Navigating Healthcare – Patient Safety and Personal Healthcare Management

Healthcare – Its Personal

The Great Healthcare Debate

Healthcare is personal and front and center in our minds not just because we all intersect with it in some way but it employs 1 in 9 people in the United States. With the current state of our media and political system with polarized debates, he said she said talking heads on the media, the echo chamber of social media and the 24/7/365 barrage of news and fake news it can be hard to see a pathway out of the quagmire we find ourselves in. But we all want to see that path. I just don’t believe that people get up in the morning wondering how they can decimate the healthcare services and the lives of their fellow human beings. We don’t get up out of bed every day wondering how best to punish people who may have made bad choices in their lives or who find themselves in unfortunate positions though geography (the zip code effect) or genetics. I know I don’t and I don’t think you do either.

Yet the stream of coverage and what we read, see and hear online and sometimes even in person suggests that this is the case. I can’t answer the reasons why but I’ve read a string of articles and reporting that variably suggests its always been like this to this is the fault – and then insert the name of your favorite whipping horse. Ultimately it does not matter – unless you believe that people wake up with malintent every morning it’s better to start with an understanding of the problem and then thinking about possible solutions and how we can apply them quickly and effectively

So Let’s Start with some of the fundamental problems in our healthcare system – to be clear we are not alone in the world. I have seen and heard from many others in different countries who are all struggling to varying degrees and with different focus and priorities the same issues. If I had to boil it down to one issue I would say

Limited Resources and the Prioritization of the Allocation of those resources

It’s a familiar equation to anyone trying to balance their budget or allocate their time. If you are like me you may find there are just not enough hours in the day for the task list you created in the morning and wishing either to stretch time (time dilation) or perhaps be able to turn time back with the Wizarding world’s  Time Turner. There are two basic options available – reduce the inputs or reduce the outputs. In the vernacular of budgeting – either spend less or make more money. Both may be viable and depend on personal circumstance but undoubtedly there will be easier and harder solutions. Ultimately we all have to make our own personal decisions – so one solution or size does not fit all.

Photo from jenga.com

It would be foolish to suggest that this covers all the complexity of the healthcare system as we all know healthcare is incredibly complex and always reminds me of the game Jenga.

 

This does not cover everything and there are many other elements in play but it is certainly a start and one that individuals and organizations can focus on to start to make incremental improvements.

As one Chinese proverb states:

Every journey starts with a single step

And turning that step into a habit is one of the best ways of setting a path to improvement.

Demand Side of Healthcare

This is the access and use of the system and the burden does not just fall on the individual. But it does start there as it is out personal choices to access and use available services that creates demand. Historically in the United States, the cost and payment of this access have been disassociated from the individual. When you visit the doctor or pharmacy you don’t pay the actual cost of the service – your insurance carrier does. Ultimately we do all pay for this through our insurance premiums and for many the contributions made on our behalf by our employer that is part of the compensation we receive for working for them but at the point of care, we are disconnected from the price and cost of a service.

Patient Accessing Care

To a varying degree individuals have some form of co-pay – a personal cost that is defined by the insurance coverage and is shifting increasingly to the individual under the new insurance plans called High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP). One of the intentions of this policy is to make the individual responsible for this cost in an attempt to influence behavior and decrease unnecessary access. But this comes with the inevitable unintended consequences with cost avoidance strategies by individuals who knowing they will be held responsible for the full cost of a visit, drug or test may elect to decline to have or use the service.

 

I’d count myself in that crowd having been on a HDHP plan for several years. I can point to several decision where I have declined tests, treatment and access to care because of the nature of my personal responsibility – I have an associated health savings account (HSA) which should cover the capped amount of cost for the year. But the crippling nature of potential costs associated with a catastrophic medical problem – a serious accident, cancer, heart attack are all so terrifying that I see the HSA as a buffer against the potential of medical insolvency that might result especially when you consider the impact on a family with one source of income that would be impacted by any medical disability.

 

Insurers Paying for Care

Insurers want to reduce their costs – and even the non-profits have to make money so are focused on the bottom line if they want to continue to serve their customers and population. So they look to find ways to reduce the unnecessary access to care imposing barriers and limits. There was a gate keeper concept that requires a referral letter from a primary care physician before you can access s specialist – that service by the way costing you additional fees to see the primary care provider. There are formulary requirements that exclude certain drugs from coverage and attempts to limit access to specific doctors and networks to strengthen the buying and negotiation power of the payor with the providers in the system.

 

Providers Delivering Care

On the provider side the clinal professionals delivering the care all arrived at this point having selected the expensive assault course of education to train and qualify to be able to deliver care. For doctors, it’s persistence and endurance that win out. The barriers to entry are high and tied to economics. They all have the same desire to help patients – but economics and the burden of the educational system can overwhelm just about anyone and they have bills to pay both for their education but also the infrastructure they must use to be able to both deliver care but also bill and be paid for delivering. They want to reduce their overhead and spend as much of their time and resources on the delivery of care but to survive in the system must allocate significant amounts of money to non-clinal systems and activities. Estimates of these costs suggest that at least 30% of the healthcare costs we as a society pay in the United States are tied to administrative and billing functions. The data’s still lagging but projections for 2016 put the total healthcare bill at $3.207 Trillion (thats $3,207,000,000,000 or more than $10,000 per person in the USA)

Healthcare Administrative Cost: $962 Billion Dollars

$962,100,000,000

 

Reconciling the Differences

Credit Imgur

The difference of opinion often centers on what is unnecessary – in the eyes of the patient they need and want the care they think is appropriate to them. Some of this is fed by a constant stream of information that even for an well informed clinically experienced specialist can be difficult to comprehend and make informed decision. We want wants best for our personal health and the health of our family and loved ones. But sometimes what the patient may think is best may not be – a great example is the steady stream of requests for antibiotics for treatments of minor infections. Not every sore throat or cough demands the use of antibiotics and in fact, in many cases, their use is damaging as we face a future where this line of defense is increasingly being overrun with smartly adaptive bacteria who develop resistance with terrifying speed.

 

Payors Perspectives

The same is true of payor and insurers – they face a rising tide of costs associated with care that is increasingly complicated and expensive and struggle to balance their budget.Faced with one patient who’s costs for treatment might be hundreds of thousands of dollars or more so they limit or decline this in favor of treating multiple other patients where their cost of treatment is thousands of dollars or less? The utopian answer is treat everyone but we they like each of us do not have unlimited budget or resources and have to make hard decisions. And the problem with healthcare fundedfor the population but access individually.

 

Healthcare is funded for the population but access individually

 

Clinicians Perspectives

Clinicians also have a view on what’s appropriate – and the vast majority act with total integrity (I would like to say all of them but sadly there are occasional stories of clinicians and healthcare professionals who game the system – sometimes with simple prescription based fraud or other times over treatment of stenting in cardiac cases). Sadly for a profession that is so dependent on trust the rare cases of fraud and abuse unfairly tar everyone with the same brush. As I said above – I believe everyone gets up in the morning with the best intentions and this is true of the clinal professionals who each and every day battle a system to deliver the care and compassion they set out to deliver when they took the path into healthcare. They want to say no to unnecessary treatment but the personal pressures applied and the underlying compassion and the innate drive that was the foundation of why they entered the profession can influence them to order and prescribe because they are unable to explain the lack of value and offering this option makes their patient happier and comfortable.

So how do we reconcile these differing opinions

 

Economics and Making Choices

Which path is best

There’s a sad fact in the US healthcare system – we do not talk about cost effectiveness. Its not just a taboo subject but also a forbidden topic, As Aaron Carroll (The Incidental Economist) noted in his piece Forbidden Topic in Health Policy Debate: Cost Effectiveness we avoid talking about cost-effectiveness in the United States.

Some think that discussing cost effectiveness puts us on the slippery slope to rationing, or even “death panels.”

As he points out – if there was a pill available that could extend your life by one day but costs a billion dollars, most would accept this as an unacceptable trade off and decline it. But that’ extreme – as you decrease the cost where does that line become blurred?

what’s to stop us from deciding that spending a couple hundred thousand dollars to extend grandma’s life for a year isn’t worth it either?

More troubling is the shackles that have been placed on the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute – who were founded but explicitly prohibited it from funding any cost-effectiveness research at all! How can an outcomes institute assess healthcare if cost effectiveness is not part of the equation?

“We don’t consider cost effectiveness to be an outcome of direct importance to patients.”

In fact, we in the United States are so averse to the idea of cost effectiveness that when the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute, the body specifically set up to do comparative effectiveness research, was founded, the law explicitly prohibited it from funding any cost-effectiveness research at all. As it says on its website,

PCORI was established to fund research that can help patients and those who care for them make better-informed decisions about the healthcare choices they face every day, guided by those who will use that information.

 

Quality-Adjusted Life Years

As he points out there is actually a fairly robust strategy and measure that can offer insights into the value of measuring health outcomes – QALY’s (Quality-Adjusted Life Years) which the National Health Service has been using fro some time in the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) that provides guidance, advice, quality standards and information services for health, public health and social care. Also contains resources to help maximise use of evidence and guidance. There is no doubt they are imperfect but very little in life is perfect and perfection should not be a barrier to progress. The use of this is not a sole determinant – but offers some measure of science and data to making what are incredibly difficult tdecisions

So in the current debate of what health system we need to put in place I would advocate the inclusion of cost effectiveness as one of the factors that must be considered and the QALY and perhaps even the Incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) as part of this difficult discussion.

I’m all about incremental changes and while including a cost effectiveness as a measure may seem a bigger stretch I feel it is a smaller step in the right direction. Can we achieve this? Is there a better incremental step we can take to resolve the challenges of our healthcare system? Leave your thoughts below.

Healthcare – Its Personal was originally published on Dr Nick – The Incrementalist

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Doctors and Patients – Who Knows Best

The Power of Knowledge

Life has changed and access to information is no longer the definition of value – we have seen these changes in the past as far back as 1494 when the printing press was introduced making books and knowledge more widely available:

Fear of the New Techno Panic TImeline

And proceeds through newspapers, the steam engine, photography and the death of painting, the telegraph, movies and the death of theaters, the telephone, phonograph, radio, television, computers and the internet and if anything the speed of change is accelerating. So too in medicine have things changed with a shift away from paternalistic experts to wide knowledge access and cooperative systems of healthcare delivery.

The Sorry State of Medicine

But the physician is still a key part of healthcare delivery and for many in the profession there is a sense of despondency and even despair with profession and their ability to deliver the care they aspire to deliver each and every day.  This recent piece in the Wall Street Journal Why Doctors Are Sick of Their Profession captured the spirit – only 6% of doctors surveyed describe their morale as positive and that’s not just bad for the doctors – its bad for patients too.

The sad part is we chose medicine because we thought it was worthwhile and noble, but from what I have seen in my short career, it is a charade

Running out of Time - Walking Gallery Jacket
Running out of Time – Walking Gallery Jacket

Physician suicide remains high with doctors the most likely to commit suicide with a rate of 1.87 times that of the average population (the US alone loses ~400 physicians to suicide per year) and their “success” measured as a completion rate is far higher than the general population (x 1.45.5).

 

As this piece The Painful Truth: Physicians Are Not Invincible highlighted (South Med J. 2000;93(10) ):

Physicians fulfill a special role within our society. While they are given many privileges and rewards, they also carry serious responsibilities. Physicians are expected to be healers, available to others whenever a crisis occurs or a medical need arises. They are expected to have unfailing expertise and competence, to be compassionate and concerned, and to provide universally successful care in a cost-effective manner. Such idealized expectations emanate from patients, from families, from society (including payers and regulatory and accreditation agencies), and from within the profession of medicine itself. Self-imposed expectations inhere in the institutions of medicine — medical colleges, clinics, hospitals, professional associations, and collegial relationships — and are internalized by students of medicine as they are socialized to become practicing professionals. These expectations become a part of how physicians define themselves.

So when I came across a picture of this mug:

Dont Confuse Google with Medical Degree

I posted it to my social media feed with a commentary

I wanted to highlight that clinicians are still an essential part of the healthcare system and their contributions are valued. This mug captured a strength of feeling that caught me by surprise.

It is available for purchase from a British eBay store and has been subject to several posts including this one from ePatient Dave – here and here and plenty of likes, dislikes, tweets, and even some fairly hefty criticism including one comment about starting a holy war.

Doctors Under Siege

I know many of my colleagues feel besieged. The system has drained every last ounce of empathy and compassion out of many with overhead requirements that detract from direct patient care and turn highly qualified, talented and well intentioned clinicians into data entry clerks and automatons. I have always believed and still do that every clinician gets up in the morning with all the best intentions to deliver high quality, compassionate car. There may be a small percentage of individuals who do not but  if they exist are a tiny minority.

We selected the career because we care. We selected the career because we want to offer support and compassion to our fellow human beings. We get our reward from these actions and there is no replacing the privilege of the trust that is placed in our hands in a personal and intimate relationship with our patients.

To get into medical school required an incredible climb up an academic mountain that was littered with others who did not make it. The experience tends to reinforce the sense of importance and verges on narcissism for some as the course and hurdles demand a level of self confidence in our own skills and knowledge. It is little wonder that what emerges from the medical school sausage machine can appear devoid of compassion, over confidant and unwelcoming of other opinions. It is any wonder that there is any compassion left by the time a doctor emerges with his degree and board certification – and that’s before he steps into a the healthcare quagmire and finds himself unprepared for healthcare as it is delivered today.

But many patients and patient advocates perceived this negatively and as an affront to their place in participatory care. The perception from patients appeared negative and there were multiple reports of patients who had been blocked when bringing information to their doctor and Dave even cites the sad instance in the UK  of the 19 year old girl who had fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma (a rare cancer that with ~200 cases diagnosed worldwide annually) that was treated and then returned. Despite her pleadings to the contrary the Hospital and clinical team refused to believe her and told her to “stop googling”

There were even a few physicians who saw this mug negatively – as Bryan Vartabedian a pediatrician at Baylor  said:

and he posted this piece “Doctors and the Google Threat“. I don’t disagree with him that information access brings huge value and makes healthcare more accessible to a wider population but the systems in place don’t support the time aspect that this new sometimes unfiltered and unscientific data brings to many of the clinicians I talk to. One of the main challenges with this was captured by one friend who said:

You came in to see me with 9 minutes of reading material but I only have 7 minutes of time to care for you

And James Legan said:

And the deluge of information that arrives on everyone’s phone is replete with snake oil and pseudo science oftentimes amplified by celebrities who’s impact with their millions of followers can be incredibly damaging to individuals health.

Dave did take a constructive approach to the participation of patients

I personally am completely opposed to a patient going in and saying “I’ve decided I have condition X, and I want you to prescribe 42mg QID of medication Y.” I mean, have you ever seen the things medical students have to learn to get their license?? But I’m all in favor of a patient saying, “I have symptoms A and B, and from what I can tell from websites J and Q, that sounds like it could be M.” Explain your thinking, identify your source, and try to solve the diagnostic puzzle together: Collaborate.

While there are still doctors who see this as a challenge to the traditional model of care and the paternalistic distribution of knowledge and care, most do not.  I leave it with these two tweets that for me captured the underlying spirit I felt when I posted the original image:

and this one

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Everyone on the Same Side

Most physicians say the best part of their jobs is taking care of people – its the human moments, the taking care of people that make our jobs so satisfying. We are all on the same side – the structure of  the  system forces behavior that is not always ideal but despite this physicians do want participatory interactions – we love patients, especially ones that are engaged in their own health and care and we do not (and cannot) know everything.

You may well bring information to us that we are not aware of or have not read or heard about and we hope there will be enough time and opportunity to review this and help include scientific knowledge, no matter the source, in our review and guidance on the best course of treatment for you.

Doctors and Patients – Who Knows Best was originally published on DrNic1

The Incredible Progress in Medicine

Posted in #medical school, #medicaltraining by drnic on December 4, 2015

Looking back at the history of medicine is fascinating (Victorian Medicine – from Fluke to Theory). Medicine was a combination of chance and quackery but over the course of the the last century has made incredible leaps. Science became an integral and training more formalized and increasingly specialized.

From Macbeth-like preparations of arsenic, iron or phosphorous to white coats and x-rays, the Victorian era witnessed a medical revolution

It is worth pausing and looking back to see the progress to date….likely small steps as we move forward at an incredible and accelerating pace this century

The Incredible Progress in Medicine was originally published on DrNic1

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Remembering those First Moments as a Junior #Doctor #hcsm

It’s a long time ago but in many respects that first shift is still fresh in my memory and it all came flooding back when I read this great piece by Deepak Chopra: My First Job: My Dark Night As A Real Doctor

He recounts his first night on call having arrived in to work in a 400 bed community hospital in New Jersey in the 1970’s and his first patient – “an expiration”
I cast my mind back to Friday 1st August 1986 and my first day – the Friday was significant as I discovered, marking the beginning of a weekend on call that commenced on Friday at 9am and finished at 5pm on Monday 4th August – yes that 80 hours! I don’t think I quite understood what that meant but I sure did by the end.
I was partnered with my medical school friend and colleague Niamh Anson part of my graduating class from the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine. We were set to spend the next 6 months joined at the hip spending more time with each other than some married couples spend together. We would be each others support, backup, confidant and friend. I was lucky – she was the perfect balance to my brash youth and over confidence. She was a steady hand guiding through what were some very rough seas and although I did not know it at the time I was really lucky to be her partner offering me the chance to get to know her.
We worked for two consultants – Dr Woodgate and Dr Willoughby a cardiologist and a gastroenterologist and were joined by a dynamic registrar John Lee. Between us we took care of the cardiology patients, coronary care ward, coronary care monitoring unit and the gastroenterology patients day to day.  But come Friday afternoon took on medical responsibility for all medial patients, medical admissions through the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E aka as the ED) and the Intensive Care Unit. On top of that we (Niamh, John and I) were the code team – with the anesthetist (aka Gasman or Anesthesiologist) as the 4th member. I don’t remember how many patients this covered but it was a lot.
Our first day was filled with taking on responsibility for the day to day activities finding out how to get things done, where things were kept and most importantly getting to know the nurses who were the key to surviving the ordeal since they knew everything, had worked there for far longer than you (and many others) and had more relevant experience that you needed to learn from. I was reminded of the “Doctor in the House” film with Sir Lancelot Spratt from years back:

To be a successful surgeon you need the eye of a hawk, heart of a lion and the hands of a lady

And while I don’t remember all the nurses by name I remember all their kindness, support and actions that helped me survive the grueling assault course of medicine.

At 5pm we knew the patient load had changed as our “beepers” (aka pagers) started sounding like a cardiac monitor going off so frequently. There were missing orders for pain medication, tissued drips (a drip that was no longer working and needing to be re-done), admissions in the emergency department, patents with abnormal rhythms on the coronary care intensive unit, blood gases needing taken in ICU…..
Division of labor and unofficial coordination became the order of the day as Niamh and I split the work taking on admissions and ward coverage. I remember during that period working out my rate of pay based on the number of hours I did per week (typically 136 hours per week) and thinking that while I understood that I was inexperienced I felt worth a little more than the £1.36 per hour (roughly $2.20 per hour) given that I recall all the critical clinical decisions we made, the CPR we performed, the relatives we had to speak to give them the sad news that their spouse had died.
By Saturday afternoon we had been on call for 36 hours and there seemed no let up in activity. The nights were sometimes quieter but that was rarity. As a means of coping we split the night with either Niamh or I taking all the calls after midnight (except in the case of a code when it was all hands on deck necessary to cope with the high work load in these events). In one memorable night I remember 23 admissions coming through the emergency department – if I saw my bed it was never for more than a few minutes. The nurses were all familiar with the work load adn they knew when they paged us that even if we answered and said we were coming they would oftentimes have to page us a second and third time as we would answer but then fall immediately back to sleep. As for our performance and efficiency – I hesitate to imagine how poor we were at tasks and what our decision making would look like if it were assessed. The good news was that there were many experienced nurses involved who did not work the same hours so were not suffering the same chronic sleep deprivation and were checking up on our orders and activities, prompting and intervening as necessary to prevent errors
By Monday morning we were all frazzled – I’d lost count of the patients and problems we had dealt with, the patients who had died, the admissions and therapies started and the slew of clinical problems and disasters we had averted. We stopped taking call but our day did not finish then and for us Monday was a regular working day dealign with the normal work load of admissions, award rounds treatments and patient management. It was only at 5pm on Monday evening we finally stopped work and handed our patient cover over to the new on call team.
There was some solace in the genuine feeling that you were making the difference in people’s lives but much like Deepak Choopra I struggled with what I was actually delivering – was this really healthcare

In the end, after six years of studying, medicine was turning out to have too little to do with healing and making people happy. It had to do instead with my work in the hospital, into their lives, pronouncing a few of them, the most unlucky ones, as expirations. I thought about myself a lot before I forced myself to sleep, but, on reflection, I didn’t think about my patients much. We had all met and parted in a few moments. It would have been hard to look at them directly. 

What of the interaction as defined by Hippocrates

Even though a patient may be aware that his condition is perilous, he may yet recover because he has faith in the goodness of his physician…I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art.

I did not have a good feeling about the interactions – the fleeting exchanges with these people who were trusting me with their lives and the lives of their family. And as technology and innovation continued its march the reality of the practice of medicine changed

Practicing medicine as we do now makes a doctor’s life as nerve-racking as a soldier’s. It consists of an endless struggle to conquer disease, and to keep at this, a doctor must deny to himself that disease, and to keep at this, a doctor must deny to himself that disease ultimately wins. If you feel called to practice medicine, these are not the kinds of thoughts you permit yourself. But doctors do face up to them from time to time and wonder what the work is for

I had some great experiences – I had some awful ones and I continue to be part of what I consider an honorable profession and one I am privileged to be a contributing member . In fact on a recent flight there was a request for a doctor – a lady suffering an attack of pancreatitis but fortunately we were not far from our destination and my contribution was small and mostly not medical in nature helping to control and comfort for the short period of time till we arrived and then hand the patient on to the ground emergency medical staff. That transition proved to be sub-optimal and it was well over an hour before she was taken care of – I stayed of course, wanting to be sure that her care was transferred to the healthcare team on the ground. The following day I received a note from one of the flight attendants that made my day. She had searched for my name and found me and sent a note to the Nuance Web site thanking me for my assistance and complimenting me for my “display of genuine heart”. My contribution was not so much medical although that had played a part in the diagnosis, assessment and review of treatment options and the course of action. But what had made the difference was compassion – the focus on the person (and in this case there were two people and I ended up helping her companion navigate London Heathrow airport late at night to get her out to the accommodation they had booked). I had never doubted what I would do and was upset for this lady and her companion who’s holiday was not starting off well. This is why I did medicine – I wanted to be the contributor, the person caring for the patient. It is this fundamental aspect of medicine we seem to be loosing site of – I can certainly accept some blame – I have a keen eye towards technology and possibilities it offers – but at its hearts medicine is about people caring for people and providing the support that in many cases is the difference between a good or bad outcome (at least perceived by the patient anyway). In fact I tweeted something along these lines earlier this week:

People forget what you said and what you did but they remember how you made them feel

As Deepak Choopra quotes:

Rejoice at your inner powers, for they are the makers of wholeness and holiness in you,
Rejoice at seeing the light of day, for seeing makes truth and beauty possible. 
and he ends with

a physician must trust in Nature and be happy in himself

As a guding light that works for me – hope it works for you too

Science, Evidence and Clinical Practice

A recent article on the The Difference between Science and Technology in Birth on the AMA site demonstrates the challenges we still face in getting clicnal practice influenced by science and data. Studies and data may show the path for best clinical practice but as the authors note there are multiple instances of the clinical community – in this case the OBGYN – either knowingly or unknowingly failing to follow the best practices

For deliveries in the US evidence tells us that fetal monitoring in low risk pregnancies has a deleterious effect – yet it remains standard practice in most settings to place external scalp electrodes and intrauterine pressure catheters

Although we still see external continuous fetal monitoring employed in many low-risk pregnancies, “as a routine practice [it] does not decrease neonatal morbidity or mortality compared with intermittent auscultation…. Despite an absence of clinical trial evidence, it is standard practice in most settings to place internal scalp electrodes and intrauterine pressure catheters when there is concern for fetal well-being demonstrated on external monitoring” [3].

 

They list several other standard practices including

  • routing episitomy
  • Use of Doula’s
  • Challenges with Epidurals

Reasons for these behaviors are varied but as the authors state:

Many well-intentioned obstetricians still employ technological interventions that are scientifically unsupported or that run counter to the evidence of what is safest for mother and child. They do so not because a well-informed pregnant woman has indicated that her values contradict what is scientifically supported, a situation that might justify a failure to follow the evidence. They do so out of tradition, fear, and the (false) assumption that doing something is usually better than doing nothing

Until we fix these basic issues there seems limited opportunity to implement intelligent medicine and real evidence or science based practices.

 

Doctors Die Differently

It was this podcast, “The Bitter End

From the awesome radio show radiolab that covered a topic that people are often reluctant to discuss but is an important part of our reality…as they say there are few things in life but birth death (and taxes) are at the top of the list.

The piece included a review from the Johns Hopkins (Study of a LifeTime) of people’s desires when it comes to life saving treatments especially as it relates to end of life:

Preferences of physician-participants for treatment given a scenario of irreversible brain injury without terminal illness. Percentage of physicians shown on the vertical axis. For cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), surgery, and invasive diagnostic testing, no choice for a trial of treatment was given. Data from the Johns Hopkins Precursors Study, 1998. Courtesy of Joseph Gallo, “Life-Sustaining Treatments: What Do Physicians Want and Do They Express Their Wishes to Others?”

For some simple questions such as:

  • Would you want CPR administered
  • Would you want Artifical Ventilation administered
  • Would you want Dialysis administered
  • Would you want a Feeding Tube used

Physicians were fairly uniform with 80% declining all of the above therapies. The only question that physicians were uniformly in favor of was the administration of pain medication.

But ask the same question of the general public and the numbers are reversed on every therapy (except pain management where there is agreement)

Its not that doctors don’t want to die, its just that they knwo they know enough about modern medicine to know its limits, importantly they have talked about this with their families as they want to be sure that no heroic measures will be used during their last moments in this reality.

In this excellent piece: “How Doctors Die; It’s Not Like the Rest of Us, But It Should Be” Ken Murray elegantly discusses this discrepancy

The challenge is clear and effective communication on a topic that we are reluctant to take on:

It’s easy to find fault with both doctors and patients in such stories, but in many ways all the parties are simply victims of a larger system that encourages excessive treatment. In some unfortunate cases, doctors use the fee-for-service model to do everything they can, no matter how pointless, to make money. More commonly, though, doctors are fearful of litigation and do whatever they’re asked, with little feedback, to avoid getting in trouble.

My personal technique when I was practicing was to use the benchmark of my own family. Depending on the age fo the patient I would ask myself the questions:

What would I do if this was my <insert name of close family relative>

So:

What would I do if this was my son/daughter
What would I do if this was my spouse
What would I do if this was my mother/father/brother/sister
What would I do if this was my grandfather/grandmother

It may seem simple but it worked for me, and still does. The principle applies with general discussions between family members and realtives.

I knwo this seems morose and depressing but remember death is not alwasy the worst case scenario.

Medical students still burdened by high debt loads

Posted in #debt, #hcr, #medical school, #medicaltraining by drnic on August 30, 2012

This problem needs to be fixed – if the debt load for a student emerging from medical school training is that high their income needs will be very high just to make loan payments.

Average debt of $162,000 – $205,000: Imagine starting out your early life with that kind of debt load!