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Lying: A Way Of Life In The Medical Profession

In his last post, DrRich analyzed whether the young Wisconsin doctors who stood out on street corners proudly offering fake “sick excuses” to protesting teachers were engaging in an act of civil disobedience. DrRich respectfully kept an open mind on this question, but after careful deliberation concluded that it is very unlikely that their actions constituted classic civil disobedience as espoused by Thoreau or Gandhi.

Instead, these doctors were, in a professional capacity, lying. They did not lie in any truly malicious way, however. They lied because they have been trained to believe in a higher cause than mere professional ethics, namely, the cause of social justice. They lied in full confidence that telling lies to advance such a noble cause is a natural duty of the medical profession. They never expected to be criticized for it (except perhaps by Rush Limbaugh and sundry teabaggers and the like), and they almost certainly will be stunned into indignant incoherence if they end up actually receiving the full punishments their actions allow.

But what really interests DrRich is the near-perfect silence we have seen from the mainstream news media regarding this sad episode. While it’s easy to find stories about the phony sick excuses all over Fox News and conservative websites, major outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, CBS and NBC — sources one might expect to express at least some sympathy for these doctors and their work to advance a just cause – have reported next to nothing about it. When a left-leaning mainstream outlet does report on the episode (for instance, this article appearing in the Atlantic), rather than expressing any support for the Wisconsin doctors, they express at least mild dismay. It seems plain to DrRich that the mainstream media wish the whole thing hadn’t happened, and that perhaps their silence might help it go away as soon as possible.

So here we’ve got a small cadre of youthful and idealistic physicians, behaving in a manner entirely consistent with what they’ve just learned during their medical training, and not only are they facing formal investigations and potential punishment, but also the very people and organizations whom they were surely counting on for support have retreated into an embarrassed silence, or worse, criticism. What gives? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing Blog*

Deep Brain Stimulation: Experts Warn About Aggressive Marketing

A paper published in the February issue of Health Affairs — discussed at length in an article in the New York Times — contains the sort of blunt, plain-spoken language you seldom read in academic journals. The authors, who include some of the most prominent neuroscientists and ethicists in the world, warn that manufacturers are misusing the FDA’s humanitarian device exemption to promote deep brain stimulation as a “treatment” for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

In fact, they make clear that deep brain stimulation is very much an experimental procedure. Research is still at an early stage, and the risks to patients are not well defined. When suffering is severe and no other treatment has provided relief, there is value in making available an intervention like deep brain stimulation. But misleading or biased information, no matter where it comes from, certainly undermines patients’ ability to calculate benefits and risks.

To enable deep brain stimulation, a surgeon must first implant electrodes in the brain and connect them to a pair of small electrical generators underneath the collarbone. Deep brain stimulation uses electricity to affect how brain signals are transmitted in particular areas of the brain. The image to the left, from the National Institute of Mental Health, shows how deep brain stimulation depends on the implantation of pulse generators below the collarbone and electrodes in the brain.

Specific concerns are raised by the article in Health Affairs (and in our own article on this topic last year in the Harvard Mental Health Letter). Read more »

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

A Video Poem: Medical Tests And What “Normal” Means

I’ve written a few times about Veneta Masson, a nurse practitioner who wrote in Health Affairs and the Washington Post about her decision to forego further mammograms despite the fact that she was in a higher-risk category.

Veneta is also a poet. She sent me a video animation of her poem “Reference Range,” which I’m pleased to share with you. I think the poem and the video are beautiful, touching on important issues of how meaningless numbers and scores may be, subject to misinterpretation. She writes:

I see no cause for alarm.

“Is it normal?” you ask.

Normal’s a shell game you seldom win.

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

Why Female Physicians Make Less Money

Female doctors make less than male physicians. That conclusion gained major media traction recently. A recent post on KevinMD.com by medical student Emily Lu had some great conversation discussing reasons why women make less money in medicine.

To recap, the study from Health Affairs concluded that,

newly-trained physicians who are women are being paid significantly lower salaries than their male counterparts according to a new study. The authors identify an unexplained gender gap in starting salaries for physicians that has been growing steadily since 1999, increasing from a difference of $3,600 in 1999 to $16,819 in 2008. This gap exists even after accounting for gender differences in determinants of salary including medical specialty, hours worked, and practice type, say the authors.

Everyone hypothesized all sorts of reasons. Female doctors prefer more family-friendly hours and less call, which may impact their salary. Women are simply worse negotiators than men. Blatant sexism exists when hiring new physicians. Money isn’t as important to women as it is to men. All of which may, or may not, be true. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at KevinMD.com*

Is The ER Really The Best Place to Get Primary Care Quicker?

In 1986, when Congress passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), hospitals and ambulance services were mandated by law to stabilize anyone needing emergency healthcare services regardless of citizenship, legal status, and/or insurance status.

This was instituted at the time to prevent the prevalent practice of “dumping” — refusing to treat patients because of insufficient insurance or transferring or discharging patients on the basis of anticipating high diagnosis and treatment costs. While the implications of this law are indeed very noble in providing undifferentiated care to all patients based solely on healthcare needs and not financial status, it has unfortunately led to many patients presenting to the emergency department (ED) for primary care issues.

The misconception is that the care in the ED is similar if not better (because of increased access to consult services and imaging) and quicker than waiting to see your primary care physician (PCP). A 2010 study published in Health Affairs found that 14 percent to 27 percent of visits to hospital EDs are nonemergent, such as minor infections, strains, fractures, and lacerations. The study found that all of these cases could have been appropriately triaged in urgent care centers or retails clinics.

England has a model that may be a potential solution. The healthcare goal of the National Health Services (NHS) is to “treat the right patients in the right place at the right time.” The NHS employs nurses and paramedics to handle 999 (their equivalent of our 911) triage calls with more appropriate triaging of patients based on acuity. Read more »

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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