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Physicians Are Unhappy, But Do They Have It Worse Than The Rest Of The Country?

Many physicians, and especially primary care physicians, aren’t happy campers. Why should they be? They feel disrespected, overworked, over-managed, and underpaid. They tell me they wouldn’t advise their children to go into medicine. Some feel that physicians are singularly beset upon. “Our government acts toward the medical profession in an abusive fashion. No other industry or profession is humiliated in this way,” writes RyanJo, a frequent commentator to this blog.

I can appreciate why many physicians are upset. They’ve had a decade where the Medicare SGR formula repeatedly has threatened to cut their fees, only to have Congress enact last minute reprieves that replace the cut with a small token increase that has not kept pace with their costs. Last year, Congress actually allowed the cut to go into effect and then retroactively restored it, creating havoc in physicians’ offices during the four weeks when they weren’t being paid. Like Charlie Brown and Lucy’s football, they are told each year by their members of Congress that that “this will be the year when the SGR will finally get repealed, really, for sure, we promise, this time will be different”–only to see it pulled away at the last minute.

In the meantime, they are constantly hounded to be more accountable for the care they deliver, to fill out just another form, to document their encounters, to get Read more »

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

Can Happiness Lead To Suicide? Confusing Correlation With Causation?


On Tara Parker-Pope’s NY Time Well Blog, she tells us that in places where people are the happiest, for example Denmark & Sweden, for example, have the highest happiness ranks, and the highest suicide rates. This is perplexing.

And apparently, the various United States are also ranked. New Jersey, where I grew up, is the 47th happiest state– surprising given Full Serve gasoline, good pizza, and beaches. You were looking for something more out of life? Also it has the 47th suicide rate, so the miserable apparently tough it out.

Ms. Parker-Pope writes:

After analyzing the data, the researchers found a relationship between overall happiness and risk of suicide. In general, states with high levels of life satisfaction had higher suicide rates, according to the report, which has been accepted for publication in The Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.
“Perhaps for those at the bottom end, in a way their situation may seem worse in relative terms, when compared with people who are close to them or their neighbors,’’ said Stephen Wu, associate professor of economics at Hamilton College. “For someone who is quite unhappy, the relative comparison may lead to more unhappiness and depression.”

Dr. Wu noted that other studies have found that people react differently to low income or unemployment depending on how common it is in their community. “If a lot more other people around them are unemployed, it doesn’t seem so devastating,’’ he said.

I’m not sure one idea leads to another. Could there be another factor here? How do suicide rates correlate with the availability of mental health professionals, for example? Or with the price of chocolate in a give region? And how happy is my state?

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*

Childhood Education May Be The Key To Reducing Healthcare Costs

In a recent op-ed in the San Francisco Examiner, William Dow, a professor of health economics at UC Berkeley, commented on the importance of education as a means of enabling more people to afford health care insurance. In my view, education is important not simply because an educated population can more easily pay for health care. The main importance is that educating children will allow those children and their children to have healthier childhoods, less burden of disease as adults, access to more personal and communal resources to deal with whatever disease they have and less need for health care, and that translates into less health care spending. Let me frame this in terms of the San Francisco Bay Area.

In a series of articles in the Contra Costa Times last year, Susanne Bohan and Sandy Kleffman described the striking differences in life expectancy in poor vs. wealthy ZIP codes in East Bay. Life-expectancy in Walnut Creek (94597) was 87.4 years, but it was only 71.2 years in Sobrante Park (94603), where household incomes are about half and poverty >20%. That’s a gap of 16.2 years. We find that, in addition to a shorter life-expectancy in Sobrante, the inpatient hospital utilization rate is double the rate in Walnut Creek. Poverty is not only tragic. It’s expensive. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at PHYSICIANS and HEALTH CARE REFORM Commentaries and Controversies*

Another Look At Geographic Variation In Poverty And Healthcare

MedPAC has released another report in which they have tried to explain variation in healthcare utilization among metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), of which there are approximately 400. MSAs more-or-less correspond to Dartmouth’s 306 hospital referral regions (HRRs), and the conclusions reached by the Dartmouth folks and MedPAC tend to correspond. In commenting about MedPAC’s last report, issued in December 2009, I noted that the major variation was caused by high Medicare expenditures in seven southern states, where patients are poorer and sicker and use much more care.   

In their new report, MedPAC went a step beyond measuring expenditures, which they adjusted for prices and other factors in their last report, to measuring the actual units of service, a far better way to assess the healthcare system. MedPAC’s new findings on the distribution of service use in MSAs are graphed below:

Based on this new approach, MedPAC concluded: “Although service use varies less than spending, the amount of service provided to beneficiaries still varies substantially. Specifically, service use in higher use areas (90th percentile) is 30 percent greater than in lower use areas (10th percentile); the analogous figure for spending is about 55 percent. What policies should be pursued in light of these findings is beyond the scope of this paper, which is meant only to inform policymakers on the nature and extent of regional variation in Medicare service use. However, we do note that at the extremes, there is nearly a two-fold difference between the MSA with the greatest service use and the MSA with the least.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at PHYSICIANS and HEALTH CARE REFORM Commentaries and Controversies*

Primary Care, Poverty, And Mortality In England And America

It is an article of faith that, in Barbara Starfield’s words, adults whose regular source of care is a primary care physician rather than a specialist have lower mortality, even after accounting for differences in income, and she draws upon studies at both the county and state levels to prove it. Now a new paper in JAMA about England’s Primary Care Trusts refocuses the discussion on poverty.

While Starfield’s county-level studies are often cited as evidence that more primary care physicians and fewer specialists lead to lower mortality, they actually showed virtually no differences at all. And when repeated by Ricketts, the small differences noted were not consistent throughout various regions of the U.S. On the other hand, “counties with high income-inequality experienced much higher mortality.” So, in reality, the county studies demonstrated the strong impact of poverty and the marginal impact (if any) of primary care. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at PHYSICIANS and HEALTH CARE REFORM Commentaries and Controversies*

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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