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Latest Posts

U.S. Health System Performance Falls Short Of Attainable Goals

Why doesn’t the US have the best health care system in the world?  That’s the question The Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health System asks in its report, “Why Not the Best? Results from the National Scorecard on U.S. Health System Performance, 2011.” Excerpt:

“U.S. health system performance continues to fall far short of what is attainable, especially given the enormity of public and private resources devoted nationally to health. Across 42 performance indicators, the U.S. achieves a total score of 64 out of a possible 100, when comparing national rates with domestic and international benchmarks. Overall, the U.S. failed to improve relative to these benchmarks, which in many cases rose. Costs were up sharply, access to care deteriorated, health system efficiency remained low, disparities persisted, and health outcomes failed to keep pace with benchmarks. The Affordable Care Act targets many of the gaps identified by the Scorecard.” Read more »

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

High Value Care: Getting The Maximum Health Benefit

The past few months have offered encouraging signs that physicians and physician organizations are belatedly recognizing the need to take an active role in controlling health care costs by emphasizing “high-value” care and minimizing the use of low-value interventions with high costs and few clinical benefits. On the heels of a best practice guideline issued by his organization, American College of Physicians Executive VP Steven Weinberger, MD recently called for making cost-consciousness and stewardship of health resources a required general competency for graduate medical education.

In light of a recently published estimate that the top 5 overused clinical activities in primary care specialties led to $6.7 billion in wasted health spending in 2009, Dr. Weinberger’s call comes none to soon. Below is an excerpt from my post on this topic from April 13, 2010. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Common Sense Family Doctor*

Medicare’s Use Of Claims Data: Finding The Outliers

I have opposed Medicare’s use of claims data to evaluate the quality of medical care. Quality medical care is the goal that must be achieved. However, no one has described the measurement of quality medical care adequately.

Physicians recognize when other physicians are not performing quality medical care. Physicians recognize when another physician is just testing and performing procedures to increase revenue.

These over testing physicians are a small minority of physicians in practice.

Quality medical care is not about doing quarterly HbA1c’s on patients with Diabetes Mellitus. Quality medical care is about helping patients control their blood sugars so their HbA1c becomes normalized. It is about the clinical and financial results of treatment.

The clinical and financial results depend on both patients and physicians. Patients must be responsible for Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Repairing the Healthcare System*

Can The Healthcare “Consumers” Drive The Waste Out Of The System

Patients are first. Patients are the reason for the existence of the healthcare system. Physicians are second. They are trained to understand the pathophysiology of illness and to treat patients for their disease. Everyone else is a secondary stakeholder (provider).

All the stakeholders create waste in the healthcare system. If an accurate analysis were performed, most of the waste and the resulting profits would be attributed to the secondary stakeholders. Patient and physicians drive this waste and profits into the hands of the secondary stakeholders. Neither patients nor physicians are aware of driving the waste and profit into these stakeholders’ coffers.

The patient-physician relationship should be a one on one transaction. Patients and physicians are frustrated and many have accepted the disappearance of this human-to-human interaction.

Healthcare insurance companies and hospital systems think they own the patients and the physicians. This will turnout to be a fatal misperception.

To many observers of the healthcare system Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Repairing the Healthcare System*

Attempts To Reduce Re-Admissions To Hospitals May Not Be Worth It

Hospitals across the country are working on quality initiatives to reduce re-admissions to hospitals.  There are consultants, conferences, forums, meetings, physicians, nurses and administrators who are spending hours upon hours (and lots of $$$) to find ways to keep patients who have been discharged from being readmitted within 30 days.  Why all of this activity?  It is one of the quality measures that is being tracked by Medicare and Medical (CMS) and decreased reimbursement will be next if a patient is readmitted to any hospital within 30 days of a discharge. The diagnosis doesn’t matter.

A new study shows all of this focus and cost may not be worth it.  Readmission after a hospital discharge may not be an indication of poor care.

The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal looked at 4,812 patients and had medical experts review the cases of the 649 who needed urgent readmission within 6 months. (Not one month as we are measuring).  They found that Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

Latest Interviews

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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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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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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