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Disease By Choice

“Why should I take my blood pressure medication,” you ask? The more I do this thing called hospitalist medicine, the more I appreciate the power of lifestyle choices we all make.

Every opportunity I get I give my patients my smoking lecture and charge their insurance  a CPT 99406. Everybody knows that smoking is bad for you and it causes lung cancer. Nobody knows all the other stuff. They’re always shocked.

Maybe it’s time for me to start a blood pressure lecture. I often have  patients who say: “Why should I take my blood pressure medication?” They always answer their own question with the same answer: “I was feeling fine. I didn’t see a reason to take my blood pressure medication.”

You see, these are people with insurance. These are people with the Medicare National Bank. These are people who don’t have to lift a finger or a dime to pay any out-of-pocket expenses for their healthcare. And yet, they still lack the motivation to care for themselves, even with incredible resources out there these days to help them — things like great online blood pressure chart sites for home monitoring.

Whatever the reason — whether it’s ignorance, laziness, lack of motivation, lack of remembering, or selfishness — people just don’t take care of themselves. Read more »

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

For High School Graduates: Education First, Career Second

GraduationIt’s here again: High school graduation season — that annual rite of passage for high schoolers coast to coast to embark upon that much-anticipated journey from home to that first true independent step outside the safety net of their childhood communities.

What always amazes me is the pressure high school kids feel as they embark upon this journey and how often I hear these kids express anxiety over not knowing what they want to be “when they grow up.” And, let’s not forget that we are still talking about kids — these are still teenagers, still developing and maturing. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Gwenn Is In*

Choices, Stick-Chasing, And Finding Joy

One late afternoon, some summers ago, I was at the beach.

I was with our dog, a Labrador retriever.  He was playing fetch with a stick I was throwing into the ocean.  Every time I threw it, he darted into the ocean to find it.  Swimming through the waves, he would get the stick and carry it

back proudly to shore.  He would drop it in front of me, shake off some of the water soaking his coat, and stare at me, heaving, begging me to throw it in again.

We did this for a while, and it was always the same.  He was joyous.  Eventually I had to stop, even though I loved

seeing him that way.  He would have kept doing it until he drowned.

I realized something else as I was watching him.

He was so happy because jumping into the North Atlantic to retrieve things is what he was born to do.

Now, people are much more complicated than dogs. Read more »

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

Should Personal Responsibility Be Rewarded With Lower Insurance Premiums?

The time has come to change the rules. As you know the current insurance market is unsustainable. Whether you’re talking about The Medicare National Bank or your Blue Cross, they are all doomed for failure. Why? Because they treat everyone (group plans) the same . And as a result, the incentive towards health has been lost.

What if it wasn’t like that? What if your cost of insurance was 1/10 as much? What if you only paid $1000 a year in insurance, and carried an income based high deductible health policy? What if you were required to take care of the oil changes while your insurance, an affordable insurance, was there to protect you from disaster. An insurance you bought in the open market.

Is all this possible in the current insurance market? Not even close. If you are lucky enough to be employed by a big corporation, you are lucky enough to have deep premium discounts and a large population to spread the risk. If you work for a small business or are a small businessman, you are just one major illness away from catastrophic premium increases. Should you or one of your employees get sick, you’re all screwed.

If three of Happy’s hospitalists suddenly became gravely ill with H1N1 and were left on the ventilator for weeks and accrued hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of dollars of health care bills, the cost of my premiums would rise dramatically, as a consequence of the large risk in a small pool of people, Happy’s private hospitalist group. While big business is able to spread that risk over hundreds, sometimes thousands of employees, they too are finding that they can’t keep up with the cost of health care inflation.

Why? Why does it have to be so difficult? When people are put in control of their health care dollars, they have a skin in the game that can’t be appreciated by the third party insurance model. Few people realize that the $12,000 in premiums their employer is paying, on their behalf, is $12,000 that is coming out of their pocket.

Many liberals want to claim that middle class wages were stagnant during the Bush years. Hardly, when you account for the health care premiums their employers paid on their behalf, the numbers don’t look so bad. These are stealth wages, wages which might as well be cash in your pocket.

Unfortunately, the current rules of the land have created a completely irrational playing field. Why should my choices be limited to what my employer offers or what my state says is right for me? Why should I be straddled with massive rises in insurance premiums because three of Happy’s partners had an unlucky run in with a virus? It shouldn’t have to be that way.

That’s why I see market choice and responsibility as the way out of this fiscal disaster. If premiums have doubled in the last 10 years to $12,000, how many businesses big and small can afford $25,000 in ten more years? The answer is almost none. Obama’s proposals do nothing to address this factor. The solution is not more insurance. The solution is not Universal insurance. The solution is to change the rules of the game. Rules your government created. Rules which brought us where we are today. The current insurance model does not work because our insurance has become an inflated currency of trade. A currency which is not allowed to follow the rules of supply and demand. Look only to the expansion of health care jobs in the worst recession in over 50 years and ask yourself how that is possible. And ask yourself if that is sustainable.
I do not want to be paying $25,000 a year a decade from now. $25,000 a year for taking care of myself and doing what’s right for my body.
We already know that 80% of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke can be avoided by doing four simple things:
  1. Don’t smoke,
  2. Engage in 3 1/2 hours a week of exercise.
  3. Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in read meat
  4. Don’t become obese (BMI >30)

If you do these four lifestyle actions, your odds of falling ill with one of these top four life changing or life ending diseases is slashed by 80%. That is an amazing fact. To a major degree you have the ability to decide your destiny of health by the actions you choose.

That’s the insurance pool I want to be a part of. Read more »

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

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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