Some people may tell you that healthcare IT will solve many of the quality and cost problems in healthcare. I don’t believe them.
I know a 70-year old man named Carlos (not his real name) who was hospitalized following a bout of hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is a build-up of fluid in the skull, which affects the brain. Among other things, people with hydrocephalus can be confused, irritable, and nauseous. Carlos had all of these symptoms.
Carlos’ problem was fixable by inserting a special kind of drain in his head called a “shunt.” This kind of shunt is, essentially, a series of catheters that runs from the brain into the abdomen, and which drain the excess fluid. You can’t see it from the outside, so it’s meant to stay inside of you for a very long time.
For a week after Carlos’ shunt was installed, his symptoms completely disappeared. But they soon started to re-emerge. Worried, his family took him to the hospital. Doctors found that his hydrocephalus was back — the shunt wasn’t draining properly. They admitted him to the hospital, and the next day they put in a new shunt. The surgery went well.
But again, about a day later, he started to have the same kinds of symptoms. The doctors sent him for a CT scan, which showed, to their surprise, no problems with the shunt. Unsure of what to do, they decided to wait and see if the symptoms resolved. It was possible, they thought, that the symptoms were from the quick drainage of fluid through the shunt. Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*
It’s happening more frequently: Requests for medical advice by email. The more I do, the more people I meet. The network grows and friends of friends learn about what I do.
So junior has a little pain and shows at the local ER where the requisite CT shows a little thickening of the ileum. Someone suggests that the family drop me a line. Here’s the problem: There’s more to this than digital correspondence will allow.
While the statistical reality of this child’s situation is that this finding represents a little edema from a virus, the differential is precarious: Crohn’s disease, lymphoma, tuberculous ileitis, eosinophilic enteropathy.
A case of this type requires the thorough exploration of a child’s story and a compulsive exam that takes into consideration the problems in the differential. Worrisome considerations need to be framed and discussed in the context of the child’s total presentation and real likelihood of occurrence. The sensitive dialog surrounding our diagnostic approach to this child requires a relationship. And the various approaches require an element of negotiation with the family. All of this takes time, emotional intelligence, and good clinical judgment.
Children are complicated creatures. Parents are more complicated. Loose, off-the-cuff advice based on shotty information shortchanges both parties.
Of course the easiest response to these regular queries is that my employer, malpractice carrier, and the Texas State Board preclude offering medical advice without an established relationship or the maintenance of a medical record available for peer review. Everybody understands legalese. Few, however, understand the complexity of a properly executed medical encounter.
*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*