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Obamacare: What Are The Real Costs?

By Stanley Feld MD, FACP, MACE

The traditional media is not discussing the economic consequences of President Obama’s healthcare reform program.

In these final days, traditional media is describing the horse race to the finish line for a deemed vote (“Slaughter rule”) vs. a partisan up and down vote on the Senate bill. The horse race is a distraction to avoid discussing the unintended consequences of the bill.

Congressman Paul Ryan is the Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee and senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee. His focus has been to bring fiscal discipline to federal spending. The House Ways and Means committee’s jurisdiction is tax policy, social security and healthcare. He has been addressing America’s long-term fiscal crisis and the dangers of explosive entitlement spending. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Repairing the Healthcare System*

Emergiblog In DC: The Panel, the Politics and the Ce-Ment Pond

RyanPodiumThis is Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, speaking at the Better Health “Putting Patients First” event  in D.C.

I should talk about how passionately he spoke about health care reform (he did), about why he does not believe government should be running health care (he doesn’t) or that he took the time to come and speak at 8 am even though he had been up until 2 am working on the health care bill (he did) or that he spoke right up until he – literally- had to run back to the House to vote (he did).

And I will talk about these things.

But first, let me state the obvious and get it out of the way so that I can go on to discuss the serious nature of the health care reform debate before us.

Whoa.

Seriously, is it just me or are politicians getting better looking?

There. Now I can move on to the meat of the matter.

(I had to say it because you all know I was thinking it!)

*****

This event marked my first time in Washington, and just being there is awe-inspiring. Seeing the White House from the car window took my breath away, literally. I felt like Ellie May Clampett marveling at the ce-ment pond.  The National Press Club is a museum in and of itself.  Mother Jones and I were hoping we’d catch a glimpse of Sanjay Gupta, but he must have been off doing neurosurgery or something.

*****

By now, you’ve probably read who was on the panel (Dr. Wes, DrRich, Dr.Rob, Dr.Kevin, me, and Better Health contributors Dr. Alan Dappen, Valerie Tinley, NP and “token” – his words, LOL – surgeon Dr. James Herndon).

I will tell you straight up that I learned much more than I contributed.

The panel shot from the hip and spoke from the heart. Some of us had notes, some of us illustrated our comments with anecdotes and one of us (*cough*) had no clue what was going to come out of her mouth until that moment.

I’ll give you a hint….it wasn’t Valerie…..

*****

For the record, those of us on the panel were not told what to say, how to say it or what to believe, nor were we chosen based on what we do believe.  Some discussed concepts that should be taken into account no matter what plan we end up with, others were definitely against a single payer plan run by the government (*raising hand*).

The inefficiencies of national health plans of other countries were illustrated/discussed.  This hit me later: we should look at what works in those plans, not just what is wrong with them.  We don’t have to emulate them, just learn from them, and that includes the good and the bad.  It also applies to any universal form of coverage, not just a government-run plan.

Wish I had said that at the time.

So much for thinking on my feet (or on my butt, as the case may be).

*****

There was some controversy about not having any patient bloggers on the panel.  There should have been. I hope that, as a nurse, I spoke for patients, but it was not the same as having someone there who navigates the system as a patient every single day.

patientbloggers

The patient bloggers were in the audience, though, and if you go to Twitter you can find the live tweeting at “#patientsfirst”. There was a pretty healthy debate going on in the Twitterverse while the panel was up on the dais.

Here I am with Lisa Emrich (Brass and Ivory) and Kerri Morrone Sparling (Six Until Me). Duncan Cross was also there, but my pic was blurry!

*****

While health care reform has been a hot topic for awhile, it was especially acute this week as the President was actively promoting a government run health care system and there seemed to be a huge sense of urgency to get what is called “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009″ passed ASAP.

The bill is over 1000 pages long.

I just downloaded it.

And Congress has not read it.

Folks, our representatives are being asked to pass legislation they have not had a chance to read.

While I will admit to being a bit unsure of exactly what happens in the Beltway (Civics classes and Schoolhouse Rock’s “I’m Just a Bill” notwithstanding), that can’t possibly be business as usual.

Can it?

*****

I’ll say one thing: no matter what we believe, why we believe it or what our role is in the health care system, it is a conversation rife with strong opinions and passionate debate.

And, in the end, because we are all patients in one form or another at some point in our lives, the conversation is about us.

So, when you hear the phrase “putting patients first”, think of it as “putting me first”.

That may help you get a foothold in the morass of information that is the health care debate.

It worked for me.

*This blog post was originally published at Emergiblog*

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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