The Ones that Emory Didn’t Save

It was with much fan-fare that 2 American aid workers were airlifted from across the world and brought to Emory University Medical Center where they began experimental treatment for Ebola. We hope for a full and speedy recovery for them and others like them who do God’s work.

But it appears to me that lost in this conversation are myriad others who need help but never get it. Right now, humanitarian work is being done all over the world, and in very dangerous places. These people  knowingly put their life on the line for others. Yet  tragically, some of them are injured or sickened in the service of others. But for them, the call from the CDC offering to med-evac them out never came. There was a girl, who died of malaria while in Kenya. Or the young man who was serving in Egypt. Or a myriad other aid workers who die while serving their fellow human beings.

Also at issue, and it needs to be asked, at what cost are we saving lives? Who decides who gets what may have been, all told, a hundred thousand dollar medical evacuation? Susan Grant, the Chief Nurse for Emory Healthcare, in an article for The Washington Post rightly downplayed the infection risk posed by bringing these patients here. She went on to say:

“The purpose of any hospital is to care for the ill and advance knowledge about human health. . . As human beings, we all hope that if we were in need of superior health care, our country and its top doctors would help us get better”

This statement brings to mind others that need saving. They don’t work in far away lands, they live here in the U.S, right across town, in fact. They don’t have fancy, exotic diseases.  Their conditions have names like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and lung cancer. Right now many of them are getting collection notices for their inability to pay from medical centers like Emory University. Others have been trying to get appointments at tertiary centers  like Emory. Only they’re told that their insurance is not accepted there, or their co-pays and deductibles will be more than they can afford.

How would Ms. Grant justify the incredible expense spent on this endeavor to those people? What would she say about the necessity of this experiment, a clinical trial with an N = 2? Could she really  tell those sweating in the Atlanta heat after their electricity got shut off that this was all really for their benefit?

I don’t know how to solve the ethical dilemma here. While I am hope for a cure on the one hand, I cringe at the highlight this places on those at the bottom end of America’s healthcare disparity gap. Perhaps someday in the distant future they can take solace in knowing that they didn’t suffer for naught. Because if they ever contract ebola, there will be a cure waiting for them.

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3 Ways Obamacare is Destroying American Healthcare.

As I was watching CNN news recently, I noted in the headlines different ways Obamacare is failing.  Current problems discussed were the customers’ sticker shock of high deductible plans (up to $12,700 for families), the president blaming the insurance companies for having substandard plans, and the people blaming the president for losing their current insurance.

One patient even complained, “My new health care plan tripled in price, and now, it is like having a third loan to deal with, including my car and home loan.”

The current law and regulations being implemented under Obamacare will ultimately lead to sicker patients and low quality care for three reasons:

1.  Older doctors will retire early fed up with the system. These older doctors feel that the loss of a patient-physician relationship and the burdensome regulations (ie. paperwork) will choke off their ability to provide good care.  In addition, their expenses are increasing with these new regulations.  Add in the projected cuts in reimbursement up to 26%, and their livelihood will be threatened. These cuts could force these doctors out of practice or force them to stop seeing Medicare patients simply because their expenses (which rise yearly) are exceeding their declining reimbursement, which has declined steadily over the past several years already. Continue reading

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It’s Time to Move On From ACLS Certification.

I can recall, though it seems quite long ago, my first Basic Life Support (BLS) course as a first year medical student. The instructor dutifully demonstrated on a mannequin to eager young medical students what to do if someone is found unresponsive. Shaking the unmoving mannequin she said loudly,  “Sir, are you ok?” Then hearing no response she showed us how to check for a pulse and spontaneous breathing. “if not present” she said, “call for help and start CPR”. Me, ever the smart-ass, took my own approach. “Sir,  are you ok?” Then, grabbing the mannequin tightly to my chest “NOOOO! why? WHY?!”

This didn’t enamor me to the instructor very much and earned me most of the difficult clinical scenarios of the day.

Classes like these are now mandatory for those working in hospitals. Just about all employees have to go through BLS training, and many employees in more advanced clinical settings are also required to take Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS). ACLS  is an advanced skill set taught to medical personnel who work in areas of the healthcare field who may have encounters with patients that require interventions beyond the scope of BLS.

Those of us in the medical field who are required to recertify ACLS have long dreaded the process of ACLS recertification. Part of that is because it can be an intense course that makes many feel nervous. Part of it is also because it is expensive and time consuming. But the greatest reason why most who undergo ACLS training  object  to it is for a different reason entirely: they feel that is simply unnecessary. Continue reading

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To Reform Healthcare, America Needs to Look to its Doctors.

Our healthcare system is sick and dysfunctional. A vicious cycle of blame is happening between Washington, health insurance companies, and the patients. And it is quickly demoralizing this nation and simply increasing costs with more administrative regulations. It is raising questions regarding the future of healthcare in the United States.

And we need answers.

Surprisingly, in all of this, doctors are rarely mentioned.  As if doctors do not know the intricacies of how the health care system works.  As if doctors are not there for their patients 24 hours per day, ordering tests or doing procedures that can benefit a patient’s well-being.  As if doctors are not dealing with denials from the insurance companies on a daily basis, losing valuable hours to menial paperwork that could be spent caring for our country’s sick.

Doctors have a duty to care for their patients and are the engines that put health care into motion. They yearn to maintain that physician-patient relationship that is important to the care of our patients.

Unfortunately, doctors are not being directly involved in the health care reform debate despite being on the front lines of care.  They have an opportunity to provide valuable insight into the day-to-day operations of this health care machine. Continue reading

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New Series: EMR Diaries.

Golive PicIt’s time. After thousands of hours of hard work by the IT department, and lots of fretting by pretty much everyone else, the time has arrived. Our hospital is going live with it’s EMR Stage 2 meaningful use system. And it’s starting during my turn in the hospital rotation. (I want to believe that this is purely coincidental, but if I see my office scheduler walking around with a new pair of shoes, I might have to say something.)

What is Meaningful Use? As part of the nearly $800 billion economic stimulus bill known as ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) of 2009, the government sought to  electronify (yes, that’s a work, look it up!) medical records. To accomplish this CMS (Medicare/Medicaid) began giving out incentive payments to physicians and hospitals for electronifying their medical records, which would eventually transition into fines for not complying.

By now you’ve probably looked up “electronify” and found that it’s not really a word. My bad. But in a way, Medicare did the same thing. They realized that “electronic medical record” does not really have a definition, either. So they said “our bad” and came up with a set of parameters that would determine if your medical record could be used in a meaningful way, or whether it was just a note pad with a reading light attached to it. Continue reading

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“When I Was a Resident”: Duty Hour Rules Do Not Define Me

Recently, Rebecca Ulep wrote a rebuke of recent resident duty hour restrictions and their potential negative effects on physician education in a post entitled “When I Was a Resident”: How Duty Hour Rules Are Creating a Lost Generation of Physicians. Many practicing physicians agreed with these sentiments, while most residents did not. Our expanding #PulmCC community brought me  into the acquaintance of one the latter, who agreed to write a post taking the other side of the argument. Scroll down for the article, and hit the link above to read the original post. And follow the #PulmCC hashtag on twitter to keep up with relevant material and participate in future #PulmCC twitter chats. 

I argue with my father a lot. He works as an intensivist at a community hospital in Indianapolis while I am about to graduate from a highly academic internal medicine program in Chicago. Needless to say, we have very different perspectives.

He sometimes expresses views similar to those written in a previous article, “When I Was a Resident”: How Duty Hour Rules Are Creating a Lost Generation of Physicians. I started residency the first year that the new intern duty-hour regulations were put into effect. After explaining these rules to my father, he asked me: “How do you guys learn? When I was a resident, we did not have limits to how many patients we saw. I would be working until five or six in the evening on my post-call day and then stay to work a moonlighting shift.” I, then, delightfully asked him if that was before or after penicillin was discovered.

The field of medicine has undergone many changes (yet we still carry pagers…that’s for another rant), some for better and some for worse. There has been much debate over potential benefits and detriments that come with the changes in duty-hour regulations.  I can only speak to the culture at my own institution, but in my experience, there is one thing that has not changed: the pride we take in our work. This is why I take particular issue with the overly dramatized notions brought up in the aforementioned article. Continue reading

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“Doctor, can I record this conversation?”

It’s happened to me a couple of times already. But the question in the title of this post was never asked. Rather I was informed later on that my conversation with a patient or family was recorded without my knowledge. Smart phones have made it all too easy for patients to secretly record conversations with their healthcare providers. Simply hit a button,  lay it innocently down by your side in the office or hospital, and patients get an instant video or audio capture of a conversation with their physician.  When my medical team and fellow physicians found out about the unauthorized recording of our conversation, the news was met with a combination and anger and disgust.

That reaction, it seems,  is typical of what most physicians would feel in the same situation. Why would a physician be upset about a patient secretly recording a conversation with them?

Well, simple, really. Most physicians are in chronic fear that the next person to hear/view that recording will be a malpractice lawyer, dissecting it,  consonant by consonant,  probing for potentially actionable material. The recording, in the physicians mind, changes the nature of the physician-patient relationship. It makes the patient a potential adversary, it makes the doctor feel as if they are in front of a jury and can not speak frankly, it makes them feel as if they are unworthy of trust. In other words, physicians do not like being recorded because they assume that the person recording them has negative motivations.

But let’s pause for a moment and look at this a different way. . . what if they don’t have negative motivations? Continue reading

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The PROCESS Trial: End of the Line for Central Lines?

A lot of things change for doctors once we’re done with training. Most of us leave behind the ivory tower that is the academic medical center to plow the common fields of private practice. We no longer have the weekly journal clubs, the Grand Rounds, the CME lectures. But what we gain is practical hands-on experience with what works, and what doesn’t. A nuanced knowledge of what’s accepted vs. what’s acceptable.

One such area has been the approach to sepsis. Manny Rivers et al published  their game changing study on early goal directed therapy (EGDT) in the treatment of septic shock in 2001, and the result became scripture in the field of Critical Care Medicine. The knowledge that tying sepsis resuscitation to the measurement of central venous oxygen saturation (ScvO2) and central venous pressure (CVP) using a central venous catheter, lead to a surge of recommendations.

The brain trust spewed forth these recommendations in various forms;  Surviving Sepsis Campaign, Sepsis guidelines, Sepsis bundles, Sepsis video games and Sepsis action figures. Somewhere in that sentence I may have transitioned to hyperbole.

Those of us in clinical practice didn’t always follow the drumbeat. Many of our patients with sepsis it seemed, did just fine without a routine central line or blood transfusions, or dobutamine drips. Why use invasive measures when we don’t really need them, and we’re not really sure that they’re helping? Still, when I talked to my ivory tower friends, the response was same, “We always use central lines and follow the EGDT”, they would say.

In case you’re thinking that I’m a maverick, well, it wasn’t just me. Surveys/studies that have looked at compliance with EGDT show compliance anywhere from as low as 0.1% to just above 50%. Clearly people were pushing back against the guidelines, and many began to publicly question whether results of EGDT could be generalized to the general population with sepsis. Continue reading

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How to Fix Healthcare, From a Doctor on the Frontlines: Part 3.

This is the last of a 3 part series by Dr. Moeller, the infamous Doctor on the Frontlines. In this series he explores ways in which our healthcare system is failing, and how it can be improved from the perspective of those who live and breathe healthcare every day. . . doctors. Click the links to read Part 1 and Part 2.

I want every person in America to have access to quality health care all at a reasonable price because our citizens deserve this. Unfortunately, universal access to care at a reasonable price cannot materialize unless lawmakers look to doctors on the front lines of care for specific input.  We as doctors know in many ways why costs are high and why the public is unfortunately misinformed about how it all works.  But we need a representative sample of practicing doctors in Congress discussing these issues so that these “insider” insights can be applied to our current laws. In post, I look at the last of three central  ideas that would lead to better and more affordable care.

3. Health Savings Accounts.

The third solution highlights increasing patients’ roles in their own health, which would lead to more patient satisfaction, and actually lower costs.  This could be accomplished with health savings accounts.  These accounts would be funded by patients with pre-tax dollars and contributions made by employers and/or government subsidy stratified based on the individual’s income and job status.   With actual money in these accounts, patients would be able to discern costs better and use this money as if they were consuming any other good or service, such as handyman services.   This money could grow each year like an investment account and even be passed on to heirs at the time of death, keeping that sense of ownership with loved ones. Continue reading

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How a Journal Club and a Blog Challenged the Mighty NEJM

Could this be end of the Tonka-Scope?

Much has been written about how Web 2.0 tools can change the healthcare landscape.  It would appear a recent set of circumstances has upped the ante.

This story begins with a recent study that attempted to tackle the problem of ICU infections. ICU infections are a challenging problem, patients who are admitted to the ICU are at risk of worsening illness and death from infections such as MRSA which can be acquired while in the ICU setting. To counteract this risk, current practice is the performance of surveillance cultures on people who are admitted to intensive care. If the person tests positive for certain infections they are placed in isolation (and health care providers are asked to wear silly gowns and share a useless stethoscope).

The success of this strategy is dubious, ranging from successful in some studies to nearly useless in others. Based upon my personal observations of my own hospital’s isolation practices, my only conclusion has been that yellow is not a good look for me.

But I digress. In this study, patients underwent “universal decontamination” with chlorhexidine, a commonly used antiseptic. The study found a dramatic drop in the numbers of MRSA infections and bloodstream infections. The study was peer reviewed and published in the flagship of medical publishing, the New England Journal of Medicine (sorry JAMA). Continue reading

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