Archive for the ‘Medical Topics’ Category

Driving With A Foot Out The Window

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Driving With Foot Out Window

I saw this while driving down the road recently. A person just tooling down a major road with their foot hanging out the window.

What possesses people do drive with their feet out the window? I see it every once in a while from both drivers and passengers. This time my daughter just happened to be in the car with me so she could catch this picture.

I did a quick search of the internet and of the medical literature and wasn’t able to find any specific literature on the potential downsides from driving like this.

I was, however, able to find other pictures/posts/comments …
calling a driver doing this a “jackass,”
noting that the practice was awkward and potentially dangerous,
stating that a person driving in this manner is “white trash skank,”
stating that driving this way is illegal in Delaware,
noting that a driver in Australia who was pictured with both feet out a window had been charged with “reckless conduct endangering life, failure to have proper control of a vehicle, careless driving, and limbs protruding from a vehicle,” and
a comment noting that the practice was something worthy of circus people.

So if driving with your feet out the window doesn’t hurt anyone and it feels nice to have a breeze blowing on your bare feet while traveling at 50 MPH, then why shouldn’t we do it?
Here are some of my thoughts.

First, you look like a freak when you drive with your foot out the window. It isn’t cool. It isn’t funny. It looks low class and smarmy. Yes I’m old and out of touch with the younger generation. You still look like a smarmy whippersnapper when you drive with your foot out the window.

Next, when you drive with your foot out the window, your foot and/or leg is blocking your view of the driver’s mirror. That makes you less able to see your surroundings and more prone to getting into an accident.

With your leg in that position, you are probably less able to shift your body to turn and look in your blind spot when changing lanes or making a turn. That makes you more likely to hit a vehicle approaching you on your driver’s side.

Finally, pretend for a moment that you get into an accident with your foot hanging out the window. Think of what will happen to your body …

If you rear-end someone and your air bag deploys, momentum will carry your body forward while the airbag forces your hanging leg into flexion and external rotation. Ever popped a chicken leg off a cooked chicken?
Your knee will probably hyperextend as well, so you’ll be in a position where you’ll potentially have no knee ligaments and no hip joint.
The anterior force on your driving leg combined with the posterior force on your leg out the window will cause a shearing force on your pelvis which may be enough to snap your pelvis like a pretzel. Pelvis fractures are potentially life threatening, tough to rehab, and carry multiple serious complications.

If you’re involved in a rollover accident, it’s even worse. You won’t have time to pull your foot back in the vehicle and the edge of the window will hold your foot in place as the several tons of car rolls on top of it, mangling your foot if you’re lucky and just ripping it from your leg if you’re not so lucky. If the roof collapses from the rollover impact, then your knee and lower leg will get caught up in the mangled metal – which may prevent you from getting out of the car.

Look at the bright side, though. If you survive a serious accident with your leg hanging out the window, at least they have a lot of advanced leg prosthetics you can choose from.

Anyone got any stories about trauma from drivers or passengers with their feet out the windows?

Hemoptysis Pearls

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

There was a nice article over at Consultant360.com by Drs. Laren Tan and Samuel Louie on hemoptysis pearls. Learned quite a few things.

200 mls of blood (about a cupful) is enough to fill the dead space in the lungs and is therefore generally considered the minimum amount of blood to make the diagnosis of “massive” hemoptysis.

Hemoptysis with chest pain – think pneumonia/pleurisy, PE with pleurisy, pulmonary edema from an MI, or lung cancer

Hemoptysis with dyspnea – think either exacerbation of patient’s underlying medical problem or a precursor to respiratory failure

Hemoptysis with fever – think infection, autoimmune disease, vasculitis, or even PE with lung infarction

Chest xray, CBC, and coags are the initial diagnostic tests. CT scan is indicated for suspected masses, recurrent hemoptysis, or high suspicion of cancer. Although not mentioned in the article, PE evaluation would also be an indication, depending on symptoms and pre-test probability scoring. CT alone has a diagnostic yield of about 67%.

For a differential diagnosis of hemoptysis, remember the mnemonic “BATTLECAMP”

B – Bronchitis
A – Abscess
T – Tumor
T – Tuberculosis
L – Lupus
E – Embolism
C – Coagulopathy
A – Autoimmune (eg, Goodpasture syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus)
M – Mitral Stenosis
P – Pneumonia

Insecticide Poisoning From Aluminum Phosphide and Phosphine

Thursday, June 19th, 2014


There was a sad story about a woman who died from insecticide poisoning inside her home after family member sprayed agricultural insecticide inside the house earlier in the day. While the story was sad, the back story was quite interesting to me.

The poisoning was from aluminum phosphide. When exposed to atmospheric moisture or stomach acid, aluminum phosphate converts to aluminum hydroxide (which is used to treat excess stomach acid) and phosphine gas – which is highly toxic. Phosphine gas typically smells like rotting fish or garlic. Phosphine is explosive and is heavier than air, so it tends to collect in low-lying poorly ventilated areas such as basements. Toxicity usually develops a few hours after exposure and affects the cardiac and vascular tissues, causing hypotension, congestive heart failure and electrocardiographic abnormalities.

Diagnosis of aluminum phosphate poisoning is difficult to make and usually depends on history of exposure due to the nonspecific symptoms. Confirmatory testing involves putting silver nitrate paper over the patient’s mouth or over a heated beaker of the patient’s stomach contents. If positive for exposure, the paper turns black. There’s no antidote for the poisoning, so treatment is supportive, although oils reportedly inhibit phosphine release and there have been case reports of using coconut oil in treatment of aluminum phosphide poisoning. Potassium permanganate (1:10,000) via gastric lavage will also oxidize phosphine to nontoxic phosphate.
Phosphine can be absorbed through the skin, so removing the patient to fresh air and decontamination with water is important.

Although management will probably be in combination with a poison control center, you may just look like a rockstar if you diagnose aluminum phosphide poisoning in a patient in cardiovascular collapse … who smells like rotten fish … and who just happens to have an ant infestation at home.

Also remember that if you smell phosphine on a patient, you could be poisoned, too.
Again, think decontamination and negative pressure ventilation.

Michael Kirsch, MD – An Emergency Physician Basher Without A Clue

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

The nice thing about the internet, about having a blog, and about having a Twitter account is that even us peons have the ability to combat censorship.

Here’s a good example.

Self-described “insider” and “whistleblower” Michael Kirsch, MD, who blogs at “MD Whistleblower,” has a penchant for bashing emergency physicians even though his commentary shows that his “inside knowledge” is full of misinformation. You can be the judge of Dr. Kirsch’s veracity, but my opinion is that he is unethically spewing his inside misinformation as fact.

So I called him out on it.

KevinMD re-posted a blog post that Dr. Kirsch made about emergency physicians. Dr. Kirsch’s post initially asked “Are Emergency Rooms Admitting Too Many Patients?” I responded with a longwinded comment. My comment dripped with snark as I pointed out multiple errors in Dr. Kirsch’s assertions and multiple bits of misinformation he asserted were “fact.” I spent about an hour writing it because I thought it was important to show everyone who reads the post how Dr. Kirsch was being unethical as he tried to aggrandize his “inside knowledge” of a specialty he didn’t even practice. Within a few hours, my comment had twelve “upvotes.”

This morning, I woke to an e-mail from a reader telling me that my comment had been deleted from Kevin MD’s blog.

When I went to check, I saw the following:

Kevin MD comment deleted
So I wrote to Kevin and asked him who deleted the comment.

Kevin responded

Kevin MD response
I wrote Kevin back and asked him what the threshold number of flags was and who determined it. He didn’t reply.

I performed a search of Disqus for the term “flag” and found no mention of how to automatically delete comments based upon “flags”. The only action that Disqus appears to allow for “flagging” is to notify the moderator (i.e. Kevin) that a comment “requires moderator attention.” I also checked my own moderator dashboard for Disqus and wasn’t able to find an “automatic deletion” feature. If someone can point me to that feature, I’ll update this post.

It’s Kevin’s blog, so he is free to choose what comments stay and go.

So now I’m pissed. This Dr. Kirsch, the “Whistleblower” with “insider knowledge” is free to create a post basically accusing emergency physicians of widespread fraud, but when he gets butt hurt because someone points out all of the deficiencies in his “insider knowledge”, the comment mysteriously disappears.

Below, dear readers, you will find Dr. Kirsch’s post and my response, preserved for all eternity on the internet. Dr. Kirsch, Kevin MD, Disqus, and anyone else who is butthurt by my comments have no ability to delete them. I’m cross-posting it on my other blog and pushing it out on Twitter just to be safe. See Streisand Effect.
I fortunately copied an initial version of part of my comment onto a text file, so I didn’t lose the whole thing, but I had to re-write a lot of the comment from memory. Since the comment is version 2.0 and since someone was apparently offended that I would dare call out a “whistleblower”, I added more to the response.

Please do me a favor and pass this post around.


Dr. Kirsch’s initial post:

Are Emergency Rooms Admitting Too Many Patients?

Every player in the medical arena has found itself challenged by conflicts where one’s self-interest competes can skew what should be pure advice.   This issue is not restricted to the medical universe.  Every one of us has to navigate through similar circumstances throughout the journey of life.  If an attorney, for example, is paid by the hour, then there is an incentive for the legal task to take longer than it might if the client were paying a flat fee.

The fee-for-service (FFS) payment system that had been the standard reimbursement model in medicine has been challenged and is being dismantled because of obvious conflicts that were present.  (This is not the only reason that FFS is under attack, but it is the principal reason offered by FFS antagonists.)  Physicians who were paid for each procedure they performed , performed more procedures.   This has been well documented.  Of course many other professions and trades still operate under a FFS system, but they are left unmolested.   Consider dentists, auto mechanics and plumbers and contractors.

FFS is not inherently evil.  But, it depends upon a high level of personal integrity which, admittedly, is not always present.   In my own life, I often hope and pray that the individual who is offering me goods or services is thinking of my interests exclusively.  Am I living in fantasy land?

The Rand Corporation released a study in May 2013 that demonstrated that emergency rooms accounted for about 50% of hospital admissions during the study period from 2003-2009.  When I have posted on emergency medicine in the past, it has stimulated a high volume of responses, some good, some bad and some ugly.

I think it is inarguable that emergency room (ER) care wastes health care dollars by performing unnecessary medical care.  As a gastroenterologist, I affirm that the threshold for obtaining a CT scan of the abdomen in the ER is much lower than it should be.   And, so it is with other radiology tests, labs, cardiac testing, etc.

I understand why this is happening.  If I were an ER physician, I would behave similarly facing the same pressures that they do.  They face huge legal risks.   They are in a culture of overtreatment and overtesting because they feel more than other physicians that they cannot miss anything.  They argue that they have only one chance to get it right, unlike internists and others who can see their patients again in a follow-up visit.  If an ER physician holds back on a CT scan of the abdomen on a patient who has a stomach ache, and directs the patient to see his doctor in 48 hours, what is the ER physician’s legal exposure if the patient skips this appointment and ends up having appendicitis?

Keep in mind that we should expect that ERs to have higher hospitalization rates of their patients, since their patients are much more likely to be acutely ill.

But even accounting for the sick patients in the ER, I think there is a significant percentage of ER patients who should be sent home and are sent upstairs instead. This would be an easy study to perform.  Compare the intensity of testing between the emergency room and a primary care office with regard to common medical conditions.  I would wager handsomely that the ER testing intensity and admission rate would be several fold higher than compared to doctors’ offices.  Want to challenge me on this point?

Even though I understand why ER docs do what they do, it is a bleeding point in the health care system that needs a tourniquet.

It is clear that ER physicians are incentivized to admit their patients to the hospital.  Of course, they might be “encouraged” to do this by their hospitals who stand to gain financially when the house is full.  Leaving the financial conflict aside, when an ER physician admits a patient, he is completely free of the risk of sending a patient home who may have a serious medical issue. I am not referring here to patients who clearly should be admitted, but to the large group of patients who most likely have a benign medical complaint, but the ER physician advises hospitalization “just to be on the safe side.” These same patients if seen in their own doctors’ offices would never be sent to the hospital to be admitted.

Where’s the foul here?  Here are some of the side effects of unnecessary hospitalizations.

  • wastes gazillions of dollars
  • loss of productivity by confining folks who should be working
  • departure from sound medical practice which diminished the profession
  • emotional costs to the individuals and their families
  • unnecessary exposure to the risks of hospital life

How can this runaway train be brought under control?   First, let’s try a little tort reform.   Second, pay a flat rate for an ER visit.  Under this model, if the ER physician orders an MRI on a patient with a back strain, the hospital swallows the cost.  Finally, when hospitals are penalized financially for hospitalizing folks who should have been sent home, we will witness the miracle of a runaway train performing a U-turn on the tracks.

While the Rand Corporation’s results are not earth shaking on its face, my intuition, insider’s knowledge and a tincture of cynicism all converge on the conclusion that for too many patients the ER has become a portal of entry in the hospital.  Is the greater good served if the ER is a revolving door or barricade?

Dr. Whitecoat’s Response:
What is it with people who have little or no knowledge of emergency medicine thinking that they have the insight to comment on what factors influence emergency medical care? You assert you have “insider knowledge”? Sounds more like a case of advanced megalomania to me.

First, you make a bunch of assertions without any basis.
“Inarguable” that the emergency department performs unnecessary medical care? OK, doc. Tell me what tests that ED physicians regularly perform that are “unnecessary.” I’m sure that you have tomes of instances of inappropriate care just waiting to be published on your blog. Educate all of us.

You “think” that there are more patients who are admitted who should instead be sent home? What’s the basis for your “thought”? I’m guessing that you don’t admit patients personally. You’re a consultant. You have no basis for making that statement. On the outside chance that you do practice primary care medicine, here’s an idea if you’re inundated with “inappropriate” admits. Drag your whining buttocks to the emergency department and evaluate the patient yourself. Then YOU write the discharge orders. In twenty years, I’ve seen exactly two doctors ever do that.
Another point that you can add to your “insider knowledge”: Emergency physicians don’t admit patients, the hospitalists and primary care docs do. Emergency docs don’t have admitting privileges. So if you’re so concerned with all of the “inappropriate” admissions, realize that it is the primary care docs authorizing them. Point the blame where it belongs. Oooooh. Stop the presses. Emergency physicians and hospitalists are conspiring to defraud the government by making inappropriate hospital admissions. Wait. You wouldn’t make a statement like that because if you pissed off your primary care docs and hospitalists, they wouldn’t refer patients to you. Funny how economic incentives influence your own desire to “whistleblow” “insider information,” isn’t it? Or was it that you were just too obtuse to realize this obvious “insider” fact?

In your little study about intensity of service and admission rates, make sure that you exclude all of the patients sent to the ED from their doctors’ offices with specific instructions to have the testing performed and also make sure that all of the patients who have been to their doctors offices several times with the same problem and who get no evaluation at all get treated as one “low testing” visit, not multiple “low testing” visits. Oh, and since pretty much every patient coming to the emergency department is a “new” patient to the emergency physician, make sure that your study only includes workups that primary care physicians perform on “new” patients to their practices. Not really fair to compare workups that emergency physicians perform on patients that primary care physicians have known for 20 years, now is it? When you’ve compiled your data, you can then compare how many lives that emergency physicians save with their “inappropriate” testing and “inappropriate” admissions … all for about 2% of the health dollars spent in this country.

Your next bit of misinformation states that “It is clear that ER physicians are incentivized to admit their patients to the hospital.” Another clue for you, Dr. Insider: Emergency physicians are paid by intensity of service, not by hospital admissions. If the medical decisionmaking is high and the workup is extensive, we are paid the same whether or not a patient is admitted. So what is our “incentive”?
Oh, wait. You explain that emergency physicians “might be ‘encouraged’ to [inappropriately admit patients] by their hospitals who stand to gain financially when the house is full.” Wow. With your “insider knowledge” you have uncovered yet another conspiracy. Emergency physicians “MIGHT” be colluding with hospital administrators to inappropriately “fill the house.” A little flaw with that theory, though: When the hospitals are full and there are boarders in the emergency department, the throughput slows and we see fewer patients, which actually decreases the hospital’s profits.

You, oh mighty insider, suggest that “when hospitals are penalized financially for hospitalizing folks who should have been sent home, we will witness the miracle of a runaway train performing a U-turn on the tracks.” Look up “RAC audits“. Then look up the “two midnight rule.” Both of these processes cause hospitals to lose significant amounts of money for “inappropriate” admissions. If you know about these processes and just chose not to mention them in your diatribe against emergency physicians, you are being intentionally misleading. If you didn’t know about them, then you are a buffoon for calling yourself an “insider”. How has the “runaway train” slowed? You don’t know because you don’t even know the processes in place or the right questions to ask.

I’ll end with a couple of responses to your criticism that we “ER physicians” advise admitting patients “who most likely have a benign medical complaint” just so that the patients can “be on the safe side.” First of all, we go by criteria and sometimes a gestalt after we actually examine the patient. If you don’t agree with our assessment, then come in and see the patient yourself before the admission, rather than backstabbing us after all the testing is normal because the patient never should have been admitted to begin with. Second, since when is looking out for the safety of our patients a bad thing? I can rattle off story after story about patients who I admitted “just to be on the safe side” who avoided a bad outcome because they were admitted. Yes, many go home with normal workups. Just like most of your endocsopies are normal exams but no one faults you for performing them. If you’re going to criticize me for being a patient advocate, then I’m guilty as charged.

I suggest that you stick to commenting about your own specialty and stop demeaning yourself by creating these uninformed linkbait posts about emergency physicians.

With all of your “insider knowledge,” have you ever written about how often gastroenterologists perform inappropriate endoscopies, there Dr. Whistleblower? When I did my internal medicine training, the GI fellows used to call it “scoping for dollars.” Care to comment?

I didn’t think so.

P.S. It’s an emergency DEPARTMENT, not an “emergency room.” And we’re emergency physicians, not “ER physicians.”  Using 1990s vernacular does nothing to support your esteemed position as an “insider.”

Thrombolytic Use in Ischemic Stroke

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Brain CTUse of thrombolytic therapy in ischemic stroke is a perennial hot topic. Chances are that you will have as many people swearing AT the idea as you have swearing BY the idea of using thrombolytics for acute strokes. That fact alone should demonstrate that there is no “standard of care” for thrombolytic use in ischemic strokes.
If reasonable board certified doctors can’t agree that the risk of tPA outweighs the benefit of using tPA, how can there be a “standard” for using it?

I could go through the data and discuss the pros and cons of each trial studying thrombolytic use, but Dr. David Newman has done a far better job than I could ever hope to do and his analysis of thrombolytic therapy in acute ischemic stroke is published on TheNNT.com. In summary, of the available studies on thrombolytics up to March 2013, Dr. Newman found …
Two studies showed a marginal benefit in using thrombolytics
Four studies showed a demonstrable harm in using thrombolytics
Six studies showed no benefit from using thrombolytics

Back in 2011, EP Monthly asked for opinions on thrombolytic use for acute ischemic stroke in its now-defunct Standard of Care project, but those important data were never published or made available to the people who voted.

The debate over tPA use came to a head last year when ACEP representatives met with experts in the field of ischemic stroke, including representatives from ACEP and AAN and developed a policy which was then reviewed by representatives from the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, the Emergency Nurses Association, the American College of Physicians, the Neurocritical Care Society, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Stroke Association, and the American Stroke Association.
The final “evidence based” policy advocated “offering” tPA to acute ischemic stroke when certain criteria were met (.pdf file).  This recommendation was given a “Level A” status, meaning that it constituted

Generally accepted principles for patient management that reflect a high degree of clinical certainty (ie, based on strength of evidence Class I or overwhelming evidence from strength of evidence Class II studies that directly address all of the issues).

Needless to say, there was a lot of discussion after these “evidence based” “guidelines” were published.

Some people questioned whether this “evidence based” policy would create worse patient outcomes. Others were concerned that the guidelines, even though they contained a disclaimer, could create legal liability when not followed. Still others wondered whether this clinical policy was even helpful in determining a course of action since there was no “consensus” statement, only an “evidence based” policy.

Then the British Medical Journal advocated using a healthy “skepticism” in reviewing the data since almost all of the study authors had either direct or indirect ties to companies that manufactured thrombolytics:

for one of the guidelines recommending alteplase, seven of eight panel members had ties with industry: three had direct relationships with companies that market alteplase, while four had links with an educational foundation wholly funded by industry, whose president and founder was an outspoken advocate for alteplase on acute stroke. The remaining author had resigned from the panel six years earlier

Even more troubling is that several of those authors allegedly did not disclose their ties to the manufacturers in the publication of the clinical guidelines (which, if true, would constitute an ethical violation). See table below – taken from this article.

Thrombolytic Author Conflicts of Interest and Disclosures

EM Literature of Note Blog weighed in on the issue, stating:

Whichever side of the expand/limit tPA in acute stroke debate you fall upon, the issues of sponsorship bias, one-sided panelists on a still-controversial practice, and lack of open peer review for the ACEP/AAN guidelines ought to be unacceptable.

Ten months later, ACEP just might be listening to some of the criticism. There is now a form on the ACEP web site where, for the next 60 days, ACEP members can comment on the thrombolytics in acute stroke policy and provide “supporting evidence” for their comments. These comments will then reportedly be presented to the ACEP Board.


I encourage interested parties to go to the site and add their comments.

Unfortunately, we don’t know whether the comments will also be available for public view. That’s the reason for this post.

I’m asking two favors from the readers who have an opinion on this topic.

First, vote in the poll below. It will provide data that will hopefully be available for web searches far into the future.
Second, if you have an opinion or additional “justification” that you plan to enter on the ACEP site, please also enter it into the comment section below. In that way, the comments – both pro and con – will be available for public review and discussion.

When answering the poll, keep in mind that the “standard of care” is what a reasonable physician would do under the same or similar circumstances. As noted on the defunct Standard of Care site, the standard of care is NOT “what the Best Practice would be, (arguably the top 5%); or what YOU would do (the top 25%); or or even what MOST physicians would do (the top 50%).”

The standard of care is the tipping point between “negligent” and “non-negligent” behavior. In essence, the question as asking whether a doctor has violated the standard of care and is therefore negligent and liable for damages if he or she does not administer tPA to an acute ischemic stroke victim.

Administering Thrombolytics for Acute Ischemic Stroke

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Please don’t forget to add comments in the comment section!

Anchors Aweigh!

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013


An otherwise healthy 38 year old patient was brought in by her family with vomiting and mental status changes from her pain medications.

She had repair of a tibial plateau fracture performed four days earlier and was having a lot of pain. She didn’t like taking the Percocets that she was prescribed because they made her nauseous. She took one of them the day after her surgery and she was nauseous the rest of the day, so she vowed not to take any additional Percocets. However, her knee pain was worse that morning to the point that she couldn’t stand it any longer, so she took two Percocets … on an empty stomach, no less. A couple of hours later, she was acting strange and had vomited several times.

When she arrived, she was lethargic and retching. She was afebrile, but her blood pressure was 87/50, her pulse was 120, and her respirations were 28. With a fluid bolus and some Zofran, her vital signs improved and she felt better. The option to give her Narcan was discussed with the patient and family but with the improvement in her symptoms, they didn’t want to reverse the pain relief that the medications had given her.

The remainder of her exam went along with her history. She had been sleeping a lot after her surgery and hadn’t eaten much, so her mouth was a little dry. She was awake and drinking fluids in the ED. She was tachycardic, but her tachycardia was improving with fluids. Her abdominal exam was fairly normal – perhaps a little epigastric pain with palpation, but nothing concerning. Her knee was tender and a little swollen. The orthopedist came to the ED and evaluated her and stated that her knee looked good for her post-surgical status.
The patient was observed for an hour or so and felt better. She wanted to go home and sleep. Family agreed. Nurse manager was pushing to have the patient discharged so we could move more patients into the room from the waiting room. “Discharge?” was written on the tracking board under the patient’s name.
Anchors aweigh. Time for this ship to sail back to port.

A final re-exam of the patient showed a couple of abnormalities, though. Her pulse was still in the 100-110 range. Her blood pressure was now 108/50. But her respiratory rate was 28-32. Lungs clear on exam. Pulse ox 99%.


“Let’s just do a few labs and a chest x-ray. Check a d-dimer and do a blood gas. Her respiratory rate just doesn’t make sense.”
“After two hours NOW we’re deciding to do labs? She’s still in pain – that’s why she’s breathing fast.”
The nursing director rolled her eyes.
“Sorry, everyone. We’ll try to get her out of here as soon as we can.”

An hour later, the patient was being admitted to the ICU.


Anchoring occurs when we focus on an explanation for a patient’s symptoms too early in a workup. Even though the symptoms seem plausible, by “anchoring” on one explanation, we tend to discount other symptoms or findings that don’t fit in with the diagnosis we’ve made. By focusing in on one diagnosis, we can miss other diagnoses. Anchoring is sometimes difficult to overcome.
Some of the best ways to avoid making anchoring errors include:
– Re-evaluating the diagnosis in light of all the information available
– Considering whether treatments that would normally improve the diagnosed condition have actually improved the patient’s condition.
– Considering alternate explanations for data that conflicts with the presumptive diagnosis
– When in doubt, consider additional testing
– If still in doubt, consult a colleague. Four eyes are better than two.

Final Diagnosis

So why was this patient admitted to the ICU?
Pulmonary embolism? Nope. A pulmonary embolism may have explained her fast respirations and tachycardia. She was at an increased risk of pulmonary embolism after recent surgery. But her d-dimer was normal. And why would she be vomiting and dehydrated from a PE?
Adverse effect to the Percocet? Would have explained the vomiting and some of the vital sign abnormalities. But why the rapid respiratory rate and the dry mouth?
The patient was admitted to the ICU because she needed to be on an insulin drip. Her glucose was 1100. Her pH was 6.8. She was in new-onset diabetic ketoacidosis.

When the labs started coming back, the doctor almost needed to be resuscitated. He was a few mouse clicks away from discharging a patient who probably would have died if she had went home without treatment for her underlying problem.

There but for the grace of God …


This and all posts about patients may be fictional, may be my experiences, may be submitted by readers for publication here, or may be any combination of the above. Factual statements may or may not be accurate. This was a reader-submitted story. If you would like to have a patient story published on WhiteCoat’s Call Room, please e-mail me.

Proper Workup in Young Hypertensive Tachycardia Patient

Friday, August 16th, 2013

There were a couple of comments to the last post on Semantics that made me question whether or not it was proper to do a large workup on a young patient with tachycardia.

So I decided to create a poll to get everyone else’s opinion.

Assume that the patient’s use of K2 was disclosed. In a 17 year old (i.e. “young”) patient with persistent tachycardia unresponsive to treatment who uses synthetic marijuana, what testing should be performed?

In a 17 year old (i.e. "young") patient with persistent tachycardia and hypertension unresponsive to treatment who uses synthetic marijuana, what testing should be performed?

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What’s the Diagnosis #16 — Mmmmm, Eggs

Friday, January 25th, 2013

sausages_scrambled_eggsThis is an interesting case for a number of reasons.

First, it shows how a little testing can turn into a lot of testing to “rule out” diseases in the emergency department.
Second, it hopefully provides some good teaching points.
Third, the comment from the attending physician gave me the giggles. That will explain the title. But you have to read through the case to understand the comment.

I’m not going to discuss all the minute details of the case, only the major findings that contribute to the flow of the case.

A patient got sent in from the nursing home because her gastrostomy tube was leaking blood and the nursing home was convinced that the patient was having GI bleeding. When the bandage over the patient’s G-tube was removed, it was fairly obvious that the skin about the G-tube site was the source of the blood. The skin was raw and was oozing dark red blood. Flushing the G-tube produced a little blood, but the blood cleared. The patient’s vital signs were stable except for a mildly elevated pulse. Proper skin care probably would have resolve the bleeding. Some people may have left it at that and sent the patient back to the nursing home. I drew labs and did an abdominal series.


Blaming doctors for prescription drug abuse

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

pill_pills_264112_lAn article written by two physicians in Time magazine questions whether we should blame doctors for the large number of chronic pain patients and the abuse of prescription pain medications.

There are two frames of reference to this article.

First, no one can argue that prescriptions for pain medications in this country are excessive. The article notes that in 2011, “enough hydrocodone was prescribed to medicate every American around the clock for a month.”

As both authors are emergency physicians, the end of their article notes that “we must stop fearing patient-satisfaction surveys and talk honestly to our patients about pain.”

Ask most emergency physicians and they will tell you that satisfaction surveys pressure physicians to overprescribe multiple medications, including antibiotics and opiates.

But where do all the medications go?

Note how many commenters to the article are upset because they or their family members are having a difficult time obtaining pain medications for their chronic medical problems.

Doctors are becoming increasingly aware that if they prescribe pain medications to a patient who dies, there’s a decent chance they’ll be dragged through administrative and legal proceedings regarding the death. So doctors then learn to fear the bad outcome and then take steps to avoid the bad outcome. Doctors can’t get sued if they don’t prescribe the pain medications.

Patients in legitimate chronic pain are paying the price – and it isn’t just in the emergency department, either. From the comments:

“their physician won’t see them anymore because they need stronger pain medication”
“His GP won’t prescribe, his GI won’t prescribe, the Pain Clinic keeps trying to push him into treatments that DO NOT WORK for his disease”
“the ER staff will still stand around and pretend like opioids don’t exist and it’s okay to let the patient lay there in pain”

Reminds me of a post I wrote nearly 5 years ago. Only this time, the solutions that our governments are proposing seem to be adding to the problem.

When we vilify, sue, and criminalize doctors whose patients die from medication overdoses, fewer and fewer doctors are going to be willing to prescribe pain medications.

I’m predicting that we’re going to see a downward trend in the amount of pain medications prescribed. The threat of incarceration is going to outweigh the threat of bad satisfaction scores.

And we’ll all be “safer” through more regulations, bad press, and blaming physicians for the bad apples … right?

Too Heavy to Fly

Monday, November 26th, 2012

Photo credit and further story at http://www.inquisitr.com

Medical care for the morbidly obese is back on the radar.

Today this blog got several inbound clicks from a site where a bunch of apparent doctor haters have used one of my blog posts and the comments to the post as an example of how much the medical profession allegedly likes to bestow shame upon others. It seems that the discussion we had regarding whether it is ever acceptable to refuse medical care to morbidly obese patients was something that Ms. Marianne’s readers were cautioned that they may not be able to “stomach.”

The author and most of the people who commented to her article seem to believe that they have the right to demand that any doctor at any time must provide any type of services to them that they demand. Whether or not the doctor is comfortable providing those services or whether the doctor even has the knowledge and training to provide those services is irrelevant. Any doctor who doesn’t agree to their demands is hated and publicly shamed. This doctor who chose not to treat patients weighing more than 200 pounds was one example of their wrath.

I left a comment to Marianne’s rant back when she first posted it.
I don’t remember the comment verbatim, but the gist of my comment was that there are specialists for a plethora of conditions who provide care to patients when other providers are uncomfortable caring for those conditions – HIV, diabetes, organ transplants, ophthalmology, etc. Why shouldn’t doctors be able to refer obese patients to other physicians more experienced in caring for obese patients?
In addition, there is no “right” to force any person to provide you with any services against their will. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution addressed that.
Finally, I noted that when there is a bad outcome related to a patient’s obesity, one of the first things that a plaintiff’s attorney will allege is that the patient should have been referred somewhere else.
My comment was never approved. Non-conforming, I suppose.

Today there also happened to be an article in the NY Post – linked by the Drudge Report – about how a morbidly obese woman with multiple health problems traveled to Hungary for a month-long stay in their family vacation home. When she tried to board a flight back to New York to resume her medical treatment, the airline refused her because she had gained water weight and could not be safely strapped into three seats. The airline tried to make alternate arrangements for the patient’s travel back to the US, but those plans also fell through due to the patient’s size.
There was no mention that the woman ever went to a hospital for care of her medical problems while trying to secure travel back to the US. Both the patient and her husband were quoted as saying that they “didn’t trust” doctors in Hungary.
Nine days after first attempting to return to the US, the woman died.

Difficult situation. Comments to the article were mixed. Some people blamed the patient for allowing herself to become so obese. Others blamed the airline because it was able to get the patient to Hungary and then left her stranded there.

This case illustrates the point that I was trying to make in my previous post about providing medical care to morbidly obese patients. At some point, the safety and well-being of the patient and of others must be taken into account when deciding whether to provide care. These decisions are made all the time in medicine. A patient with severe lung disease may be deemed too great a risk for surgery. The doctors aren’t “discriminating” against people with lung disease, they are making a decision that the risks of surgery are too great given the patient’s condition. Some orthopedists choose not to perform knee or hip replacements in morbidly obese patients. Again, not “discrimination,” but rather the significantly increased risk of complications in morbidly obese patients.
In the Hungarian patient’s situation, what if the patient suffered an injury on the plane because she wasn’t able to be properly restrained? What if the patient had a medical emergency and died on the plane over the Atlantic Ocean because of her untreated medical conditions? Would these same people then point fingers at the airline for allowing the patient to fly in the first place?
Rather than engage in a rational discussion about the issues, some people would rather sensationalize, cry discrimination, and call names.

Something about the patient’s situation just doesn’t make sense to me.
I question how much “water weight” the patient gained during her vacation.
I also wonder whether the patient and her husband checked into the flight restrictions that might be imposed on the patient before taking their trip.
And why it was appropriate for the patient and her husband to discriminate against all doctors available to provide them medical care in Hungary solely because of the doctors’ national heritage?

Apparently “doctor hating” is still socially acceptable.

See additional stories and pictures here:

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