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Were The Wisconsin Doctors Practicing Civil Disobedience?

A minor firestorm has erupted regarding those doctors in Wisconsin this week who were handing out fake “sick excuses” to demonstrating teachers, Fox news producers, Andrew Breitbart, and, apparently, anyone else who had some use for one.

Indeed, there has been more outrage about this episode than DrRich would have thought. Conservative commentators, of course, were predictably apoplectic about the sight of these callow youths, preening in their white coats, abusing and debasing the sacred trust which has been granted to them by virtue of their profession. There’s nothing surprising about that. But even most of the more mainstream commentators expressed at least a slight bit of discomfort about the actions these doctors were taking, even if they were doing it for a very good and noble cause.

Only a very few seemed to endorse their actions completely, explaining that these doctors are engaging in classic civil disobedience, and that, by standing on street corners in their white coats repeatedly committing felonies with the cameras whirring, their behavior is every bit as deserving of our approbation as the actions we admire so much of Thoreau or Gandhi. DrRich is open to this explanation.

Civil disobedience, of course, is to a) openly and non-violently disobey a certain law that you consider unjust, b) to admit to the operative authority, upon apprehension, that you intentionally broke the law specifically because you consider it unjust, and finally c) to passively accept whatever punishment the authority hands out to you. These doctors have executed step “a” flawlessly, and DrRich waits with interest to see whether they will successfully complete steps “b” and “c.” Read more »

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

Clinical Guidelines: Who Writes Them Anyway?

While DrRich is a conservative American, and has made plain the difficulties he has with the Progressive program in general and with Progressive healthcare reform in particular, at times he is forced to admit that, on occasion, the Progressive way of looking at the world has certain merits. And as DrRich contemplates a question that has been bothering him lately, a question that no doubt plagues many American physicians who (unlike DrRich) are still toiling away in the trenches, he finds that this is one such occasion.

That question is: Just who are the people writing all those clinical guidelines — the  “guidelines” physicians are now expected to follow in every particular in every case, on pain of massive fines, loss of career, and/or incarceration?

DrRich is quick to say that the act of creating clinical guidelines is not inherently evil, and indeed, back in the day when guidelines were merely guidelines (instead of edicts or directives that must be obeyed to the last letter), creating clinical guidelines was a rather noble thing to do.

But today, we have physicians clamoring to become GOD (Government Operatives Deliberating) panelists. These aristocrats of medicine will render the rules by which their more inferior fellow physicians, the ones who have actual contact with patients, will live or die. Clearly positions of such authority will be very desirable, and so, as one might predict, they are being vigorously pursued. And we are seeing candidates audition for these panels with efforts ranging from amateurish to ruthless. It puts one in mind of the early-season contestants on “American Idol.” Read more »

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

Doctors, Patients, And “Remote Third Parties”

From the ominously-titled book “New Rules” by Donald Berwick, M.D., and Troyen Brennan M.D.:

“Today, this isolated relationship [between doctor and patient] is no longer tenable or possible. . . Traditional medical ethics, based on the doctor-patient dyad, must be reformulated to fit the new mold of the delivery of health care. . . The primary function of regulation in health care…is to constrain decentralized individualized decision making.”

Unfortunately, Dr. Berwick’s straightforward formulation of the appropriate role of the individual physician in our reformed healthcare system is not isolated to thinkers of the Progressive persuasion. The notion that most clinical decisions can be usefully made by a centralized authority is attractive even to some conservatives.

For example, a few years ago the noted economist Arnold Kling strongly defended the idea. “My own view is that a remote third party probably can use statistical evidence to make good recommendations for a course of treatment.”

Now, Kling is no far-left radical, pushing for centralized control of healthcare (and everything else). Indeed, he is now with the Cato Institute, and before that he taught economics at George Mason University. So he has earned his conservative and/or libertarian chops.

And to be fair, he is not really calling here for “remote third parties” to have final authority on what’s best for individual patients. Rather, he thinks patients should make that decision for themselves, weighing the recommendations of data-driven guidelines promulgated by remote experts, against the ego-toss’d recommendations from their all-too-fallible doctors, or, as Kling sarcastically refers to them, their “heroic personal saviors.” (Such sarcasm, regular readers will know, is as abhorrent to DrRich as it probably is to you.) Kling is saying: Trust patients, armed with good evidence-based recommendations handed down from experts, to make the right decisions for themselves. Read more »

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

Dr. Joe Smith: Forging Forward With Wireless Healthcare

DrRich is delighted to note that a very good and longtime friend and former colleague has been named as one of the HealthLeaders 20 for 2010 — that is, as one of 20 people, chosen by HealthLeaders Media, who are changing healthcare for the better.

DrRich has known this man for nearly two decades, and from the very beginning he has insisted his real name is Joe Smith. So let’s go with that.

Joe’s recognition by HealthLeaders is very well deserved. Joe is chief medical and science officer of the West Wireless Health Institute in San Diego, a non-profit institution whose mission is to bring wireless technologies to the patient, technologies to diagnose, monitor and treat health conditions in the patient’s own home. Joe is uniquely qualified for this role, having earned a PhD in medical engineering and medical physics, an MD from Harvard (a place DrRich has never even been allowed to see), and having spent years practicing medicine as a (particularly well-known) cardiac electrophysiologist. (Electrophysiology, as regular readers will know, is widely recognized as the geekiest of medical specialties.)

For what it’s worth, DrRich considers Joe to be one of the most honest, most ethical physicians he has ever known, one who will always place the welfare of patients ahead of his own treasure and his own career. DrRich has seen him do it. Read more »

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

Why We Should Be Thankful For The Uninsured

In what has become a tradition over the past few years, DrRich proudly reprises his annual Thanksgiving message to his beloved readers:

Gathered around the Thanksgiving table, DrRich’s large extended family, carrying out a longstanding tradition, each offered in their turn one reason for being thankful on this most reflective of American holidays. DrRich listened respectfully as each of his loved ones, and each of the ones he was obligated to tolerate benignly because they had married (or in some other manner had committed to) one of his loved ones, recounted a cause for thanks.

There is no need for DrRich to recite their utterances here, because they were all perfectly predictable and fairly mundane, having mostly to do with items such as maintaining good health, finding a job, being able to afford one’s mortgage payments, getting a passing grade in French, receiving a new puppy, Mr. Obama’s remarkable presidency, the apparent continued structural integrity of the Universe despite Mr. Obama’s presidency, etc., etc.

When it was at last DrRich’s turn, he, in retrospect perhaps somewhat inadvisedly, was unable to refrain from displaying his keen insight and superior analytical abilities on matters related to healthcare (a topic, anyone would have to admit, about which most of us would very much like to feel thankful). Lifting his glass, DrRich pronounced that he was most deeply and humbly thankful for the 47 million Americans without health insurance.

And further, especially thankful that their ranks must surely be growing, given the recession, advancing unemployment, imminent collapses of businesses and indeed entire industries, etc. And even though Obamacare promises to significantly reduce that number, DrRich went on to express his fervent wish that large numbers of the uninsured might still be with us a year and two years and even ten years hence, for the great and good benefit of us all. Read more »

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

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