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

Latest Posts

Reducing Health Care Spending: When Rationing Resources Goes Too Far

A sure-to-be controversial article appears in the Chicago Tribune earlier this asking the sensitive question of ‘Health care at any age, any cost?:’

“If you want to save all lives, you’re in trouble,” said Callahan, co-founder of The Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute in New York, and a faculty member at Harvard Medical School, in an interview. “And if you want to save all lives at any cost, you’re really in trouble.”

Callahan and co-author Nuland, a retired professor of surgery at Yale School of Medicine who wrote the best-selling “How We Die,” were both 80 when the article was published.

“We need to stop thinking of medicine as an all-out war against death, because death always wins,” said Callahan.

The article goes on the make some bold demands of doctors: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

Casting Light On The Actual Costs Of Medical Care

I really like this idea, but …  well, see after the quote.

It’s easy to compare prices on cameras, vacations, and homes. But in the United States, patients fly blind when paying for health care. People typically don’t find out how much any given medical procedure costs until well after they receive treatment, be it a blood draw or major surgery.

This lack of transparency has contributed to huge disparities in the cost of procedures. According to Castlight Health, a startup based in San Francisco, a colonoscopy costs anywhere from $563 to $3,967 within a single zip code. EKGs can range from $27 to $143, while the price for a set of three spinal x-rays varies from as little as $38 to as high as $162.

When someone else is picking up the tab, mystery pricing is not much of a problem. But these days, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at GruntDoc*

Giving People Across The World The Best Medical Care They Can Get

Guatemala is a developing country, with great natural beauty, hard-working people and many challenges.  Most Americans look at places like Guatemala and see only the challenges.  Some see opportunity.

I’ve just returned from Guatemala, where I met with our business partners, government officials, and others.   And I can tell you a universal truth.  People across the world want the best medical care they can get.  They aren’t looking for the latest technologies and drugs and treatments – or, rather, they aren’t looking only for those things.  No, what is most important to whoever I meet, no matter where they live, is that they are able to get the right diagnosis, and the right treatment.

It’s a harder thing to get in some places than in others.  Americans don’t realize that Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at BestDoctors.com: See First Blog*

The Rising Price Of Health Care: How Are People Dealing With The Expense?

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to speak as a patient about “consumers and cost information” while being videotaped for use in the annual meeting of the Aligning Forces for Quality initiative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

RWJF Video - This Costs How Much?

I admire the aims of this initiative – “to lift the overall quality of health care in targeted communities, reduce racial and ethnic disparities and provide models for national reform” – and I think it has taught us some valuable lessons about what it takes to make even slight course corrections in the trajectory of the huge aircraft carrier that is health care.

Plus, I have listened to hundreds of people talk about their experiences with the rising price of health care: who thinks about it when and why, what individuals do to cut back on the expense, where they have been successful and where not. I’ve heard lots of stories, most of them involving Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

Top 10 Most Dangerous Hospital Hazards: Some May Surprise You

Alarm fatigue is the most dangerous of health care technology hazards, topping even radiation exposure and medication errors from infusion pumps, according to the updated Top 10 list offered by ECRI Institute.

It’s not surprising that alarm fatigue rang in at #1. There can be as many as 40 alarms an hour in some units. Staff modify alarm setting outside of safe parameters, can’t tell the alarm’s importance (or even which device is issuing it) or the alarm isn’t relayed to the paging system, according to ECRI Institute, a nonprofit organization focusing on patient-safety and cost-effectiveness in health care. Its report (registration required) is online. The report includes recommendations and resources for each of the 10 top hazards.

Staff may turn alarms off or down to reduce alarm fatigue, as well as reduce stress on the patient and family, the report notes. And properly setting alarms is complex to begin with, so ECRI offers best practices to reduce alarm fatigue while maintaining patient safety: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Hospitalist*

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all interviews »

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.

***

Click here for a musical take on over-testing.

See all cartoons »

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…

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 »

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…

Read more »

See all book reviews »