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Realistic Medicine: The Kind To Look For

There are several stages in becoming an empowered, engaged, activated patient — a capable, responsible partner in getting good care for yourself, your family, whoever you’re caring for. One ingredient is to know what to expect, so you can tell when things seem right and when they don’t.

Researching a project today, I came across an article* published in 2006: ”Key Learning from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s 10-Year Patient Safety Journey.” This table shows the attitude you’ll find in an organization that has realized the challenges of medicine and is dealing with them realistically:

Table of before and after thinking about safety and quality at Dana Farber

“Errors are everywhere.” “Great care in a high-risk environment.” What kind of attitude is that? It’s accurate.

This work began after the death of Boston Globe health columnist Betsy Lehman. Long-time Bostonians will recall that she was killed in 1994 by an accidental overdose of chemo at Dana-Farber. It shocked us to realize that a savvy patient like her, in one of the best places in the world, could be killed by such an accident. But she was.

Five years later the Institute of Medicine’s report “To Err is Human” documented that such errors are in fact common — 44,000 to 98,000  a year. It hasn’t gotten better: Last November the U.S. Inspector General released new findings that 15,000 Medicare patients are killed in U.S. hospitals every month. That’s one every three minutes. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at e-Patients.net*

About Patient Autonomy

Recently, I was involved in a discussion on an email list serve and decided to takes some of my comments on patient autonomy and blog about them. This arose following a debate about whether the term “patient” engendered a sense of passivity and, therefore, whether the term should be dropped in favor of something else, like “client” or something similar.

Having participated in the preparation and dissemination of the white paper on e-patients, I don’t see the need for “factions” or disagreements in the service of advancing Participatory Medicine. As Alan Greene aptly stated: “This is a big tent, with room for all.”

I want all of my patients to be as autonomous as possible. In my view, their autonomy is independent of the doctor-patient relationship that I have with them. They make the choice to enter into, or to activate or deactivate, the relationship with me. They may ignore my input, seek a second opinion, or fire me and seek the care of another physician at any time. They truly are in control in that sense. The only thing I have control over and am responsible for is trying to provide the best advice or consultation I can. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at eDocAmerica*

Healthcare Improvement Via An Imperfect Solution

My professional organization recently asked me to participate in an interesting meeting at the state capitol talking about healthcare payment reform and how to improve the healthcare delivery system. This was sponsored by the state of Ohio and their Health Care Coverage and Quality Council.

It was the first meeting that I’ve been to where there were physicians, hospitals, insurance companies, and patients — all trying to put our heads together — present our points of view and try to come to consensus. Did we come to consensus on solutions? Not really, only that we will continue the conversation. There is no perfect solution that will make everyone happy, but we will strive to try to get to that best imperfect solution.

When is comes to healthcare delivery and healthcare payment, there was a lot of discussion on physicians and hospitals — meaning healthcare providers. The motivating factor in these cases uses terms like payment, lack of payment, incentives, bonuses, and penalties. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Doctor Anonymous*

Your Pharmacist’s Role In Safe, Effective Prescription Drug Treatment

This is a guest post from Dr. Mary Lynn McPherson.

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Rescuing Patients On Darvon Or Darvocet With Zero Tolerance For Pain

On November 19, 2010 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called for a halt in the use of the popular opioid pain relievers Darvocet and Darvon. These products contain the opioid propoxyphene, and it has been used to treat mild to moderate pain for over 50 years. However, concerns have long been raised about the effectiveness of this drug, and the risk of death (accidental and suicide). Darvon and Darvocet were banned in Britain in 2005, followed by the European Union in 2009. Over the past 30 years, the FDA has received numerous petitions to take these drugs off the U.S. market.

Research has shown that Darvon and Darvocet are no more effective for treating moderate pain than over the counter drugs like acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen. Unfortunately, Darvon and Darvocet cause a lot more side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting, hallucinations and constipation (all pretty typical of opioids used to treat pain). But, the side effects don’t stop there. The data is in, and it’s not a pretty picture. A recent study requested by the FDA showed that when used at the recommended doses, Darvon and Darvocet cause significant changes in the electrical activity of the heart, which can lead to a fatal irregularity in your heartbeat, even after only short-term use.

Among those advocating for the removal of these drugs from the market were pharmacists. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists approved a policy in 2007 advocating for the withdrawal of Darvon and Darvocet from the U.S. market, and recently testified at the FDA Advisory Committee to this effect. As an often overlooked member of the medical team, pharmacists have a vital role to play in providing safe and effective treatments. We serve as the last line of defense against improper or unwise prescribing of drugs — especially those for pain. We are drug experts, and we can help patients and doctors switch from Darvon or Darvocet to safer and more effective treatments. Read more »

A Patient’s Contagious Confidence And Endless Possibilities

In a recent post I wrote why patients are the most important part of the medical team, and my colleagues, Elizabeth Cohen, Kevin Pho, MD, Donna Cryer, JD, and Carl R. Sullivan, MD, shared their insights as well. Today, Ginger Vieira, a patient living with type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, says:

“You, as the patient, are the most important part of the medical team because you are the one who makes the daily decisions, who balances your disease around dinners, soccer games, long hours at work without enough time to check your blood sugar and eat lunch. You are the one who takes the knowledge you learn from your doctor and fits it into your everyday life. That’s a huge role, and it’s never easy.”

Ginger Vieira shares her story about the challenges and how her positive attitude is allowing her to lead a life she thought was off limits.

Contagious Confidence, Endless Possibilities

By Ginger Vieira

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.” My twin brother, Pete, said this to me several months ago. I wrote it down on an index card and taped it to my bathroom mirror. Funny thing is, it’s never been other people telling me I can or cannot do something. The loudest voice I hear is my own.

When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the seventh grade over eleven years ago, the first list that ran through my head was the list of things I probably couldn’t do anymore. I couldn’t eat ice cream without first counting the grams of carbohydrates in the bowl and determining how much insulin I needed. I couldn’t play basketball anymore (at least, that’s what I thought). I couldn’t buy candy and popcorn with my friends when we go to the movies without feeling overwhelmingly guilty about eating such diabetic-off-limits food. The list of foods, activities, dreams and goals I thought were off-limits seemed endless. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Health in 30*

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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