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.

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

Controversies Surrounding Brain Death

by Chris Carroll, MD, MS.

The death of any person can be tragic, even more so when that person is a child.  Recently, there has been significant media coverage of the case of Jahi McMath, a 13-year old girl who according to news reports, underwent medical procedures to try to improve her obstructive sleep apnea and arrested following surgery. She was resuscitated and placed on a ventilator, but was pronounced brain dead on December 12th.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family during this difficult time and to the medical staff caring for Jahi and her family through this challenging and emotional situation.

 Although this case presents an opportunity to provide education about the determination of death, there has been little reasoned discussion.  Emotional discussions are understandable in situations like this one.  But for situations with as serious consequences as this, thoughtful discussions need to occur as well.

 The facts of this case are clear.  Although I am not involved in the care of this patient, from reading the outside neurologist’s report, her condition is not in doubt.  Legally and medically, she is dead.

 Brain death has been formally defined in the US since the 1980’s.  In a Presidential Commission that consisted of doctors, lawyers and bioethicists, brain death was defined as “the irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem” and established detailed clinical steps needed to make that determination.

 So why do we have so much trouble with brain death? Continue reading “Controversies Surrounding Brain Death”

How to Fix Healthcare, From a Doctor on the Frontlines: Part 1.

This is the first 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 2 and Part 3.

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 this series of  posts I will outline 3 central  ideas that would lead to better and more affordable care.

1. Costs Need to Be Simple and Transparent.

The first idea involves making costs and reimbursement more simplified and transparent.  These changes would help clarify misconceptions about doctor’s pay.  Leaders need to stop attacking doctors for how much they earn because they do not really know how it works.  In all other professions, one gets paid what the bill says.  If a handyman comes in to fix your sink and charges $80, you pay him $80.  If you seek a lawyer, and he says he charges $250/hour and he works 4 hours for you, you owe him $1000.

Unfortunately, the medical billing is unique, confusing, and wrong.  The charges (bills) that patients see in the mail are not what doctors get paid.  These are inflated numbers derived from contracts between hospitals or groups and insurance companies.  A recent New York Times article headlines read “As Hospital Prices Soar, a Stitch Costs $500.”  Sadly, these inflated numbers have nothing to do with what the doctor gets paid. In fact, those bills do not go to the doctor at all, but rather to the hospital.

When a hospital or doctor submits a charge (bill), the insurance companies or Medicare/Medicaid, depending on the patient’s insurance, utilize a fee schedule.  This schedule consists of thousands of codes that give dollar amounts for individual procedures or clinic visits.  Each code has a dollar figure to determine how much to reimburse that doctor.  This is called a “Medicare fee schedule” and insurance companies will pay a certain percentage of the fee based on Medicare.  This can range from 80% to 180% of Medicare depending on the insurance carrier. Continue reading “How to Fix Healthcare, From a Doctor on the Frontlines: Part 1.”

Should a Medical College Dean Take Money from Pharma?

One of the first posts I wrote here, was a about how pharmaceutical reps provide lunch for physicians while presenting information about a medication that they are promoting.  The post, and others like it, have generated visceral reactions on the part of the public. A similar article to the one that I wrote (also on kevinmd) prompted comments like “Get over yourself and buy your own lunch” and “I’m certainly glad that you are not my doctor”.

The opinions were so strong I was invited to speak on CNN about the topic. In particular, I was asked to speak about all the other extravagant things that physicians get from drug companies. I ultimately did not do the interview on account of me not having any experience with receiving any of the extravagant things they were talking about. It seemed to me that individual physicians receiving lunch was (excuse the pun) small potatoes compared to what happens behind closed doors in the halls of power. While upcoming rules will soon provide the public with a window into the value of goods provided to physicians by drug companies, they will provide little insight about where pharma has its greatest and most effective influence: behind the closed doors of those halls with thought leaders, opinion makers and legislators.

To that point, a story came to my attention recently that reminded me about that fact. The Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College, a prestigious and highly regarded medical school, has apparently kept close financial ties with industry, as reported in the the college’s newspaper.  The college’s Dean, a highly accomplished and awarded physician researcher, has retained positions with a major pharmaceutical company and a laboratory equipment company. In these roles last year she reportedly received about $260,000 from one of the companies and about $277,000 from the other last year. The Cornell Daily Sun also reports that she has apparently received millions of dollars in compensation from both companies over the years as well as more than a million dollars worth of shares and stock options in the companies. Continue reading “Should a Medical College Dean Take Money from Pharma?”

Daily Docblock: Denied Edition


It seems the doc-blockage never stops. A particular thorn in my side has been Care Core. They manage imaging services for an insurance that we accept and often deny coverage for CT scans. Once the requested test is denied, the physician may appeal by calling a 1-800 number, and much of the time, they end up approving the requested study. So my question is, why make the physician jump through hoops just to get the study done, when ultimately you are going to approve the test if a physician calls? Then again, maybe that’s the point, not every physician will have time in their day to call and appeal, and many of tests will not get done.

The Medical Press Release

Pass the pills please!

 You may have noticed the rash of medical news spewing from your favorite news outlets with greater frequency. As a medical professional you probably cringe as you envision the calls that are about to flood your office, “Doctor Smith, I heard a report on the news that this drug you prescribed to help me quit smoking is bad for my health!” or,   “I want a referral to The Hoffenheimer Institute to get peduncular ray beam therapy for my hypertension, they are reporting great results!” And, like me, you probably curse the media, as the stream of bogusness is regurgitated in high def.  My advice? Don’t hate the game, hate the players. Continue reading “The Medical Press Release”