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The Republican Healthcare Plan: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

I am all for any proposal that will improve heath care in America. Improvement means controlling costs, covering all Americans so no one has to worry about going bankrupt to pay for health care. Improvement means access to quality care without having to worry about losing your job, which means losing your coverage. Improvement means a system where all incentives are aligned to prevent disease, rather than using expensive technologies and hospitals to treat disease after the fact. Any proposal that gets us there has my vote.

In the GOP “Path to Prosperity” budget for 2012, they propose a few things that are good and a few big things that are bad…really really bad. First the good. Capping the medical malpractice lawsuits for “pain and suffering” would be a huge step forward. Patients should be compensated for medical errors but the “hit the lottery” windfalls for pain and suffering are costly drivers that make no sense. There is no place in the world, besides the USA, that has such onerous medical malpractice lawsuits. And they drive up cost for everyone. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

Surgeons Criticize Medical Tourism: You Can’t Sue If Things Go Awry

In an earlier post, DrRich offered several potential strategies for doctors and patients to consider should healthcare reformers ultimately succeed in their efforts to make it illegal for Americans to seek medical care outside the auspices of Obamacare. To those readers who persist in thinking that DrRich is particularly paranoid in worrying about such a thing, he refers you to his prior work carefully documenting the efforts the Central Authority has already made in limiting the prerogatives of individual Americans within the healthcare system, and reminds you that in any society where social justice is the overriding concern, individual prerogatives such as these must be criminalized. Indeed, whether individuals will retain the right to spend their own money on their own healthcare is ultimately the real battle. The outcome of this battle will determine much more than merely what kind of healthcare system we will end up with.

DrRich, despite his paranoia on the matter, is a long-term optimist, and believes that the American spirit will ultimately prevail. So, to advance this happy result DrRich (in the previously mentioned post) graciously offered several creative options that could be employed to establish a useful Black Market in healthcare, which will allow individuals to exercise their healthcare-autonomy against the day when such autonomy again becomes legal. His suggestions included offshore, state-of-the-art medical centers on old aircraft carriers; combination Casino/Hospitals on the sovereign soil of Native American reservations; and cutting-edge medical centers just south of the border (which would have the the added benefit of encouraging our government to finally close the borders to illegal crossings once and for all).

As entertaining as it might be to imagine such solutions, a readily available, though much more mundane, option exists today, which is to say, medical tourism. Read more »

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

Counter Point: Happy Birthday Health Reform

Who would have thought when we first looked upon you a year ago, barely formed, still somewhat embryonic, that you would have grown so much in just a year, and created so much, well, trouble? Yes, I’m talking about you, health reform. After all, aren’t you the reason for the sea change in Washington? Aren’t you behind several pending appeals that will get to the Supreme Court? Aren’t you the reason that the country is going to hell in a handbasket?

But wait. Let’s look at some other major milestones of the past year.

– You sent $250 checks to Medicare beneficiaries to help cover the “donut hole” in their drug coverage.
– You created special insurance pools designed to provide health care NOW to people with preexisting conditions who can’t get coverage.
– You allowed parents to keep their kids on their health insurance until the children turn 26, providing a major safety net.
– You did away with lifetime caps, enabling those with some serious medical conditions to continue receiving health insurance.

And that’s just in a year. Imagine what the next year and the year after that will bring. So I’ll say it again, Happy Birthday, Healthcare Reform. May you live to a ripe old age and only get better.

*This blog post was originally published at A Medical Writer's Musings on Medicine, Health Care, and the Writing Life*

Obama Is Not Reforming Healthcare The Right Way

Last year’s “Doctor Fix” was passed the last week congress was in session in 2010. This was after the medical profession was held in suspense for 9 months.

The “Doctor Fix” was supposedly the result of President Obama making a deal with the AMA for the AMA’s support. He was going to pass a real “Doctor Fix” in 2011 by repairing the defective sustainable growth rate formula (SGR). Nothing has been done about this by President Obama in 2011. The cumulative physician reimbursement reduction of 25% was suspended until January 2012.

Physicians face a 29.5% Medicare Pay Cut in January 2012. Four and one half percent was added to last year’s cumulative physicians reimbursement reduction. The reduction was calculated into the CBO’s cost score for President Obama’s Healthcare Reform Act.

Last week an official with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services unveiled the 29.5% rate reduction for 2012 in a recent letter to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. This will become another distraction for physicians and the media as President Obama stalls for time. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Repairing the Healthcare System*

Universal Cardiac Screening For All Young Athletes?

It’s heart wrenching when young athletes die of sudden cardiac death (SCD). Last week the death of Wes Leonard, a Michigan high school star athlete, was especially poignant since he collapsed right after making the game-winning shot. This sort of tragedy occurs about one hundred times each year in America. That’s a lot of sadness. The obvious question is: Could these deaths be prevented? Let’s start with what actually happens.

Most cases of sudden death in young people occur as a result of either hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), an abnormal thickening of heart muscle, or long QT syndrome (LQTS), a mostly inherited disease of the heart’s electrical system. Both HCM and LQTS predispose the heart to ventricular fibrillation — electrical chaos of the pumping chamber of the heart. The adrenaline surges of athletic competition increase the odds of this chaos. Unfortunately, like heart disease often does, both these ailments can strike without warning.

Sudden death is sad enough by itself, but what makes it even worse is that both these ailments are mostly detectable with two simple painless tests: The ECG and echocardiogram (heart ultrasound). Let’s get these kids ECGs and echos then. “Git ‘er dun,” you might say.

On the surface the solution seems simple: Implement universal cardiac screening of all young athletes. And you wouldn’t be alone in thinking this way. You could even boast the support of Dr. Manny Alvarez of Fox News and the entire country of Italy, where all athletes get ECGs and echos before competing. But America isn’t Italy, and things aren’t as simple as Fox News likes to suggest. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

Latest Interviews

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…

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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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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.

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Click here for a musical take on over-testing.

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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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