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Should Primary Care Be Abandoned?

In his last post, DrRich pointed out to his PCP friends that their chosen profession of primary care medicine is dead and buried – with an official obituary and everything – and that it is pointless for PCPs to waste their time worrying about “secret shoppers” and other petty annoyances.

It is time for you PCPs to abandon “primary care” altogether. It is time to move on.

Walking away from primary care should not be a loss, because actually, primary care has long since abandoned you. Whatever “primary care” may have once been, it has now been reduced to strict adherence to “guidelines,” 7.5 minutes per patient “encounter,” placing chits on various “Pay for Performance” checklists, striving to induce high-and-mighty healthcare bureaucrats (who wouldn’t know a sphygmomanometer from a sphincter) to smile benignly at your humble compliance with their dictates, and most recently, competing for business with nurses.

This is not really primary care medicine. It’s not medicine at all. It’s something else. But whatever it is, it’s what has now been designated by law as “primary care,” and anyone the government unleashes to do it (whether doctors, nurses, or high-school graduates with a checklist of questions) now are all officially Primary Care Practitioners.

What generalist physicians (heretofore known as primary care physicians) need to realize is that “primary care” has been dumbed-down to the point where abandoning it is no loss; indeed, it ought to be liberating to walk away from it.

The beauty is that Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing Blog*

The Bottom Line On New FDA Sunscreen Guidelines

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. -Confucius

This is certainly true of sunscreens. “Broad spectrum, UVA, UVB, avobenzone, oxybenzone, parsol, sensitive skin, titanium dioxide, SPF 15, 30, 45, 50, 55, 60, 70, 75, 100, 100+, waterproof, sweatproof, spray, cream, lotion, antioxidant…”

We spend about $700 million in sunscreens every year, and many people don’t have a clue as to what’s good or bad, or a waste of money. The Food and Drug Administration has been meaning to help you out with this problem for a while now. Actually for over 30 years (who says nothing gets done in government?). The F.D.A. has made a final decision on sunscreen labels. They’ve sought to make labels simple and accurate to help you choose the right one:

1. The sunscreen must protect against both UVA and UVB rays; that is, it must be broad spectrum.

2. To be labelled as “protecting against skin cancer,” the sunscreen must be an SPF of at least 15. The labels will likely be capped at SPF 50 because SPFs greater than 50 seem to be of little additional benefit.

3. Sunscreens can no longer be labelled as “waterproof” or “sweat proof,” as neither is physically possible, therefore, rendering the claim “misleading.” Sunscreens will be labelled as effective in water for 40 minutes or 80 minutes which is accurate and much more useful.

This simple system should help consumers make better choices, but some say the F.D.A. didn’t go far enough. They did not comment on the safety of various sunscreen ingredients. They have also not loosened up enough to allow for other sunscreens that are widely used in Europe to be sold here in the U.S.

Do you think the F.D.A was too strict or didn’t go far enough?

Photo: Wandering Magpie, Flickr

*This blog post was originally published at The Dermatology Blog*

When Is It Appropriate To Disregard Guidelines In Medical Care?

Podcast:

In an article appearing last week in the American Heart Journal, investigators concluded that if American doctors would prescribe for their patients with heart failure each of the six therapies which are most strongly recommended in current heart failure guidelines, 68,000 lives per year could be saved.

The following (for the interest of the reader, and for the convenience of any attorneys who may follow DrRich’s offerings), is an ordered list of these six proven, life-saving heart failure therapies, along with the number of American lives that could be saved each year if only American doctors would stop grossly under-utilizing them in violation of published guidelines:

  • aldosterone antagonist therapy – 21,407 lives
  • beta blockers – 12,922 lives
  • implantable defibrillators (ICDs) – 12,179 lives
  • cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) – 8317 lives
  • hydralazine plus isosorbide – 6655 lives
  • ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) – 6516 lives

The authors, of course, are careful to point out that their analysis is based on statistical methods, and thus must be counted as merely estimates of the magnitude of the benefit that would actually occur should American doctors suddenly begin managing their heart failure patients appropriately. (Their presentation of these estimates to five significant figures implies a level of precision far in excess of what can be justified, and therefore must be an oversight not only by the authors, but also by the reviewers and the editors. But still, one gets the idea. A lot of preventable deaths are being left on the table.)

Several studies have reported, over and over again, that fewer than half of American patients with heart failure Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing Blog*

The New World View Of Coronary Artery Disease

In 2007, when the results were published from the COURAGE trial, all the experts agreed that this study would fundamentally change the way cardiologists managed patients with stable coronary artery disease (CAD).*

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*”Stable” CAD simply means that a patient with CAD is not suffering from one of the acute coronary syndromes – ACS, an acute heart attack or unstable angina. At any given time, the large majority of patients with CAD are in a stable condition.
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But a new study tells us that hasn’t happened. The COURAGE trial has barely budged the way cardiologists treat patients with stable CAD.

Lots of people want to know why. As usual, DrRich is here to help.

The COURAGE trial compared the use of stents vs. drug therapy in patients with stable CAD. Over twenty-two hundred patients were randomized to receive either optimal drug therapy, or optimal drug therapy plus the insertion of stents. Patients were then followed for up to 7 years. Much to the surprise (and consternation) of the world’s cardiologists, there was no significant difference in the incidence of subsequent heart attack or death between the two groups. The addition of stents to optimal drug therapy made no difference in outcomes.

This, decidedly, was a result which was at variance with the Standard Operating Procedure of your average American cardiologist, whose scholarly analysis of the proper treatment of CAD has always distilled down to: “Blockage? Stent!”

But after spending some time trying unsuccessfully to explain away these results, even cardiologists finally had to admit that the COURAGE trial was legitimate, and that it was a game changer. (And to drive the point home, the results of COURAGE have since been reproduced in the BARI-2D trial.) Like it or not, drug therapy ought to be the default treatment for patients with stable CAD, and stents should be used only when drug therapy fails to adequately control symptoms.

When the COURAGE results were initially published they made a huge splash among not only cardiologists, but also the public in general. So cardiologists did not have the luxury of hiding behind (as doctors so often do when a study comes out the “wrong” way) the usual, relative obscurity of most clinical trials. Given the widespread publicity the study generated, it seemed inconceivable that the cardiology community could ignore these results and get away with it.

But a new study, published just last month in JAMA, reveals that ignore COURAGE they have. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing Blog*

Tension Between Physician Autonomy And Adherence To Protocols

Doctors are professionals.  But are doctors cowboys or pit crews?  Recently, physician writer, Dr. Atul Gawande, spoke about the challenges for the next generation of doctors in his commencement speech titled, Cowboys and Pit Crews, at Harvard Medical School.  Gawande notes that advancement of knowledge in American medicine has resulted in an amazing ability to provide care that was impossible a century ago.  Yet, something else also occurred in the process.

“[Medicine’s complexity] has exceeded our individual capabilities as doctors…
The core structure of medicine—how health care is organized and practiced—emerged in an era when doctors could hold all the key information patients needed in their heads and manage everything required themselves. One needed only an ethic of hard work, a prescription pad, a secretary, and a hospital willing to serve as one’s workshop, loaning a bed and nurses for a patient’s convalescence, maybe an operating room with a few basic tools. We were craftsmen. We could set the fracture, spin the blood, plate the cultures, administer the antiserum. The nature of the knowledge lent itself to prizing autonomy, independence, and self-sufficiency among our highest values, and to designing medicine accordingly. But you can’t hold all the information in your head any longer, and you can’t master all the skills. No one person can work up a patient’s back pain, run the immunoassay, do the physical therapy, protocol the MRI, and direct the treatment of the unexpected cancer found growing in the spine. I don’t even know what it means to “protocol” the MRI.”

Despite all of the advancements in medicine, the outcomes and consistency in treatment and care are not as good as they could be.  Doctors are not doing basic things.  The fact that Gawande, author of The Checklist Manifesto, spoke at one of the finest medical schools in the country indicates how much more the profession needs to go.

“We don’t have to look far for evidence. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Saving Money and Surviving the Healthcare Crisis*

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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