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Robot Performs Surgery For Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Is It Over The Top?

I came across this article the other day regarding use of the daVinci robot to perform base of tongue surgery for obstructive sleep apnea.

For those who don’t know, the daVinci robot system made by Intuitive Surgical is a robotic system whereby the surgeon directs the arms of the robot to perform surgery in difficult-to-access areas of the body.

My feeling is that using a robot to perform sleep apnea surgery is way overkill akin to using a $50,000 sniper rifle to kill an ant on the wall.

Everything the daVinci robot can do can also be done without the robot with equivalent patient outcomes. In fact, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Fauquier ENT Blog*

Anonymous Blogger Reviews The Lack Of Evidence For Robotic Surgery

The surgeon who blogs as Skeptical Scalpel writes that he (she?) is unable to contain him(her)self any longer and then lunges into a review of evidence (or lack thereof) for robotic surgery.

You may disagree with Skeptical Scalpel’s decision to be anonymous, but he/she explains:

Operating-Room.jpg“I’ve been a surgeon for almost 40 years and a surgical department chairman for over 23 of those years. During much of that time, conforming to the norms, rules and regulations of government agencies, accrediting bodies, hospitals, societies, and social convention was necessary for survival. I was always somewhat outspoken but in a controlled way most of the time. I now have a purely clinical surgery practice with no meetings, site visits or administrative hassles. I am free to speak my mind about medicine or anything else.”

On robotics, Skeptical Scalpel writes: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

Are Urologists Being Seduced By Robots?

Maggie Mahar’s Health Beat blog tipped me off about a Bloomberg opinion piece by an Oregon urologist that begins by stating:

“The decision to opt for medical care that relies on the most costly technology is often based on blind faith that newer, elaborate and expensive must be better.”

Later, he focuses specifically on robotic surgery devices:

“They are costly and require significant re-training for surgeons. Yet consumers hungrily seek out surgeons versed in their use. If a surgeon recommends an older, less expensive technology, many patients will shop for a surgeon willing to use the newest and costliest devices, even if the added benefits are unproven and the risks may be greater.

Hospitals do nothing to discourage this and engage in the kind of tawdry marketing more familiar on late-night infomercials by using patient testimonials. “I cannot believe how quickly I recovered,” a vigorous-looking patient is quoted as saying.

As a surgeon I have to ask: Where is the data? Was the recovery any quicker than in a procedure done without a robot? Would another surgical approach have served the patient as well? And cost a lot less?

We are all keepers of the health-care system treasury. In making treatment choices, physicians and patients alike would do well to ask: “If I were paying for this out of my own pocket would I choose this treatment, or am I just being wowed by the cool factor at someone else’s expense?”

In the first decade of practice I was enthralled with the amazing new technology. Moving into my second decade I hope to temper some of that enthusiasm with a bit of good old-fashioned fiscal responsibility.”

It should be noted that the urologist/author discloses in the editorial that he is is founder of a medical device company with its own surgical system.

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

Charitable Hospitals Being Sold To For-Profits To Survive

More than one-fifth of hospitals are government-owned, but states and counties are out of cash to keep them open. So, charitable hospitals are being sold to for-profit groups or facing closures. Rising costs and more uninsured patients run smack into falling Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. When bonds come due, there’s little chance of states and counties paying them back. And the facilities are often standalones, and they can’t fall back on corporate backing. This year, 53 hospitals have been sold in 25 arrangements. While the deals often stipulate that care for the poor continues, no one is certain exactly how or even whether such services will continue.

That said, other charitable hospitals are making big profits. What are they doing differently? First, they’re competing for patients, so they’re increasing room sizes, offering amenities and even investing in high-end procedures such as robotic surgery. They continue to offer community care, but they’re acting more like for-profit institutions to cover their charitable missions. But this conflicts with an old-fashioned view of what charitable care is supposed to be.

Stepping into the breach is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is offering one solution, by increasing reimbursement for inpatient services in rural areas. The agency is expanding a pilot program by increasing reimbursement for inpatient services. Facilities are eligible if they offer care to rural areas in the 20 states with the lowest population densities, have fewer than 51 beds, provide emergency-care services and are not a critical-access hospital. (Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Modern Healthcare)

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Treatment For Throat Cancer: Inspiration For Michael Douglas

There’s news that Hollywood star Michael Douglas, 65, is undergoing treatment for throat cancer. Reporters say his doctors say he is expected to make a full recovery. But, believe me — when someone is diagnosed with any kind of head and neck cancer, as this is, it’s not an easy go.

My first encounter with it was with my friend Bob Moore, a former sales rep for a major pharmaceutical company. He was a positive, yet realistic guy. The disease and the toxic treatment a few years ago eventually took its toll and he passed on.

My dear friend Mike Piller, famous as writer and co-executive producer of the Star Trek television series, had a similar diagnosis. He did his research and traveled to the best centers. Surgery and radiation took away part of his jaw and his ability to taste and swallow. Of course his speech was affected. He was a trooper, but he never recovered.

In both cases the doctors did what they could to cut out or zap the cancerous tissue tucked away around a lot of critical structures. 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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