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Can Decision Fatigue Lead To Medical Errors?

Do you suffer from decision fatigue when you are sick or anxious or overwhelmed by bad health news?  Does your doctor make less well-reasoned decisions about the 10th patient she sees before lunch?  How about the surgeon during his second operation of the day?  How about the radiologist reading the last mammogram in a daily batch of 60?

A provocative article by John Tierney in Sunday’s NYTimes Magazine adds a new layer of complexity to the body of knowledge collecting around decision-making processes.  Considerable news reporting has focused on how cognitive biases influence our judgment and how many of us experience the abundance of choices available to us as a burden rather than a privilege.  This article adds to that understanding: Our decision-making abilities appear to be powerfully affected by the demands of repeated decision making as they interact with depleted blood glucose levels. That fatigue mounts over a day of making decisions and as blood glucose levels fall between meals. In response, we tend to either make increasingly impulsive decisions without considering the consequences or to make no decisions at all. Tierney describes a study analyzing 1,100 parole decisions by judges over the course of a year:  “Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.”

The effects reported in the article were Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

Why Physician Ratings Aren’t Quite Adequate Yet

“Most physicians are competent and able to take care of most of the problems patients present with.  The standards for getting into medical school are high and for getting out are higher.  I think this call for patients to become experts in picking their doctors is overstated.”  – David Rovner, MD, Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University

Most?  What does “most” mean?  Can most doctors treat me for the flu?  How about pancreatic cancer? Must I conduct the same type of research to choose a doctor to set my broken arm that I do to find one to treat my mom’s congestive heart failure?   Is the same level and type of research necessary to find a good surgeon as for a primary care clinician? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

What Should People Receiving Health Care Be Called? Empowered Patient Vs. Health Care Consumer

“There is a better way – structural reforms that empower patients with greater choices and increase the role of competition in the health-care marketplace.” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) August 3, 2011

The highly charged political debates about reforming American health care have provided tempting opportunities to rename the people who receive health services.  But because the impetus for this change has been prompted by cost and quality concerns of health care payers, researchers and policy experts rather than emanating from us out of our own needs, some odd words have been called into service.  Two phrases commonly used to describe us convey meanings that mischaracterize our experiences and undervalue our needs: “empowered patient” and “health care consumer.”

As one who has done serious time as a patient and who spends serious time listening to talks and reading the literature that use these words to describe us, I ask you to reconsider their use.

“Empowered patient” The fabrication of the verb “to empower” from the noun “power” was used in the civil rights and community development movements to describe a benevolent bestowal of influence on disenfranchised individuals and groups by those who had previously excluded them.  When used in relation to health care, the word perpetuates the idea that we are passive entities, waiting to be gratefully endowed by our clinician or a new policy with the right and ability to act on our own behalf.  Our “empowerment” takes place not as a result of our own will or preference, but rather because we have been given permission to act in a different way by some external agent.

This word is Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

What We Want In Health News Is Often Not What We Need

News of the World wasn’t read by 15 percent of the British public because it told people what they should know. It got there by giving them what they wanted: stories about the peccadilloes of the rich and famous, accounts of the gross incompetence of government and of course, pictures of naked ladies.

Setting aside the fact that News of the World is no more, its publishers and editors knew how to sell the “news.”  As free online news replaces print, every click, every page view, every second of viewing per page is tracked in the fierce competition for ad dollars, and so the selling of news increasingly influences its reporting.  Titles, format and content are tweaked by editors to “optimize the metrics.” Reporters succeed and fail based on their ability to write articles that attract eyeballs, not Pulitzer prizes.

In the health domain, the effects of these demands were described in a series of conversations the Center for Advancing Health hosted with health care journalists over the past month.*  The themes that emerged were that journalists are often encouraged to: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

Confusing Compliance With Engagement In Our Health Care

Twenty percent of people who leave their doctors’ offices with a new prescription don’t fill it. Up to one-half of those who do fill their prescriptions don’t take the drugs as recommended. These individuals are considered non-compliant. But does that mean they are not engaged in their health care? Engagement and compliance are not synonyms.

I am compliant if I do what my doctor tells me to do.

I am engaged, on the other hand, when I actively participate in the process of solving my health problems. This new prescription is an element in that process. If I am engaged in my care, I might want to learn about this medication. Such as:  what it can and cannot do to ease my pain or slow the progress of my disease; what side effects it might produce and what I should do about them; how long it will take to work; when I should take it and how; how much it may cost; and what will happen if I don’t take it. I might want to consider the barriers to taking it and weigh the risks and benefits of alternatives. Could I instead make changes in my physical activity level or diet, try a dietary supplement or watchfully wait to see if the symptoms subside?

If my clinician has done more than just hand me the prescription – if she has, for example, raised these questions and discussed these concerns with me, I probably won’t have a prescription in my hand if I don’t intend to fill it.

But I can be engaged in my health care even if I don’t have that conversation with my provider. I can Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

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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