A Dream About U.S. EMR’s; A Reality in th U.K.

I’m back at it again, talking about my continued love/hate relationship with EMR’s. From my conversations with doctors at different hospitals in our region, it seems that most docs appear to be falling into the “hate” column. Meanwhile, I’m still chugging along with the Allscripts Professional EHR that’s been installed in my office. And while it works just fine for the needs of a 3 physician single-specialty outpatient practice, it’s hardly the type of technology that, by itself, can change medical care for the better for a large number of people.

A recent study challenges that notion. In a study published in Chest, researchers in England sought to determine if inhaled steroids are a risk factor for pneumonia among asthmatics. It has already been shown inhaled corticosteroids are associated with an increased risk of pneumonia among patients with COPD. To determine this they looked at a database of medical information known as The Health Information Network (THIN).

In the UK, EMR’s have been in use for years, and general practitioners are encouraged (but not required) to participate in THIN. When a general practice elects to participate in THIN, software is installed in their EMR which runs in the background. The program collects data, while de-identifying it. The anonymized data is then uploaded to THIN, where approved researchers may have access to it.  There is no cost to the practices for participating, and in return for their participation practices not only receive in depth practice metrics, they also receive a percentage of any research revenue generated from the use of the THIN data. At the time that the study was conducted, the database contained data from 9.1 million patients.

But back to the question at hand. From a cohort of 359,172 people with asthma the researchers were able to identify 6857 people with pneumonia, along with 36,312 control subjects.  They were thus able to find a positive correlation between inhaled steroids and pneumonia. (for more on these findings, see my previous post: ) Continue reading

Posted in Electronic Medical Records, The Truth About Health Care | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How to Fix Healthcare, From a Doctor on the Frontlines: Part 2.

This is the second 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 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 post, I look at the second of three central  ideas that would lead to better and more affordable care.

2. Tort reform.

We as doctors have a calling to help patients.  But, as we all are human, mistakes can happen. It is very important that patients who are injured by mistakes be compensated in a way that the law is supposed to provide.  However, the point of law is to provide reliable decision-making that can sort good health care from bad health care.  Instead, currently, it is run ad hoc jury by jury with no set standards. The system currently favors a doctor if in fact something was done wrongly or it may favor a patient even if no mistake was made.  This unreliability leads to defensive medicine, ordering tests and procedures just to prove that you did something, or excessively documenting trivial facts to prove you looked at everything.  The estimates for defensive medicine has been estimated up to $200 billion per year.  The current laws neglect both the patient and the doctor and drives up costs with administrative and attorney fees.

Here is an example of the evolution of defensive medicine. If a family physician determines a patient’s headache is likely due to tension and there are no warning signs for something serious, the doctor may choose not to order a CT scan and have the patient follow up if symptoms do not improve. Rarely, a tumor or bleeding in the brain could present in such a way despite a normal clinical evaluation by the doctor.  If that patient ends up having a tumor or bleeding, they can sue the doctor for not ordering the CT scan earlier.  In turn, that doctor doesn’t want that to ever happen again, even though he did everything right by using his clinical knowledge to determine nothing serious was likely going on. Continue reading

Posted in The Truth About Health Care, Un-Sequitur | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Comedian Learns That He Has Sleep Apnea (Video)

Sleep Apnea is a serious condition that afflicts millions of people. The condition leads to reduced breathing during sleep which causes reduced oxygen to be delivered to the heart and brain. The condition may increase the risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and depression. The reduced sleep quality can also lead to daytime sleepiness which can cause traffic and workplace accidents. In the video above comedian Jo Koy relates how he learned about the diagnosis of sleep apnea (he later got treated). Learn more about the disease and how you can get tested at SleepEducation.com.

Posted in Un-Sequitur | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in The Truth About Health Care | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in The Truth About Health Care | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dear Physicians: You Are Far More Wealthy Than You Know.

-By A. Joseph Layon, MD, FACP.

This article was written in response to Doctor Moeller’s Post: An Open Letter to Washington, D.C. From a Physician on the Front Lines

With interest, I read and re-read Matthew Moeller’s Open Letter.  My son, a first year medical student at Drexel University in Philadelphia, commented that this missive was being discussed by his colleagues in a tone of moral righteousness.  Interesting.

I know, I remember, what it was like to realize that the way to live an authentic life was to engage in providing health care for our people.  I remember debt, struggle, and 120 work-weeks. All of this, I remember.

And I remember being a third year medical student at The University of California, Davis – Sacramento Medical Center.  My professors, between patients on rounds, arguing how disastrous the health care system was becoming, how it was better in the “old days”, how they / we were suffering, how no one really understood what we had to go through.  Well, you get the idea.

While I understand, empathize and remember much of what Doctor Moeller says in his piece, and while he is – in my view on the mark in much of what he writes – I think he misses several points that are worth comment:

1. Medical School Debt: As a member of the Faculty Senate at the University of Florida I once got into a running argument related to the lack of breadth our undergraduates exhibited prior to their entry into professional school; lack of knowledge of history, language, and cultures other than their own.  Medical training is expensive.  In the not so distant past, a huge portion of this expense – certainly in the State of California where I was both an undergraduate and graduate student – was funded through tax revenue.  This was done not to be nice to our medical students, but because education was considered a social investment.  Proportionally, the monies in education have decreased (see Christopher Newfield, Unmaking the Public University – The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class, 2008, Harvard University Press), resulting in a grand portion of the debt saddling Doctor Moeller.  Nowhere in Doctor Moeller’s missive do I find any comment upon this.  The very policies that many in our profession cling to – physicians being, oddly to my mind given our work, frequently conservative and in the Republican or Libertarian camps – i.e., anti-taxation policies, put our medical students – and undergraduates, and graduates – at risk.  These policies put our future at risk.  Doctor Moeller rightly notes his difficulties; but Matt, what about the broader picture ?  This isn’t just a medical student issue. Continue reading

Posted in The Truth About Health Care, Un-Sequitur | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Remember When We Used to Prescribe Inhaled Steroids for Asthma and COPD?

Press Release: Annual Conference of the Universal College of Chest Physicians October 2085; New Chicago, Mars.

The annual conference enjoyed another record attendance today as attendees flocked to Dr. Ramachandran III’rds keynote address reviewing exploits of physicians in the early part of the century. Dr. Ramachandran highlighted some key decisions and their consequences, such as the ACGME’s decree in 2032 that all residents should be swaddled before their scheduled hourly nap times. This of course led to the now infamous Great Hospital Apocalypses of 2033, 2034, and 2035.

Perhaps nearly as intriguing was the plight of inhaled corticosteroids for the treatment of respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD in the beginning of the 21st century. The period began with greater awareness and concern regarding the use of long acting beta agonist (LABA) bronchodilators such salmeterol. That risk was highlighted by findings published in the SMART trial (access through Chest archives here). There was increased concern regarding the potential harm caused by LABA which culminated in the placement of warnings on medications which contained LABA bronchodilators. These medications, experts said, were to be prescribed with extreme caution because of the possible increase in harm, particularly among children.

Scholars of the early 21st century thus highly recommended that asthmatics, especially children, be started on steroid inhalers before having to resort to using inhaled LABAs. Many also theorized that inhaled steroids had a protective effect when combined with LABA’s, possibly ameliorating their potential danger. Thus many at the time recommended a strategy of not using LABA inhalers at all, unless also simultaneously prescribing an inhaled steroid.

However, problems with this approach started to appear late in the first decade of the century. The TORCH study, a trial using combined inhaled LABA/inhaled steroids in adults with COPD suggested that there was an increased incidence of pneumonia among those treated with inhaled steroids. Early in the second decade a pivotal study then demonstrated that asthmatic children treated with inhaled steroids ended up being about half an inch shorter than they might have otherwise been (interestingly, a later study in 2035  correlated the reduced height with a statistically significant decrease in NBA dunking). Continue reading

Posted in The Truth About Health Care | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

End of Life Conversations are Becoming End of Life Confrontations

“How Dare You!”

Life can change in a heartbeat. Most of us believe that our lives, our loves and all the that things that make us who we are is a gift from a higher power. One that can be taken away as swiftly as it is given. But somewhere in the shuffle of taking kids to practice, catching up on emails, worrying about bills, and the search for the perfect barbecue, it’s all too easy to forget the truth of life. The one truth. The one single thing that life guarantees each and every one of us. From the moment we take our first breath,  life makes to us but one promise. The promise that our life will someday end.

“Who do you think you are?”

For some of us, death comes after a lifetime of achievement, for others all too soon. For many it will be feared, for others it will be welcomed as their bodies wither away. But for more and more of us in our increasingly sterile and safe society, it is simply not to be thought of at all. An unwelcome stepchild locked tightly away in the attics of our consciousness. Like a demon in waiting, we reshape it, remake it, remold it, until it becomes an ever distant sunset that bookends a romantic dream of a life full of love, accomplishment, achievement.

“You have no right to say that!”

Until finally, that inevitable day approaches. A man or woman in a white coat tells you the terrible news that your loved one is passing away. That yes,  they are alive and can be kept alive, but there is practically no chance that they could recover. They will never go back to the person they were before.

“Where’s my regular doctor?” Continue reading

Posted in The Truth About Health Care | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

5 Ways Healthcare Reform May Impact Medical Education

Guest Post by Ta’Rikah Jones

Unless Congress completely smothers the Affordable Care Act (ACA), its changes will shake healthcare to the foundations as millions of people gain access to insurance and expanded medical care.

The ACA’s goal is to move Americans toward a health insurance umbrella for everyone while striving to control costs and drastically alter the insurance industry. Potentially every facet of healthcare could be affected, from the doctor’s office to research labs. Changes could even reach into healthcare education.

The law will change the number of patients seeking care, how much doctors are paid and may make some med school students even more uneasy about school loans.

These are some ways the ACA may affect medical education:

1. More primary care

The law seeks to foster primary care and boosts Medicare payments to primary and internal medicine physicians significantly while lowering payments for subspecialty doctors. Also, payment and coverage for preventative care would rise along with primary care.

This could slow the drop in students who pursue primary care in medical school. For years students migrated into more lucrative subspecialties, leaving only a small percentage of students interested in general medicine.

The act also calls for expanding some scholarship and repayment programs for primary care doctors and expands nurse and primary care training.

Continue reading

Posted in The Truth About Health Care | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Attend a Medical Conference Without Actually Being There.

Well, I’ve done it again. It seems that every time I try to make the early registration deadline for a conference, something seems to come up. One of the kids gets sick, a transmission breaks, I have a crazy week at work, you know, life.

Unlike previous years however, I’m very excited to say that I will be making it to the American College of Chest Physician’s annual scientific meeting  at the end of October.

While I wasn’t able to make it to the conference every year, it turns out that I didn’t have to miss everything because I had a new and unique tool at my disposal. A tool that allowed me to catch a surprising amount of the action and actually obtain some of the benefits of the conference without actually being there: social media. Continue reading

Posted in The Truth About Health Care, Un-Sequitur | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment