Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

The Physician Exodus: When Doctors Leave Hospitals Behind

My partners and I have long struggled with the lack of specialty back-up at our hospital. Semi-rural hospitals, out of the way facilities, just can’t always attract specialists. So, we’re happy to have cardiologists every night, but understand that we only have an ENT every third night. We’re thankful to have neurologists, even if they don’t admit anyone. We’re glad to have radiologists, even if they don’t read plain films after 5PM on weekdays.

Still, I continue to scratch my head about why only three of seven community pediatricians take call, such that family physicians have to admit their patients. I was bumfuzzled that our neurologists were previously going to require us to use telemedicine for stroke evaluation when their offices were close by the hospital. (In the same year they were called in roughly three times per neurologist for urgent stroke evaluation.) That problem was resolved, thank goodness.

Now, I find that the problem has returned and grown. We will, very soon, have no ophthalmologist on call, despite the fact that we have three in the community and that they are contacted with remarkable rarity to deal with on-call emergencies. Soon, we will have no neurologist on the weekend. And the pediatric problem remains.

Of course, I’m using my local experience to highlight something that isn’t a local problem at all. It’s a national problem. All over America, specialists are relinquishing their hospital priveleges and staying in the office. Proceduralists are opening surgery centers that are free from the burdens of indigent care. Primary care physicians are allowing hospitalists to do all of their admissions.

In the process, not only are patients losing out, but referral centers are being absolutely overwhelmed. The cities and counties that lie around teaching hospitals are sending steady streams of patients, since they have fewer and fewer specialists. Those referral and teaching centers want patients, but they can’t take all of the non-paying patients, all of the complicated, or even all of the mundane patients with no local coverage. Those facilities, for all their shiny billboards and “center of excellence” marketing, will collapse. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at*

An Animated Look At The Future Of Healthcare

Mrs. Happy and I just returned from Disney World for our Happy family vacation. (It was either that or a Parkinson’s Cruise.) While at Disney’s Epcot Center, Mama and Papa Happy discovered what the future of healthcare in America will look like, and it has nothing to do with insurance.

You’ve all seen that giant Epcot ball. Inside that ball is a slow-moving ride that takes you through thousands of years of history. At the end you choose your own future. I present to you this video showing the future of healthcare in America, courtesy of the Epcot Spaceship Earth and Mama and Papa Happy:

A couple words of mention. They still think there will be doctors in the future, unless their reference to doctors was reference to future nurse practitioners known as Dr. Nurse. That’s quite possible. Maybe that’s why the future of healthcare has nothing to do with medical care or insurance and has everything to do with healthy lifestyle. You don’t need to be a nurse for that, you just have to accept the truth of healthy living. And you don’t need a medical school education or even nursing education requirements to make that happen.

*This blog post was originally published at The Happy Hospitalist*

Workers Compensation: A Model For The Future Of American Healthcare?

There’s a country with an unusual healthcare system. In it, you often spend about as much time with your lawyer as you do your doctor. There are special courts set up to decide what kinds of treatment you are allowed to have. And doctors have to be careful that they don’t say or do the wrong thing, or else they risk being blackballed by insurance companies.

The country:  The United States of America.

You may not realize it, but if you hurt your back at work you end up in a different healthcare system than if you hurt your back at home. Sure, you may end up with similar doctors or hospitals, but your experience of healthcare will be completely different. Here’s why.

If you get hurt at work, you’re covered by the “workers compensation” system. That system has its roots over a century ago, when employers didn’t do much to take care of workers. So the system is based on laws that mandate employers to take care of injured workers, often for the rest of their lives. In exchange for this very comprehensive coverage, employers and their insurers get a great deal of control over what care workers get and where they get it.

Does the workers compensation system represent a model of how a future American healthcare system might work? It might. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

The End Of Private Practice?

I didn’t need the Wall Street Journal to tell that the days of “private practice” are numbered. According to recent numbers, fewer and fewer medical practices are under the ownership of physicians. Even in my corner of the economically secure State of Texas, small practices are folding faster than beach chairs at high tide.

I was driven out of private practice in 2004 by rising malpractice premiums and plummeting reimbursement. In Texas at the time the trial attorneys ran the place and medmal insurance carriers simply couldn’t keep up with the greed.

Medical practices are just too expensive to run and the services that physicians provide are dangerously undervalued. You do the math. Sure it’s a complicated issue. But the end result is institutionally-employed doctors with institutional pay and the risk of institutional service. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

The Medical Profession: Is It Devolving?

I had lunch with a group of physicians recently, and along for the ride was a college student thinking of applying to medical school. When talking about the future, I suggested that the work of a physician 30 years from now will be hardly recognizable to today’s physician. Everybody disagreed and the student was confused. There was a lot of denial and myopic rationalization.

But I can’t blame them, really. Most of us see what’s immediately changing in our day-to-day work and the bigger picture gets lost. For most of us, the role of the physician is hard to see for anything other than it always has been. Most live and work as the self-determined independent care coordinator, reactively working to treat disease just as its been done for over a century. But change is happening around us. Read more »

*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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all book reviews »