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Latest Posts

CDC Launches Program To Prevent Infections In Cancer Patients

As clinicians, we know that the nearly one million patients who receive outpatient cancer treatment each year are at risk for serious infections that may lead to hospitalization, disruptions in chemotherapy schedules, and in some cases, death. Even so, it appears that outpatient oncology facilities may vary greatly in their attention to infection prevention. As one example – at an oncology clinic in Nebraska, it was discovered that syringes were reused to access bags of saline that were shared among multiple patients. This unsafe practice led to the transmission of hepatitis C virus to at least 99 cancer patients, resulting in one of the largest healthcare-associated outbreaks of its kind.

To help address this problem, CDC is launching a new program called Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients, featuring tools to help both clinicians and patients prevent infections.

As a cornerstone of this new initiative, CDC worked with Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Safe Healthcare*

Can The Approval Process For Cancer Drugs Be Accelerated?

If you’ve read my blogs for a while, or look up some past blogs, you’ll see I have been frustrated at times with the FDA. Yes, they have a tough job protecting us from medical products that are unsafe and/or ineffective. But when it comes to cancer, where we have few “homerun” therapies, I wish they were a bit more liberal. A “bunt single” might be good enough. You may have read how I have been critical of Dr. Rick Pazdur, the FDA leader for oncology drug approval. Some desperate patients and family members have referred to him as “Dr. No.”

Just the other day I interviewed a respected breast cancer survivor and patient advocate who has high respect for Dr. Pazdur.  Musa Mayer of New York City is a 22-year breast cancer survivor and author of three books about breast cancer. She’s devoted her life to educating other patients about cancer and also playing a role in public policy. She has become a favorite patient representative on FDA cancer advisory boards and regularly weighs in when breast cancer drugs are being considered.

In my interview with Musa, she explained Read more »

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

Still No Consensus On Optimal Treatment For Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS)

Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) in the breast, histopathology w/ hematoxylin & eosin stain, Wiki-Commons image

More, a magazine “for women of style & substance,” has an unusually thorough, now-available article by Nancy F. Smith in its September issue on A Breast Cancer You May Not Need to Treat.

The article’s subject is DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ). This non-invasive, “Stage 0” malignancy of the breast has shot up in reported incidence over the past two decades. It’s one of the so-called slow-growing tumors detected by mammography; a woman can have DCIS without a mass or invasive breast cancer.

While some people with this diagnosis choose to have surgery, radiation or hormonal treatments, others opt for a watchful waiting strategy. The article quotes several physicians, including oncologists, who consider Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

Three Reasons Those In The Medical Field Lament The Passing Of Steve Jobs

Post image for Three reasons why doctors mourn the passing of Steve Jobs

Doctors love their Apple Products. Just walk into any hospital ward, and see the types of mobile devices we are using. At weekly Grand Rounds conferences, you see plenty of iPads in use. At physician meetings, the laptop of choice is often the Macbook Pro. The data backs these anecdotal examples as well.

Doctors love their Apple Products – and Steve Jobs was obviously an extension of these products, often times cited as the singular force behind these products, and it’s why physicians who love his products mourn his passing.

There are three specific reasons why :

1) Simplicity

In medicine, we deal with enough complexity. Knowing disease pathology and the mechanism of various illnesses and their treatments is a fascinating exercise, but it’s taxing. For every known in medicine, there are at least five unknowns. It’s what makes being a physician exciting, but stressful as well. We’re always on high alert – especially those of us who practice in the critical care arena.

Juxtaposed to this is Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at iMedicalApps*

“Your Medical Mind” Explores Factors That Influence A Patient’s Medical Decisions

Recently, I had a conversation with Shannon Brownlee (the widely respected science journalist and acting director of the Health Policy Program at the New America Foundation) about whether men should continue to have access to the PSA test for prostate cancer screening, despite the overwhelming evidence that it extends few, if any, lives and harms many more men than it benefits. She felt that if patients could be provided with truly unbiased information and appropriate decision aids, they should still be able to choose to have the test (and have it covered by medical insurance). Believing that one of the most important roles of doctors is to prevent patients from making bad decisions, I disagreed.

After reading Your Medical Mind, the new book by Harvard oncologist and New Yorker columnist Jerome Groopman, I think he would probably side with Brownlee’s point of view. Groopman, whose authoring credits include the 2007 bestseller How Doctors Think, and wife Pamela Hartzband, MD have written a kind of sequel to that book that could have easily been titled How Patients Think. Drawing on interviews with dozens of patients about a wide variety of medical decisions – from starting a cholesterol-lowering drug, to having knee surgery, to accepting or refusing heroic end-of-life interventions – the authors Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Common Sense Family Doctor*

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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