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A Thank You A Day…

This is a guest post by Dr. John Schumann.

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I just read the book “365 Thank Yous” by John Kralik. I heard an interview with the author on NPR and it caught my attention.

Kralik had been down on his luck in 2007: Divorced twice, overweight, with a struggling law firm that he’d started, he was also failing in a new romantic relationship. He was worried about losing his seven-year-old daughter, too, in a custody dispute.

He made a momentous decision: Instead of feeling sorry for himself (easy to do given his predicaments), he decided to be grateful for what he had. To show it, he vowed to write a thank-you note every day for the next year. What do you think happened?

His life changed for the better. His relationship improved. His clients started paying their bills and his firm’s financial footing solidified. His health improved. He eventually achieved his lifelong dream of becoming a judge. To top it off, he turned his personal quest into a writing project. Within minutes of writing a book proposal, he received responses from agents who hoped to shepherd his project. Every writer’s dream.

I’ll grant you that it sounds hokey. But there are a couple of things the book demonstrated to me. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Baby Boomers 2011: A “New Frontier” With Few Guideposts

This is a guest post by Dr. John Schumann.

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In 2011, the first wave of baby boomers will turn 65 years old. Sixty-five still has currency because that’s the age at which non-disabled Americans are eligible to be covered under the Medicare program (now itself having reached middle age).

As our economy continues to recover (hopefully) from the Great Recession, the entrance of millions of Americans to the Medicare rolls over the next decade and a half will be a formidable planning challenge. Look at this chart to see how the baby boomers population has surged:

So is the promise of healthcare reform (the “PPACA“), which will enlarge Medicaid by an additional 16 million Americans — about half of the projected growth in coverage for those currently uninsured.

A couple of recent patient encounters got me thinking about these phenomena, and how we are very much in historically uncharted territory. Never have we had so many living so well for so long. We have an entire generation of people reaching “seniority” who will continue to want the most out of life, without many guideposts on how to achieve it. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Remembering Gene Goldwasser: Discoverer Of EPO, A Cure For Anemia In Dialysis Patients

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Gene Goldwasser died last week. He was 88, and he was my friend.

I wrote previously about a series of conversations I conducted with Gene and Rabbi A.J. Wolf a few years ago. I met Gene one spring day after calling to invite him to sit in on a class I was teaching to a small group of medical students about social issues in healthcare.

I’d read about him in a book called “The $800 Million Pill,” by Merrill Goozner. In the book, Goozner writes the story of Gene’s two-decade hunt to isolate the hormone erythropoietin (EPO).

Part of the story relates how Gene tried to interest traditional big pharma companies in his discovery, only to be brushed aside. Instead, Gene wound up sharing his discovery with what became Amgen. The company went on to make a windfall from recombinant production of the hormone and licensing it as a drug for patients with anemia and kidney failure. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Caregiver Burden

It was a straightforward phone message (names changed): “Hey Dr. S., this is Bobbie Jones, April Dixon’s granddaughter. I was calling to inform you that April passed away today at City Hospital. They said she was bleeding in her stomach or something. I’m not quite what sure what happened, but she got real sick. But she’s gone, so, thanks so much. You’ve been a real neat doctor, and it’s been good working with you through the years taking care of my grandmother. Take care. Bye.”

Bobbie Jones is a saint. Pure and simple. She took care of her 88-year-old grandmother with tender, loving care. I am certain if left to the vagaries of the “healthcare system” that her grandmother would have died at least three years ago, maybe earlier.

Ms. Jones will get no recognition. No income. No honors, save this blog post which she’ll never see. She will get a letter from me, expressing my condolences and appreciation for the love and care that she provided her grandma. She singlehandedly advocated for an octogenarian with advanced dementia and probable cancer (we were never able to get a definitive diagnosis of it) and gave her a quality of life that I would want were I in her grandma’s shoes. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Latest Interviews

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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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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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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