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How Experienced Is The Radiologist Who Reads Your Mammogram?

There’s a new study out on mammography with important implications for breast cancer screening. The main result is that when radiologists review more mammograms per year, the rate of false positives declines.

The stated purpose of the research*, published in the journal Radiology, was to see how radiologists’ interpretive volume — essentially the number of mammograms read per year — affects their performance in breast cancer screening. The investigators collected data from six registries participating in the NCI’s Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium, involving 120 radiologists who interpreted 783,965 screening mammograms from 2002 to 2006. So it was a big study, at least in terms of the number of images and outcomes assessed.

First — and before reaching any conclusions — the variance among seasoned radiologists’ everyday experience reading mammograms is striking. From the paper:

…We studied 120 radiologists with a median age of 54 years (range, 37–74 years); most worked full time (75%), had 20 or more years of experience (53%), and had no fellowship training in breast imaging (92%). Time spent in breast imaging varied, with 26% of radiologists working less than 20% and 33% working 80%–100% of their time in breast imaging. Most (61%) interpreted 1000–2999 mammograms annually, with 9% interpreting 5000 or more mammograms.

So they’re looking at a diverse bunch of radiologists reading mammograms, as young as 37 and as old as 74, most with no extra training in the subspecialty. The fraction of work effort spent on breast imaging –presumably mammography, sonos and MRIs — ranged from a quarter of the group (26 percent) who spend less than a fifth of their time on it and a third (33 percent) who spend almost all of their time on breast imaging studies. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

Measuring The Patient Experience

There’s a growing recognition within the medical-industrial complex that the patient is a key element of the enterprise, and that patient satisfaction, patient experience, patient engagement, patient activation, and patient-centeredness are very important. Some research shows that patient activation yields better patient outcomes, and that patient activation can be measured.

Patient-centeredness and patient engagement are two of the key metrics to be used by the feds in describing Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), if the internecine battles within government are resolved soon enough to actually release draft ACO regulations in time to allow for sufficient advance planning for the January 2012 go-live date. (Wearing one of my many hats, I’ve had the opportunity to submit a response to CMS regarding the RFI on these metrics on behalf of the Society for Participatory Medicine.) These measures go into the “meaningful use” hopper as well, as meaningful use stage 2 metrics are being reviewed.  

In recent years, the federales have been measuring patient experience using the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) surveys, and — coming soon to a bank account near you — there will be Medicare dollars tied to the scores on these questionnaires, not just dollars tied to the act of reporting scores.

As this emphasis on patient experience is unfolding, the Leapfrog Group is adding its voice to the chorus. I spoke this week with CEO Leah Binder and hospital survey director Matt Austin about the new patient experience measures they are adding to their 2011 hospital survey. In keeping with past practice, they will be asking hospitals to report three CAHPS measures (rather than asking folks to collect and report new measures). The three were selected as being representative of a hospital’s broader performance with respect to patient experience, and also because hospital performance on these measures is all over the map. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at HealthBlawg :: David Harlow's Health Care Law Blog*

Doctor Who Attempted To Have Whistleblowing Nurses Prosecuted Is Put On Probation

From an AP article in the Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

AUSTIN — Texas medical regulators on Friday placed on probation a West Texas doctor involved in the unsuccessful prosecution of two nurses who complained anonymously that the physician was unethical and risking patients’ health.

The Texas Medical Board technically suspended Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr. but allowed him to continue to practice medicine while on probation for four years if he completes additional training.

The board also said Arafiles must be monitored by another physician and submit patient medical and billing records for review. The monitor will report his or her findings to the board.

In the mediated order signed in Austin, the board concluded that Arafiles failed to treat emergency room patients properly, did not apply hormone therapy to a female patient appropriately and failed to document patient diagnoses and treatment plans.

The board also found that Arafiles improperly tried to intimidate two nurses who reported him to the medical board for unethical behavior.

Ugh.

*This blog post was originally published at GruntDoc*

When Money Isn’t Everything To Doctors

I recently pointed to a BMJ study concluding that pay for performance doesn’t seem to motivate doctors. It has been picking up steam in major media with TIME, for instance, saying: “Money isn’t everything, even to doctors.”

So much is riding on the concept of pay for performance, that it’s hard to fathom what other options there are should it fail. And there’s mounting evidence that it will.

Dr. Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician at the University of Indiana, and regular contributor to KevinMD.com, ponders the options. First he comments on why the performance incentives in the NHS failed:

Perhaps the doctors were already improving without the program. If that’s the case, though, then you don’t need economic incentives. It’s possible the incentives were too low. But I don’t think many will propose more than a 25 percent bonus. It’s also possible that the benchmarks which define success were too low and therefore didn’t improve outcomes. There’s no scientific reason to think that the recommendations weren’t appropriate, however. More likely, it’s what I’ve said before. Changing physician behavior is hard.

So if money can’t motivate doctors, what’s next? Physicians aren’t going to like what Dr. Carroll has to say. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at KevinMD.com*

A Two-Biscotti Physician

[Recently] I ate at one of my favorite Italian restaurants. I had eaten there many times before, but the experience this time was different. After ordering, I received a vacuous bread basket with precisely two pieces of bread. At the end of my meal I was offered two biscotti — and no more. Only the manager could offer an explanation: As a means of containing costs, the decision had been made to capitate bread and biscotti distribution.

I was disappointed. I had been eating here for years. When Colic Solved was released, my publication party was held here. After all those anniversaries, New Year’s celebrations, and birthdays, I’m shortchanged on cookies? It’s remarkable how a great experience can be shadowed by something so small.

Then I got to thinking: Perhaps I’m a two-biscotti physician. Like this restaurant, there are times when I don’t finish well. I may do a phenomenal job with assessment and diagnosis, only to delay a callback on biopsies or X-ray results. Perhaps I get it all right, but fail to get the detail right on the home health orders. Are there small pieces missing in my encounter that represent everything a parent remembers? I know that there are, and I know there are things I have to work on.

There’s a lot we can learn from a restaurant. I don’t want to be a two-biscotti physician.

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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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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