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The Most Disgusting Hand-Shake Ever

Shaking hands is not really such a good idea, especially in a hospital where there are all sorts of nasty bugs floating around, seeking whom they may devour. So generally I do not shake hands unless the patient absolutely insists and I think the cultural slight may be more than he can bear. But one incident highlighted to me the reason you generally don’t want to shake hands so well it could just have well been written all over the hospital in bright neon lights.

I was on call that night so it fell to me to evaluate and treat the patient in casualties which the casualty officer said had a perianal abscess. I approached the bed and introduced myself, but I made a point of positioning myself in such a way that the patient wouldn’t be able to greet me with the traditional handshake. Experience had taught me that this was one case where this cultural idiosyncracy was patricularly ill-advised.

I asked what the problem was. without saying a word his hand moved to his gluteal cleft in one smooth motion. Moments later I found myself staring with morbid fascination as he pulled his butt cheeks apart and started prodding what was clearly an abscess with his finger. It had already broken open slightly so there was a thin stream of pus oozing out and following the natural pull of gravity. The patient’s grubby finger scratched, prodded and poked this poor stream of sepsis, completely disrupting its attempt to soil the bed linen. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at other things amanzi*

Which Specialists Steal The Most Food From The Doctors’ Lounge?

So I went to eat my free daily  lunch offering the other day  in the doctors lounge when I noticed that a giant plate of enchiladas was just about  empty.  At 10:35 am.   It’ not every day you get a free hot meal at Happy’s hospital,  I would like to thank the Medicare National Bank for paying for my meals.

Generally,Happy’s doctors lounge offers a fine consistent assortment of cold salads, sandwich meats and several soup offerings.  I found myself wondering exactly how much money I save every year by eating lunch in the doctors lounge.  I remember Mrs Happy’s daily lunch bills when she worked in the hospital.  It can add up pretty quick for nurses without the secret handshake to get in to the doctors lounge.   Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Happy Hospitalist Blog*

How Should We Define Medical Malpractice?

Ezra kindly responds to my post from Friday with a more reasoned stance than “just don’t commit malpractice.” His response, however, boils down to two main theses:

  1. Frivolous Lawsuits are not as common as generally thought, and
  2. Standardization can reduce the opportunity for error and thus decrease the frequency of medical malpractice suits.

Well, yes, but I’m not sure that addresses the typical physician’s complaints regarding the current med-mal system.

For example, the “frivolous” moniker is a pretty ambiguous term, especially to doctors’ loose understanding of legal terminology. To a physician, a “frivolous” case is one in which there was no error — where the standard of care was met, but perhaps the outcome was bad. Or to put it another way, doctors tend to feel that when they are vindicated in court, it’s prima facie evidence that the case was frivolous. This conviction is bolstered by the little-recognized fact that physicians win the vast majority of cases that actually go to trial, and the vast majority of claims filed do not result in a financial settlement. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*

The Continuing Shingles Saga & The Absence Of A Medical Home

shingles-on-scalpRegular readers of Better Health will recall my personal frustration that my mother-in-law received 2 months of physical therapy, a head CT, and extensive blood testing in response to a shingles outbreak that I was able to diagnose easily over the phone.

The misdiagnosis that resulted in chronic post-herpetic neuralgia and a $10,000 waste of resources, has continued to vex me. After Mrs. Zlotkus and I realized what was going on, I outlined for her the usual treatment regimen for shingles pain – explaining that most people needed a fairly high dose of the nerve pain medicine before they experience any relief at all, and to make sure her doctor gave her an adequate dose before deciding whether or not it worked.

And you can guess what happened next.

Mrs. Zlotkus was seen by a young and inexperienced neurologist who insisted on giving her a very tiny dose of the nerve medicine (it has an excellent safety profile even at very high doses). Of course, it didn’t help. She was given 100mg twice a day (where shingles sufferers often need as much as 1800mg/day) with instructions to return in a few weeks. The doctor also told her that she “couldn’t be sure the pain was due to shingles since she hadn’t seen the original rash.”

That’s like an ER physician saying to a trauma victim that they can’t be sure of the cause of the injuries because they didn’t witness the car accident.

At that point I instructed her to find an experienced pain management specialist who’d know how to titrate her medication appropriately – and who might even be able to do a nerve block to get her some immediate pain relief.

Luckily, Mrs. Zlotkus “knew somebody who knew somebody” and was able to make an appointment the next day with a senior anesthesiologist experienced in nerve blocks. The pain management physician knew just what to do, administered the nerve block, increased her medication dose, and sent her on her way. She experienced immediate relief of her symptoms and felt like a new woman.

If Mrs. Zlotkus had gone directly to the anesthesiologist in the first place, she might have saved herself months of agony and a $10,000+ bill to Medicare. (Better yet she would have gone to her PCP when she first noticed scabs on her scalp and he would have prescribed an anti-viral medicine that could have aborted the entire pain syndrome.) But how was she to know which provider was right for her? How could she know that her neurologist was prescribing her the wrong dose of pain medication, and that a nerve block might solve all of this nicely. Without the correct diagnosis, a cascade of wasted resources and personal suffering ensued. Without me nudging her in the right treatment direction – perhaps she’d still be doing neck stretching exercises in physical therapy?

I am a fan of the “medical home” concept as described by the AAFP and wonder if it could have made a difference in Mrs. Zlotkus’ care:

“In this new model, the traditional doctor’s office is transformed into the central point for Americans to organize and coordinate their health care, based on their needs and priorities. At its core is an ongoing partnership between each person and a specially trained primary care physician. This new model provides modern conveniences, like e-mail communication and same-day appointments; quality ratings and pricing information; and secure online tools to help consumers manage their health information, review the latest medical findings and make informed decisions.

Consumers receive reminders about necessary appointments and screenings, as well as other support to help them and their families manage chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. The primary care physician helps each person assemble a team when he or she needs specialists and other health care providers such as nutritionists and physical trainers. The consumer decides who is on his or her team, and the primary care physician makes sure they are working together to meet all of the patient’s needs in an integrated, ‘whole person’ fashion.”

In summary, there’s a lot of waste in our medical system caused by a lack of coordination of care, hasty diagnoses, and defensive medicine. Even the most common diagnoses (like shingles) can end up setting off a chain reaction of over testing, incorrect treatment and personal suffering. We need an “OnStar” system for healthcare – a way to help patients navigate their way to the right care at the right time. The medical home model is as good a GPS system as any… so long as the primary care physician at the center of the coordination of care is not so rushed that she can’t do her job properly. And that’s the secret to making the medical home work – giving the doctor enough time to unravel the problems at hand and figure out the best next steps in care. If we get this right, we can probably say goodbye to CT scans for shingles.

Propofol: Will It Become Over-Regulated?

I enjoyed NYC Dr. Kent Sepkowitz’s column in Slate the other day — Paging Dr. Feelgood — where he recaps the careers of some celebrity docs and tries to imagine the pathway to enabling addicts. Key part:

In a strange way, I actually stand in awe of these guys. I have taken care of a few celebs in my career, and for me it was an awful experience. If you f*ck it up, you’re toast. Once I took care of a very important person, a person you have heard of and are very interested in, someone you would be shocked to know had the problem—asthma—that I treated him for. Well, almost treated him for. His complaints and his recollection of near death last time he had the identical symptoms so unnerved me that I asked a colleague to assume his care.

But the Dr. Feelgood experiences no such hesitancy… Perhaps it all starts innocently—a rich, famous guy with a tiny problem walks into the office. He can’t sleep at night. He’s so friendly, sincere, not stuck up like some celebs. Then he comes back a week later because of a sore ankle, wanting a little codeine and bearing an autographed photo or a CD. Other patients notice and figure you must be a pretty good doctor if Mr. Showbiz is coming in….

I once wrote about that concern over VIP complaints, in a medscape column. And, like the author, the only thing that impresses me about these celebrity docs is their creativity — Sepkowitz describes how the first Dr. Feelgood used solubilized placenta. And, while the risks of propofol dosing are drummed into our heads in training, it never occurred to me a doctor-to-the-stars might use propofol outside the hospital on an unmonitored patient.

While it didn’t surprise me that propofol has been considered in
palliative care
and even implicated in a murder, it turns out propofol (diprivan) abuse and dependency is not unheard of and, as this review by Roussin shows, some IRB actually permitted trials:

Normal healthy volunteers (n = 12) were exposed in a blind fashion to acute bolus injections of 0.6 mg/kg of propofol and to a similar volume of soy-based lipid emulsion (similar to the vehicule of propofol) twice. After these sampling sessions, they were asked to choose which drug they preferred to be injected with. Propofol was chosen by 50% of the subjects, and seemed to have been based on the pleasant subjective effects. In contrast, the choice of placebo (Intralipid®) seemed to have been based on either non-intense subjective effects during the propofol sampling session (increased dizziness, confusion) or residual effects (fatigue) after the sessions. These results suggest that, in some healthy volunteers, propofol functioned as a reward.

…From a psychopharmacologists’ standpoint, propofol shares properties in common with many drugs that are abused. In particular, the onset of the effects of propofol are rapid and this drug makes people ‘feel good’ and feel relaxed [45]. The mood-altering effects of subanaesthetic doses of propofol delivered via an infusion or by an acute bolus injection have been assessed in human healthy volunteers [44,52]. Subjects reported feeling high, lightheaded, spaced out and sedated….

I read up on propofol use a lot a year ago, in preparation for a talk on procedural sedation. At that point I think its only foray into pop culture’s collective consciousness was a poem by Karl Kirchwey called “Propofol” that ran a year ago in the New Yorker. It began:

Moly, mandragora, milk of oblivion:
I said to Doctor Day, “You bring on night.”
“But then,” he said, “I bring day back again,”
and smiled; except his smile was thin and slight.

Now everyone’s talking about propofol. The ASA is using this opportunity to reintroduce talk of restricting propofol to their specialty alone (despite abundant and mounting evidence that it’s used safely in ED procedural sedation). Reporters are wondering why propofol administration is not as closely logged as, say, opiates.

All this activity suggests it soon will be. And while keeping this drug out of the hands of abusers and enablers is a worthy goal of regulation, I hope those who’ve demonstrated a safe track record are not prohibited from using this unique medication.

*This blog post was originally published at Blogborygmi*

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Latest Book Reviews

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

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