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Latest Posts

The Stories In Medicine That Need To Be Told

I can’t help but think that as time passes we’ll forget about how much medicine has changed with the introduction of the Internet.  We’re witnessing a transition that hasn’t been seen in generations.  We live with the end result but the memory of how we got here is fading quickly.  Like any kind of cultural shift, once we’ve arrived it’s hard to remember what it was like along the way.

How did patients think before the information revolution?  And how did it go down when patients began to search?  How specifically did information clash with the old model of doctor and patient and how did we deal with it?  There are stories here that need to be told.  I think the real stories are in the small details of what went down between doctors and patients. But as early adopters, most of us spend our time looking forward, not back. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

The Age Of Medical Disconnect

It’s the age of medical disconnect.

The disconnect describes the emotional and intellectual detachment that physicians feel from their patients and patients from their doctors.  This disconnect is the result of a confluence of factors, some from within the profession itself, others are more broadly social and economic.

To understand the disconnect you need look no further than your neighbor or your parents.  Dissatisfaction is evolving as the norm.  Patients feel increasingly marginalized in their experiences with physicians.  Shrinking length of visits, indifferent attitudes, poorly coordinated evaluations, difficulty obtaining test results, an institutional feel to the patient experience, and the overall sense of not feeling at all important.

The truth is that many of us are really not aware of the disconnect. Most of us have been born into a system of dysfunctional provider relationships and we know nothing else.  As physicians we’ve been trained to be detached.  As patients we’ve been conditioned to live happily detached.

Of course there are plenty of physicians who Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at 33 Charts*

Doctors And Patients Will Be Harmed By The Debt Ceiling Train Wreck

Watching the negotiations over the debt ceiling legislation is like watching an impending train wreck.

You see a train hurtling down the track, you see an unobservant trucker about to cross, you know that the train engineer and the truck driver have only a few moments to avert disaster, you try to yell and scream to get them to pay attention before disaster strikes—but you have this sinking feeling that your voice won’t be heard until it is too late.

Well, that is how I feel watching the collapsing negotiations over raising the debt ceiling. Responsible persons in both political parties know that a failure by Congress to authorize an increase in the debt ceiling will create incalculable harm to our country, even though some politicians seem to think that default would be no big deal.

But it would be a big deal, and here is why. Read more »

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

Medical Judgment Trumps Medical Innovation

The New York Times says “In Medicine, New Isn’t Always Improved.”

Who can argue with this?

“In Dining, New Restaurants Aren’t Always Better.”

Yes, that’s true, too.  But does it mean anything?

The article is about a type of hip that is apparently going to be the focus of a lawsuit.  The story goes that a lot of people wanted the new hip when it came out, because it was thought to be better than the older ones.  Unfortunately, the hip seems to have hurt some people, some of whom may have been better off getting the older one in the first place.

A doctor quoted in the article suggests it’s part of a uniquely American tic.  We want all of the latest and greatest things for ourselves, it seems.  This story is supposed to be a cautionary tale of what can go wrong when we do.

On the other hand, the latest and greatest things don’t appear out of nowhere.  In America, when people demand something, there will be someone who supplies it. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

Can Electronic Health Records Make Disparities Disappear?

According to Kendra Blackmon at FierceEMR.com and a new study published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the answer is maybe.

Earlier this year, NIST published a report – Human Factors Guidance to Prevent Health care Disparities with the Adoption of EHRs – which declares that “wide adoption and Meaningful Use of EHR systems” by providers and patients could impact health care disparities.

Making this happen, however, will require a different way of thinking about electronic health records (EHRs). While the report notes that EHRs primarily are used by health care workers, patients still interact with these systems both directly – such as through shared use of a display in an exam room – and indirectly. For patients to obtain the intended benefits of this technology, EHR systems should display or deliver information in a way that is suitable for their needs and preferences, the report says. Read more »

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