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Experience In Medicine Has Its Downsides

You have probably read that experience makes for better doctors.

And of course this would be true–in the obvious ways, like with the hand-eye coordination required to do complex procedures, or more importantly, with the judgment of when to do them.

There’s no news here: everyone knows you want a doctor that’s been out of training awhile, but not so long that they have become weary, close-minded or physically diminished. Just the right amount of experience please.

But there’s also potential downsides and struggles that come with experience. Tonight I would like to dwell on three ways in which experience is causing me angst.

But first, as background…

It was the very esteemed physician-turned-authors, Dr. Groopman and his wife, Dr. Hartzland, who wrote this thought-provoking WSJ essay–on how hidden influences may sway our medical decisions–that got me thinking about how I have evolved as a doctor. They were writing from the perspective of the patient. But in the exam room, there are two parties: patient and doctor.

# 1) The sobering view that experience brings: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

Study Shows That Medicare Pays More For Patients Cared For By Hospitalists

Association of Hospitalist Care With Medical Utilization After Discharge:  Evidence of Cost Shift From a Cohort Study.

That’s the title of the latest medical study making the viral rounds.  I had an opportunity to read the study in full.  I called Happy’s hospital library and Judy had the pdf article in my email in less than 24 hours.  Now, that’s amazing.  Thanks Judy for a job well done.  You deserve a raise.

Presented in the August 2nd, 2011 edition of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, Volume 155 Number 3 Page 152-159, the study concludes that decreased length of stay and hospital costs associated with hospitalist care are offset by higher medical utilization and costs after discharge.

In summary, hosptitalist patients had an adjusted length of stay 0.64 days shorter and $282 less than patients cared for by primary care physicians, but total 30 day post discharge costs were $332 higher.  These additional charges were defined as 59% from rehospitalization, 19% from skilled-nursing facilities, and 22% from professional and other services.

OK fair enough.  Let’s come to that conclusion.  Let’s say Read more »

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

Lessening Cancer Care Costs: Oncologists Should Speak Openly About The Possibility of Death

We’ve reached the second half of our discussion on Bending the Cost Curve in Cancer Care. The authors of the NEJM paper, Drs. T. Smith and B. Hillner, go on to consider how doctors’ behavior influences costs in Changing Attitudes and Practice. Today’s point on the list: “Oncologists need to recognize that the costs of care are driven by what we do and what we do not do.”

In other words (theirs): “The first step is a frank acknowledgment that changes are needed.” A bit AA-ish, but fair enough –

The authors talk about needed, frank discussions between doctors and patients. They emphasize that oncologists/docs drive up costs and provide poorer care by failing to talk with patients about the possibility of death, end-of-life care, and transitions in the focus of care from curative intent to palliation.

They review published findings on the topic: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

Living With Severe Chronic Pain

Living Beyond Pain

Prepared Patient - When Pain Doesn't End - photo from fotolia.comFor people with severe chronic pain like Kelly Young and Teresa Shaffer—both of whom have become patient advocates—coping with agony is a fact of life.  Young suffers from rheumatoid arthritis while Shaffer’s pain is linked primarily to another degenerative bone disease.

Chronic pain is one of the most difficult—and common—medical conditions.  Estimated to affect 76 million Americans—more than diabetes, cancer and heart disease combined—it accompanies illnesses and injuries ranging from cancer to various forms of arthritis, multiple sclerosis and physical trauma.

Pain is defined as chronic when it persists after an injury or illness has otherwise healed, or when it lasts three months or longer. The experience of pain can vary dramatically, depending in part on whether it is affecting bones, muscles, nerves, joints or skin. Untreated pain can itself become a disease when the brain wrongly signals agony when there is no new injury or discernable other cause. Fibromyalgia—a disease in which pain in joints, muscles and other soft tissues is the primary symptom—is believed to be linked to incorrect signaling in the brain’s pain regions.

Finding a Doctor

The first step to deal with chronic pain is Read more »

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

NEJM Publishes Proposal To Minimize Spending In Oncology

Recently the NEJM ran a Sounding Board piece on Bending the Cost Curve in Cancer Care. The author’s take on this problem:

Annual direct costs for cancer care are projected to rise — from $104 billion in 2006 to over $173 billion in 2020 and beyond.2…Medical oncologists directly or indirectly control or influence the majority of cancer care costs, including the use and choice of drugs, the types of supportive care, the frequency of imaging, and the number and extent of hospitalizations…

The article responds, in part, to Dr. Howard Brody’s 2010 proposal that each medical specialty society find five ways to reduce waste in health care. The authors, from the Divisions of Hematology-Oncology and Palliative Care at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond VA, offer two lists:

Suggested Changes in Oncologists’ Behavior (from the paper, verbatim — Table 1): Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

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