The brutal heat wave gripping much of the country this week is unpleasant for healthy folks. For people with cardiovascular trouble, hazy, hot, humid days can be downright dangerous.

Your body shouldn’t get too hot (or too cold). If your temperature rises too far, the proteins that build your body and run virtually all of its chemical processes can stop working. The human body sheds extra heat in two ways, both of which stress the heart:

Radiation. Like water flowing downhill, heat naturally moves from warm areas to cooler ones. As long as the air around you is cooler than your body, you radiate heat to the air. But this transfer stops when the air temperature approaches body temperature.

Radiation requires rerouting blood flow so more of it goes to the skin. This makes the heart beat faster and pump harder. On a hot day, it may circulate two to four times as much blood each minute as it does on a cool day.

Evaporation. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Latest Interviews

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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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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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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