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Latest Posts

Man Accidentally Shoots Nail Into His Neck, Narrowly Avoids Fatal Injury

According to Boston News, in early December 2011, a carpenter accidentally discharged a nail gun and embedded a 3.5 inch nail in the bottom of his neck. Based on the CT scan included here, it appears the nail entered the neck dead center given the clear appearance of the windpipe.

Based on the location, the anatomic sequence of nail piercing is as follows:

Skin –> Thyroid Gland –> Trachea –> Esophagus Back Wall –> Cervical Vertebral Body

The damage to skin, thyroid, and trachea is not a big deal… In fact, one can consider this a mini-tracheostomy. Minimal bleeding would be expected.

However, the hole between the trachea and esophagus is another matter which may heal well… or not. The esophagus Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Fauquier ENT Blog*

Hand-Held Device To Aid In The Detection Of Intracranial Hematomas: Ready For Prime Time?

I read this headline and said, “Wow!, finally I won’t need to CT all those patients’ heads!”

FDA permits marketing of the first hand-held device to aid in the detection of bleeding in the skull

Helps to determine if immediate CT scan is needed

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today allowed marketing of the first hand-held device intended to aid in the detection of life-threatening bleeding in the skull called intracranial hematomas, using near-infrared spectroscopy.

via Press Announcements > FDA permits marketing of the first hand-held device to aid in the detection of bleeding in the skull.

But then, wait, said I, is it any good? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at GruntDoc*

Research Compares CT Scans And Chest X-Rays For Lung Cancer Screening

Lyall A. Gorenstein, MD, FRCS (C), FACS

Lyall A. Gorenstein, MD, FRCS (C), FACS

A recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that CT screening reduced deaths from lung cancer by 20%. While it may seem intuitive that screening would help to detect lung cancers and reduce deaths, until now, that had not been definitively proven.

“This is a landmark study,” said Lyall A. Gorenstein, MD, Director of Minimally Invasive Thoracic Surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, who lauded the study’s design and its clear implications for treating patients at risk for lung cancer. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, but the merits of screening — whether or not it actually improves patient outcomes – has been a topic of debate for the last 30 years. Dr. Gorenstein believes that Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Columbia University Department of Surgery Blog*

When Instinct Trumps Expertise

A hard thing about being an ER doctor is that I know a little, sometimes very little, about a lot of things. When I am faced with a particular condition, I often need to call the specialist for that organ, who knows way way more about it than I ever will, and they all think I’m an idiot because I don’t know as much about their organ as they do. There’s a huge asymmetry of knowledge, and it can create some tension and conflict.

I’m OK with it, because I can ignore their condescension and I am secure with what I do know, and its limits. But sometimes I get perplexing instructions from the specialists. The emergency medicine dogma can be overbroad and a little hidebound and what the specialists will do in the real world often radically diverges from what the Emergency Medicine textbooks say to do. It’s often an interesting learning opportunity for me, especially when it’s a condition I don’t encounter that much.  But I also have to work to maintain a flexible and open-minded attitude when I call a consultant and my side of the conversation consists of “Really? I didn’t know you did that for this…” You need to know and trust your colleagues in other specialties, and know when to call BS on them and push to do something else, which is really hard to do when you are talking to someone who is so much more of an expert than you are.

So I saw this guy recently, an urban hipster who was perhaps a bit too old to be riding his longboard on the hilly streets of our fair town. He didn’t seem to be too good at it, judging by the collection of crusted abrasions and aging ecchymoses he was sporting. He had been falling a lot recently — we only get about a month of sun here, so I guess he was making the most of the summer weather practicing his new hobby.  He had a variety of complaints from Read more »

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

Reducing The Use Of CT Scans In Children

Well, this is satisfying. Over the years, in our ER we have mirrored the nationwide trend and have significantly increased the utilization of CT scans across the board. The reasons are manifold. Some cite malpractice risks, and indeed in our large group we have had one lawsuit for a pediatric head injury and another for a missed appendicitis which probably did contribute. But, in my opinion, there have been many other drivers of the increased use. For one, CTs have gotten way, way better over the last 15 years, which quite simply has made them a better diagnostic tool. They’ve also gotten way faster. As the facilities have invested in CT scanners, they have increased their capacity and increased their staffing, so the barriers to their use have rapidly diminished. I am so old that I remember when ordering a CT involved calling a radiologist and getting their approval! No more of that, I can tell you.

But a couple of years ago, we really started paying attention (perhaps belatedly) to Read more »

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

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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