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Latest Posts

Killed By TPN: A “Never-Ever” Hospital Event?

Recently, nine patients died in Alabama when they received intravenous nutrition that was contaminated with deadly bacteria. This type of nutrition is called total parenteral nutrition, or TPN, and is used to nourish patients by vein when their digestive systems are not functioning properly. It is a milestone achievement in medicine and saves and maintains lives every day.

What went wrong? How did an instrument of healing become death by lethal injection? What is the lesson that can emerge from this unimaginable horror?

This tragedy represents that most feared ‘never event’ that can ever occur – death by friendly fire. No survivors. Contrast this with many other medical ‘never events’ as defined by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, such as post-operative infections, development of bed sores in the hospital or wrong-site surgery. Under the ‘never events’ program, hospitals will be financially penalized if a listed event occurs. Many physicians and hospitals are concerned that there will be a ‘never events’ mission creep with new outcomes added to the list that don’t belong there. Medical complications, which are unavoidable, may soon be defined as ‘never events’.

Do we need a new category of ‘never ever ever events’ to include those that lead to fatal outcomes? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

Technophobic Physician Discovers iPhone, Recommends Apps

Your humble Luddite Whistleblower has leapt across the sea to reach the Isle of Technology. I now own and operate an iPhone, which identifies me as groovy, hip and cool, three adjectives that none of our 5 kids ever use to describe their technophobic father. I’m told that my text messages are too long and too frequent. I am admonished that it is not necessary for me to photograph moments of high drama, such as a kid eating breakfast, and then to disseminate the image to my contact list. I am reminded often that I am slow to grasp the mechanical intricacies of the device, such as switching from ring to vibration mode.

You may wonder how it was possible that I, who consider using an ATM to be a high level computer operation, could make the iPhone, my phone. I knew I couldn’t fail, despite my trepidation of all things cyber. I had a secret weapon, a ‘Plan B’. Actually, I had Plan Z, the most powerful asset that anyone in my situation could hope for. Z stands for Zachy. One sentence will explain all and may provoke screams of envy from those who have no available similar resource. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

Physicians And Hospitals Protect Their Turf With Patient-Safety Arguments

Prototype ‘BS’ meter.

So many folks express views that are obviously self-serving, but they try to masquerade them as altruistic positions that benefit some other constituency. These attempts usually fool no one, but yet these performances are common and ongoing. They are potent fertilizer for cynicism.

Teachers’ unions have been performing for us for decades. Their positions on charter schools, school vouchers, merit pay and the tenure system are clear examples of professional advocacy to protect teachers’ jobs and benefits; yet the stated reasons are to protect our kids. Yeah, right. While our kids are not receiving a top flight education, the public has gotten smart in a hurry on what’s really needed to reform our public educational system. This is why these unions are now retreating and regrouping, grudgingly ‘welcoming’ some reform proposals that have been on the table for decades. This was no epiphany on their part. They were exposed and vulnerable. They wisely sensed that the public lost faith in their arguments and was turning against them. Once the public walked away, or became adversaries, established and entrenched teachers’ union views and policies would be aggressively targeted. Those of us in the medical profession have learned the risk of alienating the public. Teachers have been smarter than we were.

The medical profession is full of ‘performances’ where the stated view is mere camouflage. For example, Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

Breast Cancer Breakthrough: Less Is More

Recently, every newspaper in the country reported on a landmark development in breast cancer treatment. It is now clear that certain breast cancer women do not need to undergo removal of lymph nodes from the armpit as part of their treatment. This would spare them from the risk and discomfort of an unnecessary procedure. It is welcome news, particularly for those of us who argue that in medicine, less is more. This is an example of the benefit of comparative effectiveness research, a tool that can separate what patients truly need from what the medical profession believes they must have.

Let’s hope that breast cancer breakthrough metastasizes across the medical profession. Here’s what it accomplished.

  • It spares women from unnecessary surgery.
  • It saves money.
  • It demonstrates that physicians and medical professionals can serve the public interest.
  • It gives hope that all medical specialties will critically evaluate and justify the tests and treatments that we recommend to our patients.

Ironically, when the U.S Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) published their mammography guidelines last year, also arguing that less is more, they were assailed as medical traitors against women.

When it comes to breasts
There’s a tug of war
Some want less
And some want more.
Every practicing physician, medical educator and researcher should examine their own practices and medical advice. On what basis do we recommend our treatments? Do we do so because we were taught these practices in our training years ago? Is it from habit or adhering to the community standard? Is it because patients have such a high expectation of a medical intervention that we feel obligated to act?

Can anyone argue that patients are subjected to too much/many

  • Chemotherapy
  • Antibiotics
  • Colonoscopies
  • Cardiac stents
  • CAT scans and their imaging cousins Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

Free Drug Samples Or Hospital Hotels: The Greater Evil?

Many folks criticize pharmaceutical companies for providing physicians’ offices with free drug samples. They claim that this giveaway harms consumers because drug companies must raise their prices to cover the costs of these freebies. Of course, this is undeniable. Any business expense, such as payroll or advertising, has to be covered and is expectedly borne by the consumer. If a company chooses not to advertise, outsources manufacturing to a country with cheaper labor, offers limited benefits to its employees, then they can sell their product at a low price. In this hypothetical example, anemic sales may doom the company quickly.

Naturally, free samples are not really free. The rest of us pay for them. While this is true, I don’t think it is evil. Unlike the U.S. government, at least drug companies are covering their costs and not simply borrowing money every year to meet budget. Interesting concept.

Two of the community hospitals I work at have undergone transformations. One is owned by the dominant health care behemoth in Cleveland and has just completed a near $200 million renovation and expansion. The other smaller hospital is one of the few remaining Cleveland area hospitals that are still independent. I’d like to sneak there at night and hoist up a “Live Free or Die” flag up the flagpole, to delebrate its independent streak, but I’m sure that there are video cameras everywhere and that I would be in violation of several bylaws. The apt punishment might be that I would have to spend a cold Cleveland night chainedto the flagpole reading electronic medical record manuals out loud. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at MD Whistleblower*

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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