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When Money Isn’t Everything To Doctors

I recently pointed to a BMJ study concluding that pay for performance doesn’t seem to motivate doctors. It has been picking up steam in major media with TIME, for instance, saying: “Money isn’t everything, even to doctors.”

So much is riding on the concept of pay for performance, that it’s hard to fathom what other options there are should it fail. And there’s mounting evidence that it will.

Dr. Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician at the University of Indiana, and regular contributor to KevinMD.com, ponders the options. First he comments on why the performance incentives in the NHS failed:

Perhaps the doctors were already improving without the program. If that’s the case, though, then you don’t need economic incentives. It’s possible the incentives were too low. But I don’t think many will propose more than a 25 percent bonus. It’s also possible that the benchmarks which define success were too low and therefore didn’t improve outcomes. There’s no scientific reason to think that the recommendations weren’t appropriate, however. More likely, it’s what I’ve said before. Changing physician behavior is hard.

So if money can’t motivate doctors, what’s next? Physicians aren’t going to like what Dr. Carroll has to say. Read more »

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

When Older Doctors Continue To Treat Patients

Did you know that one-third of the country’s physicians are over the age of 65? That’s right, there’s a good chance that your doctor is on Medicare. That’s a concern, because physicians aren’t immune to the ails of aging, and are just as prone as patients to succumb to the effects of Parkinson’s or various types of dementias.

Not comforting if you’re about to undergo an operation, for instance. And absolutely frightening when you consider baby boomers and newly-insured patients will flood our health system in the coming years.

An eye-opening piece from the New York Times highlights the trend. It’s up to doctors and medical societies to report doctors who aren’t able to proficiently perform, but few do. According to the data, the rate of disciplinary action for physicians out of school 40 years was 6.6 percent.

Various tactics to ensure competency have been slow to take off.  Requiring all doctors to re-certify, for instance, isn’t working, since the vast majority of  doctors practicing are “grandfathered” into not being required to take the test. Read more »

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

How Doctors Feel About Patients Who Google Their Symptoms

Many doctors roll their eyes whenever patients bring in a stack of research they printed out, stemming from a Google search of their symptoms. A piece by Dr. Zachary Meisel on TIME.com describes a familiar scenario:

The medical intern started her presentation with an eye roll. “The patient in Room 3 had some blood in the toilet bowl this morning and is here with a pile of Internet printouts listing all the crazy things she thinks she might have.”

The intern continued, “I think she has a hemorrhoid.”

“Another case of cyberchondria,” added the nurse behind me.

It’s time to stop debating whether patients should research their own symptoms. It’s happening already, and the medical profession would be better served to handle this new reality.

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 61 percent of patients turn to the web to research health information. That number is from 2009, so presumably it’s higher today. Health information online is akin to the Wild, Wild West. Stories from questionable sites come up on Google as high — or higher — than information from reputable institutions. Read more »

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

Physician Burnout: Depression And Suicide In Surgeons

I wrote last year in USA Today about the impact of physician burnout. Not only do doctors suffer, but so do their patients.

Burnout starts early in residency, with entering interns having a depression rate of 4 percent, similar to the general public. But after the first year of residency, that number balloons to 25 percent.

Now another study adds fuel to this disturbing trend. A paper published in the Archives of General Surgery looks at the prevalence of physician burnout in surgeons:

In a national survey, one in 16 surgeons reported contemplating suicide, researchers reported.

An increased risk of suicidal ideation was linked to three factors: depression, burnout, and the perception of having made a recent major medical error …

… But only about one in four of those who reported thinking about taking their own lives sought psychiatric or psychologic help.

The rate of suicidal ideation in surgeons, at 6.3 percent, was almost double of that in the general population (3.3 percent).

Physician burnout is a phenomenon that’s often ignored. The practice environment is deteriorating, with increasing time pressures and worsening bureaucratic burdens. Little of this is addressed in the national health conversation, or in the recently passed health reform law. Read more »

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

Tired Surgeons: How Long Was The Patient Asleep?

In a recent New England Journal of Medicine, a perspective piece on what to do with fatigued surgeons is generating debate. The issue of work-hour restrictions has been a controversial issue when it comes to doctors in training, something that I wrote about earlier in the year in USA Today. But once doctors graduate and practice in the real world, there are no rules.

As summarized in the WSJ’s Health Blog, the perspective piece argues for more regulation for tired surgeons:

… self-regulation is not sufficient. Instead, “we recommend that institutions implement policies to minimize the likelihood of sleep deprivation before a clinician performs elective surgery and to facilitate priority rescheduling of elective procedures when a clinician is sleep-deprived,” they write. For example, elective procedures wouldn’t be scheduled for the day after a physician is due to be on all-night call.

And the authors suggest that patients be “empowered to inquire about the amount of sleep their clinicians have had the night before such procedures.”

It’s a noble goal, and indeed, data does show that fatigued surgeons tend to make more errors. Patients, once confronted with a choice of being operated on by a tired surgeon, may choose to postpone surgery. Read more »

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

Latest Interviews

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Latest Book Reviews

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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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