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5 Reasons Why Patients Don’t Mention Symptoms To Their Doctors

To com­plain or “be good” is an appar­ent dilemma for some patients with seri­ous illness.

Yes­ter­day I received an email from a close friend with advanced breast can­cer. She’s got a lot of symp­toms: Her fatigue is so over­whelm­ing she can’t do more than one activ­ity each day. Yes­ter­day, for exam­ple, she stayed home all day and did noth­ing because she was sup­posed to watch a hockey game in the evening with her teenage son and other fam­ily mem­bers. Her voice is weak, so much it’s hard to talk on the phone. She has dif­fi­culty writ­ing, in the man­ual sense — mean­ing she can’t quite use her right arm and hand properly.

“It’s some­thing I would never men­tion to the doc­tor because it is very sub­tle,” she wrote. “But it has not improved and if any­thing has wors­ened over time.”

There are more than a few pos­si­ble med­ical expla­na­tions for why a per­son who’s receiv­ing breast can­cer ther­apy might not be able to use her right arm. But that’s not the point of today’s les­son. What’s note­wor­thy here is that the patient — an edu­cated, thought­ful woman who’s in what should be the mid­dle of her life and is try­ing as best she can to sur­vive — doesn’t think these symp­toms are worth mentioning. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

The “Big Picture” Benefit Of Primary Care

Her eyes were bloodshot. She responded to my casual greeting of “How are you?” with a sigh. “How am I? I’m alive, I can tell you that much for sure.” She went on to describe a situation with her adult son who’s in a bad marriage and has struggled with addiction. She sighed again: “I feel weak. I don’t know if I can deal with this one. I’ve had so many hard things in my life already. When will it stop?”

“Many hard things” — yes, I agree with that assessment. She’s been my patient for more than a decade, and I’ve had a front row seat to her life. Her husband died a few years ago (while in his 40′s) of a longstanding chronic disease. Her daughter also has this disease, and has been slowly declining over time. I’ve watched her bear that burden, and have actually shared some in that load, being the doctor for the whole family.

I’ve also taken care of her parents, who had their own psychological problems. They were difficult patients for me to manage, and they had died long enough ago that I had forgotten that difficult chapter of her life. I’ve helped her with her emotional struggle from all of this. It was hard, but she hung on as best as she could. I know. I was there when it was happening.

To me, this is the biggest benefit of primary care. Yes, it’s nice to have a doctor who knows what’s going on with all of your other doctors. It’s good to have a doctor you are comfortable talking with about anything. It’s good to have someone without a financial stake in doing surgery, performing procedures, or ordering tests. But the unique benefit a long-term relationship with a primary care physician (PCP) is the amazing big picture view they have. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Musings of a Distractible Mind*

Why Comparing The Performance Of Doctors Is Trouble

Who do you think is likely to be a better doctor: A board certified graduate of one of the top medical schools in America, or a non-certified doctor trained in a foreign country?

If your answer is “I have absolutely no idea,” then you’re probably spending a lot of time looking at the “report cards” that pass for measures of health care quality. And you’re probably confused.

Researchers in Pittsburgh studied 124 process-based quality measures in 30 clinical areas. These process measures are the state-of-the-art ways in which government and private insurers are checking up on the quality of medical care. They include things like making sure patients with heart problems are prescribed aspirin, and that women get Pap smears. The researchers compared these measures against other, simpler measures, like medical education, board certification, malpractice claim payments, and disciplinary actions.

The result? You couldn’t tell the differences among doctors. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at See First Blog*

Medical Ethics And The Amish Bus Driver Rule

Rachel Maddow, in a discussion related to the provision of abortion services, once proposed that we (society) should invoke the Amish Bus Driver Rule (ABDR) whenever medical professionals invoke their personal convictions in refusing to provide legal medical services.

The ABDR goes like this: If you’re Amish, and therefore have religious convictions against internal combustion engines, then you have disqualified yourself for employment as a bus driver. (Presumably Ms. Maddow would not apply the ABDR to everyone, since it would disqualify, for instance, Al Gore from utilizing horseless carriages and other fossil-fueled contrivances.)

The ABDR would do far more than merely render it okay for doctors to perform abortions and other ethically controversial (but legal) medical services. The ABDR would obligate physicians to provide such services, whatever their personal moral or religious convictions.

The reason DrRich brings this up is not because he considers Rachel Maddow to be the giver of rules for the left, or for the government, or even for MSNBC. Rather, he brings it up because the ABDR is entirely compatible with Progressive medical ethics, and therefore it has a pretty good chance, sooner or later, of becoming the official policy of our new healthcare system. Read more »

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

The Reality Of Participatory Primary Care

No matter where one stands on appropriateness and advantages of each patient being involved in self-diagnosis and treatment of their own medical problems there are two inevitable conclusions:

•    First of all, self diagnosis and treatment are as natural as breathing and as impossible to extinguish as thought itself.

•    Secondly, given today’s healthcare system, there always will exist a dynamic tension between self-determination of the individual patient and the powerful healthcare system which often insists on patients falling back in line and complying with orders.

Few would argue against the need for a powerful alliance that embraces the benefits brought to the table by both the practitioner and the patient. Simplistically, the physician would carry the role of healthcare consultant and guidance while the patient ultimately becomes responsible for the choices. 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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