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Do We Really Need Another Branch Of Government To Enforce Medical Informed Consent?

Health Leaders Media recently published an article about “the latest idea in healthcare: the informed shared medical decision.”  While this “latest idea” is actually as old as the Hippocratic Oath, the notion that we need to create an extra layer of bureaucracy to enforce it is even more ridiculous. The author argues that physicians and surgeons are recommending too many procedures for their patients, without offering them full disclosure about their non-procedural options. This trend can be easily solved, she says, by blocking patient access to surgical consultants:

“The surgeon isn’t part of the process. Instead, patients would learn from experts—perhaps hired by the health system or the payers—whether they meet indications for the procedure or whether there are feasible alternatives.”

So surgeons familiar with the nuances of an individual’s case, and who perform the procedure themselves, are not to be consulted during the risk/benefit analysis phase of a “shared” decision. Instead, the “real experts” – people hired by insurance companies or the government – should provide information to the patient.

I understand that surgeons and interventionalists have potential financial incentives to perform procedures, but in my experience the fear of complications, poor outcomes, or patient harm is enough to prevent most doctors from performing unnecessary invasive therapies. Not to mention that many of us actually want to do the right thing, and have more than enough patients who clearly qualify for procedures than to try to pressure those who don’t need them into having them done.

And if you think that “experts hired by a health insurance company or government agency” will be more objective in their recommendations, then you’re seriously out of touch. Incentives to block and deny treatments for enhanced profit margins – or to curtail government spending – are stronger than a surgeons’ need to line her pockets. When you take the human element out of shared decision-making, then you lose accountability – people become numbers, and procedures are a cost center. Patients should have the right to look their provider in the eye and receive an explanation as to what their options are, and the risks and benefits of each choice.

I believe in a ground up, not a top down, approach to reducing unnecessary testing and treatment. Physicians and their professional organizations should be actively involved in promoting evidence-based practices that benefit patients and engage them in informed decision making. Such organizations already exist, and I’d like to see their role expand.

The last thing we need is another bureaucratic layer inserted in the physician-patient relationship. Let’s hold each other accountable for doing the right thing, and let the insurance company and government “experts” take on more meaningful jobs in clinical care giving.

When A Medical Recommendation Is Over The Top

I saw a lady with a boil. It began as a small red bump which got bigger and harder, then drained white stuff, and was now getting better.

The reason she was worried about it was its location: it was on her breast. This was why the chief complaint officially read, “Breast lump” despite the fact that it was technically no such thing.

I examined her carefully, determining that the pathologic process was indeed confined to the skin and clinically did not involve the actual breast tissue in any way. However because she was of an age for screening mammography, I did take the opportunity to urge her to have it; which she did. The problem arrived with the radiology report:

A marker is placed over the area of palpable abnormality. Mammographic images reveal normal breast tissue with no mass or architectural distortion. The pathologic process is confined to the skin. Recommend surgical excision. (emphasis mine)

Um, no. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Dinosaur*

Faces Of Medical Error: The Story Of Michael Skolnik

I was very sad and quite angry after watching a powerful video this weekend entitled ”The Faces of Medical Error: From Tears to Transparency.” It’s the story of Michael Skolnik. His mother, Patty, gave me the video when I met her recently. Michael had what may have been unnecessary brain surgery in 2001 and died three years later.

The Skolniks worked on this video as part of an educational campaign on medical error, and they created an organization now named Citizens for Patient Safety. Here’s a trailer to the video:

You can also watch a Today Show segment that profiled the Skolniks from a few years ago:

While much of the message is about medical errors and malpractice, the Skolniks also promote a message of the “critical need for shared decision-making.” In fact, I met Patty at a shared decision-making conference.

If you haven’t heard Michael Skolnik’s story, you should. And if you’re like me, you’ll need a tissue box close by for the sadness, and something else to help with the ensuing anger.

Thanks to Patty Skolnik for sharing the story and the video with me.

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

“Just In Case” Heart Tests: Can They Do More Harm Than Good?

Here’s an important equation that all of us — doctors include — should know about healthcare, but don’t:

More ≠ Better

“More does not equal better” applies to diagnostic procedures, screening tests meant to identify problems before they appear, medications, dietary supplements, and just about every aspect of medicine.

That scenario is spelled out in alarming detail in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Clinicians at the Cleveland Clinic describe the case of a 52-year-old woman who went to her community hospital because she had been having chest pain for two days. She wasn’t having symptoms of a heart attack, such as shortness of breath, unexplained nausea, or a cold sweat, and her electrocardiogram and other tests were fine. The woman’s doctors concluded that her chest pain was probably due to a muscle she had pulled or strained during her recently begun exercise program to lose weight.

To “reassure her” that she wasn’t having a heart attack, the emergency department team recommended she have a CT scan of her heart. This noninvasive procedure can spot narrowings in coronary arteries and other problems that can interfere with blood flow to the heart. When it showed a suspicious area in her left anterior descending artery (a key artery nourishing the heart), she underwent a coronary angiogram. This involves inserting a thin wire called a catheter into a blood vessel in the groin and deftly maneuvering it into the heart. Once in place, equipment on the catheter is used to make pictures of blood flow through the coronary arteries. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

About Male Breast Cancer, Gynecomastia, And Testing

Most medical centers routinely perform or require that breast tissue be sent to pathology for histologic examination.  The authors of the article (referenced below) question whether this is useful when the breast tissue excised comes from an adolescent male with gynecomastia considering the benign nature of the condition.

Furthermore, the authors point out male breast cancer is rare and when it does occur it is most often in older males, not adolescent males:

In 2009, there were an estimated 1,910 new cases and 440 deaths related to male breast cancer, accounting for just 0.25% and 0.15% of all new cases of cancer and cancer deaths for males in the entire United States, respectively, with historical cohorts demonstrating that the peak incidence of male breast cancer occurs at approximately 71 years of age. More significantly, breast cancer becomes increasingly uncommon among younger age groups.

To look at the issue, the authors did a retrospective chart review  of their patients younger than 21 years of age who had undergone subcutaneous mastectomy for gynecomastia between 1999 and 2010. A review of the literature was done, as was an informal survey of major children’s hospitals regarding their practice of histologic examination for adolescent gynecomastia. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Suture for a Living*

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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