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Latest Posts

Conflicts Of Interest Within Clinical Trials Can Jeopardize The Participants

Follow the money.

Earlier this week, I blogged about the growing economic relationships and even mutual dependency between medical device manufactures and physicians, citing a pre-emptive strike against an Institute of Medicine report that recommended closer regulation of medical devices before and after they enter the market. Such ties, though, are only one part of a broader medical-industrial complex that has enormous impact on public policy in the United States.

A 2009 White Paper by the Seton Hall’s Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law & Policy reported that “ drug and medical device companies fund up to 80% to 90% of all clinical trials; in 2005, and that by 2004, three-quarters of all of the clinical trials paid for by industry were in private physician practices or for-profit research centers.” The paper’s authors argue that such trials “create potential conflicts of interest that possibly jeopardize the rights and well-being of research participants as well as the integrity of research results” and that “the goal for public policy should be to structure physician-investigator payment to achieve financial neutrality between treatment and research.”

A recent web posting by a medical billing company unabashedly crows about the extra income doctors can make from clinical trials. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The ACP Advocate Blog by Bob Doherty*

Great Clinical Care And Excellent Bedside Manner: Are They Mutually Exclusive?

The New York Times recently published an article titled, Finding a Quality Doctor, Dr. Danielle Ofri an internist at NYU, laments how she was unable to perform as well as expected in the areas of patient care as it related to diabetes.  From the August 2010 New England Journal of Medicine article, Dr. Ofri notes that her report card showed the following – 33% of patients with diabetes have glycated hemoglobin levels at goal, 44% have cholesterol levels at goal, and a measly 26% have blood pressure at goal.  She correctly notes that these measurements alone aren’t what makes a doctor a good quality one, but rather the areas of interpersonal skills, compassion, and empathy, which most of us would agree constitute a doctor’s bedside manner, should count as well.

Her article was simply to illustrate that “most doctors are genuinely doing their best to help their patients and that these report cards might not be accurate reflections of their care” yet when she offered this perspective, a contrary point of view, many viewed it as “evidence of arrogance.”

She comforted herself by noting that those who criticized her were “mostly [from] doctors who were not involved in direct patient care (medical administrators, pathologists, radiologists). None were in the trenches of primary care.”

From the original NEJM article, Dr. Ofri concluded Read more »

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

Oncologist Considers Heat-Based Cancer Treatment

There’s so much weird and exciting cancer news this week, it’s hard to keep up!

Double-kudos to Andrew Pollack on his front-page and careful coverage in the New York Times of the hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (Hipec) technique that’s being used at some name-brand health care facilities to treat colon cancer.

First, he spares no detail in the Times describing the seemingly primitive, crude method:

….For hours on a recent morning at the University of California, San Diego, Dr. Andrew Lowy painstakingly performed the therapy on a patient.

After slicing the man’s belly wide open, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

Patients Are Rejecting Valuable Treatment Based On False Information

Newsweek has a very provocative and yet incredibly too simplistic piece for the public and patients on its cover story – One Word Can Save Your Life: No! – New research shows how some common tests and procedures aren’t just expensive, but can do more harm than good.

The piece is actually well written and highlights facts that have been apparent for some time.  More intervention and treatment isn’t necessarily better.  Having a cardiac catheterization or open heart surgery for patients with stable heart disease and mild chest pain isn’t better than diet, exercise, and the prescription medication treatment.  PSA, the blood test previously suggested by many professional organizations, isn’t helpful to screen for prostate cancer, even though the value of the test was questioned years ago.  Antibiotics for sinus infection?  Usually not helpful.

Certainly doctors do bear part of the blame.  If patients are Read more »

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

New Cancer Treatment Gains Momentum

You heard about it first on Patient Power when, a couple of years ago, we interviewed Dr. Andrew Lowy, oncology surgeon at UC San Diego Medical Center. He explained how some patients with advanced cancer spread in their abdomen could benefit from an open surgery – perhaps as much as nine hours long – where, after snipping out visible cancer – the organs are bathed in heated chemotherapy for 90 minutes. You may recall the story of Jennifer Ambrose, a young mom from suburban Chicago, who developed cancer of the appendix. She tracked down Dr. Lowy after spotting him on the Internet. She traveled to San Diego, had the “hot chemo” procedure, recovered and then went on to have a second child – her “miracle baby.” Today Jennifer remains fine and her story is featured in my book, The Web-Savvy Patient.

Jennifer Ambrose’s Powerful Patient Video

Today Andrew Pollack, reporter for The New York Times, wrote a front page story about Dr. Lowy, hot chemo, and how other medical centers are now picking up on it for other advanced cancers including colon and ovarian. They are even advertising it as one last bit of hope when often there is virtually none. Now, some of the big names in GI cancers are suggesting this approach has merit and may offer longer survival then some super expensive drugs. There’s a debate going on. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

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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