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The Surprising Economic Burden Of ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

It is estimated that as many as 10 million U.S. adults have ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).  A recent research study (publication-pending) suggests that the economic burden of ADHD on America could be as high as $250 billion annually. I attended a recent briefing on Capitol Hill and interviewed one of the study’s co-authors: Tufts economist, Dr. Peter Neumann as well as congressman (and psychologist) Tim Murphy about ADHD in America.

I learned from Dr. Neumann that cost these high cost estimates are most strongly influenced by reduced productivity in adult workers with ADHD rather than direct costs of treating children with the disorder. Productivity costs include absenteeism, and reduced work output due to difficulty focusing. Dr. Neumann explained that ADHD has many “spill over effects” in that it impacts the educational system, the justice system, the healthcare system, and our work environments. Please check out our interview video for the full story.

Congressman Tim Murphy is a clinical psychologist with three decades of experience in treating people with ADHD. He is also Co-chair of the Mental Health Caucus and GOP Doctors Caucus where he regularly works to raise awareness of healthcare accessibility needs. I had the chance to interview him also at the event.

I learned from Rep. Murphy that the costs of ADHD multiply when patients are untreated.  Getting the correct diagnosis is critical, because impulsivity and problems with focusing are not always caused by ADHD. These symptoms can be caused by lead poisoning, damage to the limbic system of the brain, metabolic disorders, or even sleep apnea. Children who are inattentive should not be put on medications for ADHD without first confirming the diagnosis by ruling out other possible causes.

Rep. Murphy recommends a team approach to the management and treatment of ADHD and he believes that costs related to ADHD are escalating because some physicians are not managing children holistically, but resorting to prescribing medications without involving counselors and family directly. He sees lack of health insurance coverage for behavioral health services as a threat to comprehensive and effective ADHD treatment.

Please watch the video for the full interview with congressman Murphy.

*Please note that the panel event, and Better Health’s participation, was made possible by a grant from Shire Pharmaceuticals.


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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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