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When Age Plays A Role In Medical Decision-Making

Missed Diagnosis Lawsuit and the Dynamics of Age Related to Risk

Years ago I had the opportunity to care for Mr Smith, a 101 year old man who presented to the hospital with chest pain and shortness of breath. Besides having  101 year old heart and lungs that tend to follow their own  biological clock,  this man also had a massive chest tumor filling 85% of one side of his thorax.

Whoah really?  What does that mean in a 101 year old man?  Most folks this age have exceeded the normal bell curve distribution of life and disease.  When you reach 101 years old, there isn’t a lot of chronic anything you can catch with the expected time you have left on earth.

Every now and then, however, we find patients who are the exception to the rule, such as the 101 year old guy that present with a new cancer diagnosis.  That’s where being an internist comes in handy. Read more »

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

The Devastating Emotional Impact Of Missed Diagnoses

Bongi is an amazing writer, and if you haven’t, I strongly urge you to read his latest post, titled “The Graveyard.”

I imagine that a huge number of doctors know exactly what he means. I remember being told by a surgeon, while I was in medical school, that “you’re not a real doctor until you’ve killed someone.” I thought at the time (and still think) that there was a puerile bravado behind that admonition, but there is also a grain of truth. I have my own graveyard. Curiously, not all of its inhabitants are dead. They are the cases where I screwed up, or, charitably, cases that went bad where I feel that maybe I could’ve/should’ve done things differently.

The missed SAH

The missed DVT/PE

The missed AAA

The missed Aortic dissection

The missed MI

I remember them all, clearly and in detail. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*

Alzheimer’s Disease: To Test Or Not To Test?

The medical profession’s ability to diagnose far exceeds its ability to effectively treat the conditions discovered. Consider arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, strokes, emphysema, and many cancers.

When a physician orders a diagnostic test, ideally it should be to answer a specific question, rather than a buckshot approach. A chest X-ray is not ordered because a patient has a cough. It should be done because the test has a reasonable chance of yielding information that would change the physician’s advice. If the doctor was going to prescribe an antibiotic anyway, then why order the chest X-ray?

Physicians and patients should ask before a test is performed if the information is likely to change the medical management. In other words, is a test being ordered because physicians want to know or because we really need to know the results?

Does every patient with a heart murmur, for example, need an echocardiogram, even though this test would be easy to justify to patients and to insurance companies? If the test won’t change anything, then it costs dollars and makes no sense. Spine X-rays for acute back strains are an example of a radiologic reflex. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

Guarding Against Medical Malpractice: Focusing On The Possible Versus The Probable

Some put the figure for defensive medicine at 10% of medical expenses a year.  That’s $250 billion dollars.  Others claim it to be 2-3% per year or about $60 billion dollars a year.

Now ask any physician what it is.  I’d say it’s closer to 30% a year.  That’s $750 billion dollars a year.  Why?  Because I know what is going through the minds of physicians when they put the pen to the paper.  In America, we strive to exclude  the long tail diagnosis.  Why? Because getting sued for 67 million dollars because you treated a torn aorta when all the evidence pointed to an emergent MI has a way of making doctors evaluate the possible, instead of focusing on the probable.

Defensive medicine is not about losing a lawsuit.  It’s about getting sued and the lack of boundaries that protect a physician from having bad outcomes with competent medicine, even if that competent medicine was the wrong medicine for the wrong patient at the wrong time, a fact known only after the fact when a bad outcome occurs. Read more »

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

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…

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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…

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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…

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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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