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The Future Of American Healthcare

You want to see a doctor? You’re going to have to wait. And I don’t mean like an hour in the office. I mean like 53 days.

It’s not some doomsday story from the future. It’s happening today here in Massachusetts. Massachusetts — the state whose 2006 law was the model for the federal healthcare reform law. Massachusetts — home to some of the world’s best medical centers and doctors. And, as the Boston Globe’s “White Coat Notes” blog reports, Massachusetts — home to doctor shortages and long waits to see a doctor:

When primary care patients do secure an appointment for a non-urgent matter, they have to wait to get in the door, the survey found. The average delay is 29 days to see a family medicine doctor, down from 44 days last year, and 53 days to see an internist, up from 44 days last year.

The report said shortages also exist in dermatology, emergency medicine, general surgery, neurology, orthopedics, psychiatry, urology, and vascular surgery.

But what about costs? If you make sure everyone’s covered, you’ve got the foundation for real cost control, right? Unfortunately, no. Healthcare costs have been booming in Massachusetts:

Costs are rising relentlessly for both families and for the state government. The median annual premium for family plans jumped 10% from 2007 to 2009 to $14,300 — again, that’s a substantial rise on top of an already enormous number. For small businesses, the increase was 12%. In 2006, the state spent around $1 billion on Medicaid, subsidies for medium-to-lower earners, and other health-care programs. Today, the figure is $1.75 billion. The federal government absorbed half of the increase.

So what are the lessons for the future of American healthcare? Read more »

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

Practicing Medicine: It Pays Well, But How Meaningful Is It?

Doctors are the top six best-paid careers (based on median and top pay), with anesthesiologists being the best-paid, primary care being the sixth-best and nurse anesthetists the seventh best-paid, according to a survey by CNN/Money magazine and PayScale.com. But not one of the physician careers landed on the top lists for job growth or quality of life. The title of best job went to software architect and the second-best job went to physician assistant.

Take heart, though. When asked about having the most meaningful work (based on the percentage who think their job makes the world a better place), the top spot went again to anesthesiologists, and second through ninth went to some kind of medical provider or healthcare administrator. Social workers rounded out the tenth spot. (CNN/Money)

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Okay To Be A Doctor AND Bipolar?

“I have bipolar disorder. Can I be a doctor?” One of our readers asked this. It’s one of those questions to which there is no real answer.

Being a doctor takes a long time, it requires reliability, diligence, and a willingness to learn things you may not want to learn (organic chem anyone?) and do things you may not want to do. It requires endurance and passion. You need to be tolerant of many things: Arrogant supervisors, irritable colleagues, sick people who may not be charming and who may, in their distress, be downright nasty. You have to tolerate a militaristic order and be willing to work with a system that may be very difficult, wrong, and demand your obedience in ways that may be uncomfortable. (Oh, I am so happy to no longer be a medical student or a resident in training.)

So can you do it with bipolar disorder? Can you do it with diabetes? Can you do it with attention deficit problems? Can you do it if you’re disorganized or ugly? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*

A Tough Route To Becoming A Doctor

This occurred after a liver, heart, lung, and kidney transplant:

Allison John, 32, made medical history in 2006 after she received her fourth organ transplant — a kidney from her father, 61-year-old David John, to add to her previous heart, lung and liver transplants.

A life plagued by illness and frequent hospital visits has not deterred John from her dream of becoming a doctor, however. After 14 years of interrupted study, she finally received her medical degree from Cardiff University last month, according to the U.K. press.

Wow.

-WesMusings of a cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist.

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*

Physician Burnout: When Being A Doctor Makes You Sick

Do doctors take care of themselves? Sometimes patients may better follow the advice of physicians who aren’t obese and don’t smoke. That was a question asked in a post last year, entitled “When fat doctors talk to obese patients.”

According to studies, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, it’s a mixed bag:

Physicians as a group are leaner, fitter and live longer than average Americans. Male physicians keep their cholesterol and blood pressure lower. Women doctors are more likely to use hormone-replacement therapy than their patients. Doctors are also less likely to have their own primary care physician—and more apt to abuse prescription drugs.

Clearly there’s room for improvement. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at KevinMD.com*

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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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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