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Would You Be Able To Recognize Chest Pain As Heart Disease?

Most people are pretty good judges of what’s going on with their own bodies. But telling a heart attack from other causes of chest pain is tough stuff—even, it turns out, for highly trained doctors. That’s why I thought this personal story, written by a Harvard doctor who has heart disease, would make an interesting read. It’s an excerpt—the full version can be found in Heart Disease: A guide to preventing and treating coronary artery disease, an updated Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

Early one spring, I noticed a burning sensation high in my abdomen whenever I walked up a hill or worked out on the treadmill. I felt perfectly healthy otherwise. I had lots of energy and could do high-level exercise on the treadmill—once the burning sensation went away—without becoming short of breath. I thought it was just heartburn, so I started taking powerful acid-suppressing pills. They didn’t help.

Sometimes when I would feel the burning in my chest, I would remember an old saying to the effect that “A doctor who takes care of himself has a fool for a patient.” Still, I hesitated; I didn’t want to waste the time of a cardiologist if all I had was heartburn.

But one morning as I walked across the street from the garage to my office in the hospital, Read more »

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

An Interview With A Cardiac Cath Lab Nurse

Ready to learn more about nurses who work beyond the bedside?  Nurses who work in the Cardiac Catheterization Lab (CCL) play an important role in cardiac care.  Amy Sellers, RN BSN CCRN CSC CMC blogs at Nursing Influence and graciously agreed to give us a peek at what a nurse is responsible for doing in the CCL.

Amy has worked in the Cath Lab for about 6 months now.  She previously worked in CVICU for almost 5 years before deciding that she needed a new challenge.  She is paid hourly and works three 12 hour shifts per week (all daytime Mon-Fri) with lots of opportunities for overtime and call shifts.

A cath lab is an area of the hospital that uses fluoroscopy and contrast dye to check for narrowing/blockages in arteries or veins in the body. Using special equipment, they are able to perform angioplasty (open the arteries with a balloon), place stents, insert IVC filters (a filter that is inserted into a large vein which prevents blood clots that form in the leg from getting to the lungs) as well as inserting pacemakers/ICDs.  ICDs are Implantable Cardiac Defibrillators.  They detect if a patient’s heart goes into a lethal rhythm and provides a shock to the heart if necessary to get it beating correctly again.

What do you do all day? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at code blog - tales of a nurse*

The Friday Funny: Excessive Advertising

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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.

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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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