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Latest Posts

Should Insurers Contribute To Graduate Medical Education Funding?

Graduate Medical Education has for the most part escaped big budget cuts in the past, mainly because powerful lawmakers have aligned to protect funding for teaching hospitals in their own states and districts. Plus, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the American College of Physicians, hospital organizations, and many others long have made funding for GME a top legislative priority.

GME, though, could be on the chopping block as Congress’s new “Super Committee” comes up with recommendations to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over the next decade. A report from the Congressional Budget Office of options to reduce the deficit to suggests that $69.4 billion could be saved over the next decade by consolidating and reducing GME payments. Earlier this year, the bipartisan Fiscal Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform also proposed trimming GME payments.

How then should those who believe that GME is a public good respond? One way is to circle the wagons and just fight like heck to stop the cuts. But that raises a basic question: is GME so sacrosanct that there shouldn’t be any discussion of its value and whether the current financing structure is effective and sustainable?

Another approach, the one taken by the ACP in a position paper released last week, is to Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The ACP Advocate Blog by Bob Doherty*

The Pros And Cons Of IPAB And Why It Shouldn’t Be Repealed

ipab21 IPAB: Fix It, Dont Repeal It

In recent weeks, several Democrats and some health reform advocates including the AMA have joined Republicans in calling for a repeal of provisions in the new health law that create the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). For these people, IPAB represents the worst aspects of the new law–an unelected, centralized planning authority empowered by government to make decisions about the peoples’ health care. Arbitrary cuts to providers, short-sighted decisions that stifle innovation and rationing of care are sure to follow, they claim.

While it’s true that the rules governing IPAB are flawed and should be fixed, eliminating IPAB altogether would be a mistake. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Pizaazz*

Why Doctors Should Participate In The Debt Ceiling Debate

Joe Scarborough reminds us that the divisions in American government are hardly new, paraphrasing Benjamin Franklin’s observation that “When you assemble a number of men, to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble . . . all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected?” (This comes from a September 17, 1787 speech by Mr. Franklin to urge ratification of the U.S. Constitution, read on his behalf because he was too ill to deliver it in person. The Constitution was ratified the same day.)

I suppose we should be encouraged that Congress’s prejudices, passions, errors of opinion, local interests and selfish views are as American as apple pie, and the Republic has somehow survived nonetheless. Still, I find it deeply troubling that today’s politicians can’t find their way to agree on the debt ceiling.

No one should expect a “perfect production” to come out of this Congress and this administration, given how far apart they are on the need for tax increases and entitlement reforms. But they need to agree to something, and they need to do it soon.

I will leave it to others, who know a lot more about global economics than me, to explain what likely will happen to the economy if the debt ceiling isn’t increased by August 2. Let’s talk about the impact on health care, something I know quite a bit about—and why physicians especially should be concerned: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The ACP Advocate Blog by Bob Doherty*

Progressive Counter Point: The IPAB Could Be A Good Thing

I shouldn’t do this. It’s madness to try to delve into the minds of conspiracy theorists and try to make sense of their ravings. But I can’t help myself; I’m drawn like a moth to the flame. It never ends well. I only wind up with a horde of trolls in the comments telling me that I’m a glib supercilious idiot and should stick to medicine or go die in a fire or something.

Sometimes it’s too hard to stay away. Maybe it was the personal affront I felt in the false imputation of ill motives onto progressives. Maybe it was the gross errors in fact, sitting there ripe for the plucking. I don’t know, but I just can’t resist a rebuttal to Dr Rich at Covert Rationing, who weaves a technocratic cost control body into a paranoid web of fantasy, concluding that:

Progressives are dedicated to “progressing” to a perfect society, and they know just how to achieve it. … Specifically, the Progressive program requires individuals to subsume their own individual interests to the overriding interests of the collective – and human nature just doesn’t function that way. Thus, the Progressive program inevitably relies on a cadre of elites – those who have dedicated themselves to furthering the Progressive program – to set things up the right way for the rest of us, while manipulating we in the teeming masses to let them. And the rest of us, once the correct programs and systems are in place, will at last understand that it was all for our own good.

I suppose this paragraph tells you everything you need to know … about Dr Rich. Any supposition that he was approaching the view of policy with a fair mind or that he is willing to attribute anything but the worst motivations to those on the other side of the aisle is completely shredded by this paragraph. As rhetoric goes, it’s up there with “Conservatives want old people to die in pain.” So we can scratch Dr Rich off the list of people who are willing to discuss health care policy with a neutral mindset. He’s engaged in a holy war of ideology. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*

Conservative Viewpoint: The IPAB Is The Frightening Lynchpin Of Obamacare

In the speech President Obama gave responding to Congressman Ryan’s budget plan (the one in which he lured Ryan to sit in the front row in order to be publicly pilloried), the President did something DrRich did not think he would do before the next election. He openly invoked, and openly embraced, the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) as the chief mechanism by which Obamacare will control the cost of American healthcare.

“IPAB” might be a new term to many Americans, but DrRich pointed his readers to this entity, within a few weeks of the passage of Obamacare, as the lynchpin (and a very scary lynchpin at that) of the whole enterprise.

Until President Obama’s recent “outing” of IPAB, however, this new board has been almost entirely ignored by most commentators. Since the President’s speech, of course, many have written about it, either to celebrate it or to castigate it. (Of all these commentaries, DrRich most highly recommends the analysis provided by Doug Perednia at the Road to Hellth. In fact, DrRich recommends Perednia in general, as he is regularly producing some of the most insightful commentary, anywhere, on health policy.)

DrRich does not wish to simply repeat here all the observations that have lately been made by others regarding the IPAB. Rather, he will emphasize three particular features of the IPAB, features which are remarkable indeed, and which will tell us something very important about our Progressive leaders. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing 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.

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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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