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Doctors And Thought Control

Here’s my column in the March issue of Emergency Medicine News.

Second Opinion: Be Smarter Than Your Brain

“Everyone is a drug seeker. Why does everyone want to be on disability? I’m so tired of lies. Great, another lousy shift. I wonder who will die tonight? I’m so sick of suffering. I’m so weary of misery and loss. I hope this never happens to my family. I’ll probably get sued. Being sued nearly drove me crazy. This job never gets easier, only harder. I have to find something else to do; I can’t go on this way. I think I’m going crazy. I don’t have any more compassion. People hate me now.”

These are only a few of the wonderful thoughts that float through the minds of emergency physicians these days. Sure, not every physician has them. But I know our specialty, I know our colleagues, I hear from doctors around the country and I see that fear, frustration and anxiety are common themes.

Older physicians fantasize about career changes, and younger ones are often blind-sided by the hard realities of practice outside of their training programs (where their work-hours and staffing do not necessarily reflect the world beyond).

We are crushed by regulations and overwhelmed by holding patients, often put in situations where we are set squarely between the devil and the deep blue sea. “Spend more time with your patients; see them faster. Don’t let the ‘psychiatric hold’ patient escape; why are you using so much staff on psychiatric patients? See chest pain immediately; why didn’t you see the board member’s ankle injury as fast as the chest pain?”

In all of this mess of emergency medicine, we often find ourselves frustrated and bitter. But is it only because of our situations? They are admittedly daunting. But is our unhappiness merely the result of the things imposed on us? Or could it be more complex than that? Lately, I have come to wonder if our thoughts are perhaps worse enemies than even lawsuits, regulations, or satisfaction scores. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

“Difficult” Patients

Physicians see nearly one in five patients as “difficult,” report researchers. Not surprisingly, these patients don’t fare as well as others after visiting their doctor.

Researchers took into account both patient and clinician factors associated with being considered “difficult,” as well as assessing the impact on patient health outcomes. They reported results in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Researchers assessed 750 adults prior to their visit to a primary care walk-in clinic for symptoms, expectations, and general health; for how they functioned physically, socially and emotionally; and whether they had mental disorders. Immediately after their visit, participants were asked about their satisfaction with the encounter, any unmet expectations, and their levels of trust in their doctor. Two weeks later, researchers checked symptoms again.

Also, clinicians were asked to rate how difficult the encounter was after each visit. Nearly 18 percent were “difficult.” They had more symptoms, worse functional status, used the clinic more frequently and were more likely to have an underlying psychiatric disorder than non-difficult patients. These patients were less satisfied, trusted their physicians less, and had a greater number of unmet expectations. Two weeks later, they were also more likely to experience worsening of their symptoms.

But the label works both ways, as physicians with a more open communication style and those with more experience reported fewer difficult encounters, researchers said.

On a lighter note, TV’s comedy “Seinfeld” dedicated an entire plotline from one of its many episodes to Elaine, her doctor, and the label of being a difficult patient. It’s worth watching here.

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

When I Really Felt Like A Doctor

PalMD over at The White Coat Underground recently asked: “When did you really feel like a doctor?” Interesting question that I could answer in a number of ways.

While I didn’t know it at the time, I felt like a doctor around 4am during my first night on call. I was an intern on the hematology ward at Texas Children’s Hospital. I was fresh out of medical school, I had chosen a residency known for its mind-boggling volume, and the kids were really sick. I had hit a point where I simply couldn’t keep up with what was in front of me. I stole away into the 6th-floor stairwell in the Children’s Abercrombie building, put my face into my hands, and began to cry.

My first call night was a metaphor for my career. I had no idea at the time that the idea of simply keeping up would be a theme that would follow me through my training and into my day-to-day work.

While I can’t remember the last time I cried at the hospital, I continue to struggle with input. I work to keep up with inbound information and professional social dialog. How I handle information or how I appear to handle it defines me as a physician. Harnessing this attention crash through technology will represent a major defining moment for the next generation of physicians.

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

What Is A Patient? A Doctor’s Perspective

What is a patient? What do they do? What’s their role in the doctor’s office?  Are they chassis on a conveyor belt? Are they puzzles for doctors to solve? Are they diseases? Are they demographics? Are they a repository for applied science?

Or are they consumers? Are they paying customers? Are they the ones in charge? Are they employing physicians for their own needs?

It depends. It depends on the situation. It depends on perspective.

Some physicians are very offended when the “consumer” and “customer”  labels are applied to patients. They see this as the industrialization of healthcare. We are no longer professionals, we are made into “providers” — sort of smart vending-machine made out of flesh.

Patients, on the other hand, get offended when doctors forget who pays the bill. They see the exam room as a right, not a privilege. They think they should be the most important person in the exam room, being treated with respect rather than having to bow at the altar of doctor knowledge.

Who’s right? It depends. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

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