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Latest Posts

A Surprising Discovery And The Value Of The Physical Exam

I’ve remarked in the past how rarely I ever learn anything useful from physical exam. It’s one of those irritating things about medicine — we spent all that time in school learning arcane details of the exam, esoteric maneuvers like pulsus paradoxus, comparing pulses, Rovsing’s sign and the like. But in the modern era, it seems like about half the diagnoses are made by history and the other half are made by ancillary testing. Some people interpreted my comments to mean I don’t do an exam, or endorse a half-assed exam, which I do not. I always do an exam, as indicated by the presenting condition. I just don’t often learn much from it. But I always do it.

The other day, for example, I saw this elderly lady who was sent in for altered mental status. There wasn’t much (or indeed, any) history available. She was from some sort of nursing home, and they sent in essentially no information beyond a med list. The patient was non-verbal, but it wasn’t clear if she was chronically demented and non-verbal or whether this was a drastic change in baseline. So I went in to see her. I stopped at the doorway. “Uh-oh. She don’t look so good,” I commented to a nurse. As an aside, this “she don’t look so good” is maybe 90% of my job — the reflexive assessment of sick/not sick, which I suppose is itself a component of physical exam. But I digress. Her vitals were OK, other than some tachycardia*. Her color, flaccidity and apathy, however, really all screamed “sick” to me. Of course, the exam was otherwise nonfocal. Groans to pain, withdraws but does not localize or follow instructions. Seems symmetric on motor exam, from what I can elicit. Belly soft, lungs clear. Looks dry. No rash. Read more »

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

Medicare’s Deficit Effect On The Economy

Medicare poses a deficit problem, note some very influential analysts. A former Congressional Budget Office head and a former Medicare chief chime in on the scope of the program’s impact on the economy, and the difficulties of trying to scale it back.

Yet, a presidential commission is considering just that among other measures. The 18-member, bipartisan commission released its report weeks ago and was scheduled to have voted today on a shocking scope of deficit-trimming measures that included changes to military spending, Social Security and Medicare, among other areas. But they deferred the vote until Friday to try to garner more votes from members who are also currently elected officials. The panel needs 14 votes and substantive approval from its roster of Congress members to gain serious attention.

In related news for Medicare recipients, the Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that seniors will need hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings to cover health insurance and other out-of-pocket health needs. (NPR, The New York Times, ACP Internist, The Washington Post, Reuters)

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Should “Old Age” Be A Cause Of Death?

The Washington Post asks whether “old age” should be reconsidered as a legitimate cause of death for the elderly. Because more people are dying at very advanced ages with multiple system failure, it’s often harder for physicians to pinpoint the specific underlying cause, but using “old age” as a catch-all term could make mortality data less meaningful, the article said.

An upcoming revision of the International Classification of Diseases might provide some guidance: “Each revision of the ICD is the right moment to reconsider this question,” the co-head of the ICD’s mortality statistics committee told the Post. (Washington Post)

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Feeding Tubes In The Elderly Demented?

An article in [last] week’s New York Times entitled Feeding Demented Patients with Dignity suggests that hand feeding dementia patients may be a better option than tube feeding them.

My God, are we really putting feeding tubes in the elderly demented? When did this happen?

During college, I worked as a nurses aide in a nursing home outside Philadelphia. For 20 hours a week (40 hours in the summer) for two years, I cared for patients in all stages of dementia, from the walking confused through to the end stage, stiffened victims confined to wheelchairs or beds. But in all that time, I never, ever saw anyone with a feeding tube. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Blog that Ate Manhattan*

New Medical Drama “21″ And The Evil SGR Conspiracy To Cut Medicare

Name: “21″ (% to be cut from Medicare)

Protagonist: Dr. Rob and a cast of thousands of physicians (Kiefer Sutherland wouldn’t work for such small payment.)

Villain: Evil SGR (Sustainable Growth Rate) conspiracy to cut Medicare by 21% across the board.

Victim: The elderly population depending on Medicare for payment of their medical care.

Plot:  A follow-up to the popular drama “Lost” where members of congress were stranded in Washington D.C. with the task of reforming healthcare without any contact or communication from doctors and patients. This new drama “21″ tells the tragic tale of an industry under siege and a population facing possible disaster.

Already stretched to the limit by the paltry reimbursement from Medicare for primary care office visits, Dr. Rob and his band of physicians is hit by the evil conspiracy of SGR, a secret society whose goal is to harm the elderly people in the country by driving away all people willing to give them care. The congress, tired out from haggling over the healthcare reform bill, allows evil SGR to exert its power in the name of “fiscal responsibility.” Read more »

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

Latest Interviews

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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How Do Hospital Executives Feel About Locum Tenens Agencies And Traveling Physicians?

I recently wrote about my experiences as a traveling physician and how to navigate locum tenens work. Today I want to talk about the client in this case hospital side of the equation. I ve had the chance to speak with several executives some were physicians themselves about the overall…

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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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