How Can You Be Sure?

January 12th, 2015

“How can you be sure?”

That question stopped our discussion for a second.

During some down time, several nurses and I were talking about childhood coughs. Her 6 month old child had just started daycare 2 weeks ago and has been coughing ever since. The child was put on amoxicillin and then Zithromax by her pediatrician but … [GASP] … her cough wasn’t getting any better. The nurse thought her child had pneumonia.
“What should she be taking now?”
I was in a particularly snarky mood, so, with a smirk, I said “probably vancomycin … maybe add gentamycin just for the gram negative coverage, too.”
“I’m being serious. She’s not getting better with antibiotics.”
“BINGO! That’s because she has a virus infection and antibiotics don’t kill viruses any more than RAID kills dandelions.”
“But a virus infection isn’t going to last for two weeks.”
“Neither is bacterial pneumonia. The fact that she isn’t getting better with antibiotics should tell you that she has a chest cold. It’s a virus.”
“How can you be sure?”


There’s just no good response to that question. The truth is that we can’t be “sure” that there isn’t a bacterial infection present. We can’t be “sure” she didn’t aspirate a foreign body. We can’t be “sure” that she doesn’t have tracheomalacia. There is just no way that we can ever give a Flo’s Progressive Insurance 100% guarantee that a given set of symptoms is being caused by a given disease process and nothing else. The problem is that often patients expect this kind of diagnostic accuracy and get upset when there’s a misdiagnosis. Unfortunately, medicine is an inexact science at best. One of the things that I always found ironic is that many patients and even some medical experts expect doctors to “prove” their diagnoses do exist or to “rule out” other diagnoses by showing that those diagnoses couldn’t possibly exist. However, in court, when a doctor is accused of wrongdoing, an expert is required to testify to “a reasonable degree of medical certainty” which in most cases means that something is “more likely than not.” In other words, court testimony demands only 50.001% certainty while clinical practice often demands a much higher level of certainty.

Our discussion transitioned from snark to reality.
“Most of the time you can’t be ‘sure’ of a medical diagnosis – especially a diagnosis with a symptom as vague as a cough.”
“Well patients want certainty. If I bring my child to the doctor, I want to KNOW what’s wrong, not get some wastebasket diagnosis like a viral infection when my baby could have pneumonia.”

I nodded my head. Then I went to the cafeteria to get some lunch and I mulled that last statement while walking down the hall. How could I explain the concepts of pre-test probability and futility without getting too far into the weeds? The runny cottage cheese at the salad bar gave me an idea.

I got back to the ED and asked the nurse
“Have you ever given your child poisoned food?”
“Of course not.”
“But how can you be sure? How do you know that the formula doesn’t have contaminants in it – like that Chinese infant formula contamination back in 2008?”
“That’s completely different from diagnosing pneumonia.”
“True, but it’s the same concept. We assume that a healthy-appearing child with a runny nose and cough in the middle of winter has a head cold the same way we assume that the food we eat is not contaminated. If there are signs of complications with a coughing child, we may do further testing to see if there are other problems. If there are signs of food spoilage, we may choose not to eat the food.”
“Not the same thing.”
“Hear me out. We naturally eat food without examining it much because the likelihood of it being poisoned is quite small. However, if we wanted to be “sure” that the food wasn’t contaminated or poisoned, then we could do a bunch of microbiological testing before we eat every bite to make “sure” that the food wasn’t poisoned. But because the likelihood of poisoning is so small, all of the expenses of the extra testing probably would be a waste of money.”
“Not the same.”
“Even worse, if we do a bunch of testing on a well-appearing child with a runny nose and cough, there may be some complications from the testing or complications/side effects from the treatment for a disease that may not be present. People can get resistant infections or bad diarrhea from antibiotics for a “pneumonia” that was over-read on a chest x-ray.”
“I’ll say. My daughter has had diarrhea for a week.”
“Exactly my point. She’d probably be doing better with nasal saline, suction, and perhaps some … OTC cough medications” – a cringeworthy concept for most pediatricians.

I was convinced I had prevailed in our little discussion until she asked “Can children take Levaquin?”
“Only for bacterial infections.”
“But …”
“No. Just no.”

Healthcare Update Satellite — 12-16-2014

December 16th, 2014

Answering the important questions … why does the flu vaccine suck this year? Keep a lookout for next month’s issue of EP Monthly which will tell you everything you need to know about influenza diagnosis and treatment.

Of course, if you had read the backboard article in EP Monthly’s November issue, you’d already be doing this … Florida fire department abandons use of backboards for most trauma patients.

4 year old boy develops carotid artery dissection and left sided hemiparesis after riding a roller coaster. Fortunately, he had made significant recovery by six months. How scary is that, though? Can you imagine calling the neurologist and vascular surgeon telling them that you have a four year old child with an acute stroke?

A patient suffering from a rare condition called ossifying fibromas had lost the structural integrity of two bones in her back. Normally, the vertebrae are removed and replaced with artificial bones, but the process is difficult because the artificial bones must be filed down during surgery to make sure that they fit. Surgeons in Zhejiang University used CT scans and a 3D printer to create a titanium implant that exactly matched the patient’s spine.

A lot of insight about emergency medicine wrapped up into a few paragraphs from a Florida Times-Union columnist who went to the emergency department with his wife.
“Most [patients] probably shouldn’t have been there, but the poor and uninsured use emergency rooms for all their illnesses, from a head cold to a sprained ankle …”
“Nearly everyone at the ER was surly because of the wait, and they took it out on the staff.”
“Emergency room patients get outrageous bills even for simple ills. Many just toss them in the trash and the rest of us pay through higher bills. American health care is a mess. I’ll be really grateful when someone finds a cure.”

Using ground coffee to stop bleeding from wounds? I never heard of this one before. After reading this letter to the editor, I did a little internet searching and found other recommendations including powdered sugar, corn starch, and cayenne pepper. Don’t know if any of these work, so don’t try them without contacting your personal physician first. Direct pressure for at least 5 minutes always worked best for me.

After miserably failing to pass Proposition 46 in California, a medical malpractice plaintiff, supported by an amicus brief from a consumer watchdog group, have now successfully petitioned the California Supreme Court to review the state’s medical malpractice caps.

Emergency department visits on the rise … again. Latest estimates from ACEP are that there will be about 140 million emergency department visits in 2014. Thirty percent of those visits were for injuries – many in patients 75 and older. Nearly 75% of hospitals continued to board patients in the emergency department, showing how hospitals are operating at or above capacity.

In medical malpractice cases, expert witnesses are usually required to practice in the same specialty as the defendant physician. A malpractice case against a prison physician in Indiana was thrown out because a plaintiff’s medical expert was not a prison physician and was therefore deemed unqualified to testify about “correctional medicine.” The Appellate Court stated otherwise, holding that the standard of care for doctors practicing in prisons is no different from the standard of care for doctors practicing in the general population. Allowing this distinction would “empower prison physicians to determine for themselves what standard of care should apply for each individual case.” The 19-page opinion is here (.pdf file) and incidentally presents a fairly in-depth discussion on management of patients who have undergone a sex change operations.

Innovative new research shows how chronic neuropathic pain can be relieved by activating a receptor in the brain by using either adenosine or a drug invented at the National Institutes of Health. Bonuses are that no tolerance develops, there is no potential for addiction, and the “protective” actions of acute physiological pain (such as pulling your hand away from a hot stove) are not affected. How long until patients develop allergies to this medication?

Healthcare Update Satellite — 12-01-2014

December 1st, 2014

More health related news from around the web on my other blog at DrWhitecoat.com.

This edition begins with another installment of the Ebola Chronicles … perhaps the last in the short-lived series now that the media has stopped whipping the public into a panic.

New York City actively monitoring 357 people for symptoms of Ebola – most of whom came to the US from the three Ebola-affected countries.

Arizona man returns from Sierra Leone after being involved in “Ebola response” then decides he doesn’t feel well the following day and calls 911. Brought to Maricopa Integrated Health Systems by firefighter in hazmat gear and part of the emergency department was shut down to accommodate the patient.

Number of Ebola cases in West Africa doubling every 2-3 weeks. Among factors contributing to the increase are 60% of Ebola patients remaining undiagnosed, terrorist groups such as ISIS attempting to weaponize Ebola, and Ebola’s nonspecific symptoms. The article’s author calls Ebola a “slow-motion atomic bomb.”

Interesting insight into why half of the doctors in Liberia have died. Liberia had two civil wars between 1989 and 2003 and still has no centralized h
ealthcare system leadership.
This quote really puts things in perspective:“People are giving up their sick dying and dead family members to people wearing anonymous white space suits, in most cases never to see them again,” Moran said. “Give them the benefit of the doubt that, just like Americans, if people in your family are sick, you want to take care of them.”

Clipboards visit UC San Fransisco on their national tour to tell medical providers how to prepare for patients with Ebola.

Oh, and the Ebola nurse from Maine wants everyone to stop calling her the Ebola nurse. Did I mention that she was the Ebola nurse?


Can EKGs predict risk of death in patients with syncope? The GESINUR study shows that 65% of syncopal patients had abnormal EKGs but that only a few findings were predictive of all-cause mortality at one year. Of 524 patients, 6.3% died within 1 year, but only one patient died from a sudden cardiovascular cause. Presence of atrial fibrillation, intraventricular conduction delays, LVH and paced rhythm were all associated with increased all-cause mortality at one year.

Woman and her husband go to emergency department after woman begins having “serious internal or abdominal pains,” thinking she may need surgery or something. Twelve hours later, doctors found the source of the patient’s problems: a 7 lb 14 oz baby boy. The patient and her husband had no idea she was pregnant.
Every time I hear about a case like this, it reminds me of this story from many years ago.

Study in the American Journal of Public Health shows that drinking sugar soda affects length of telomeres and can shorten your life. Drinking one 20 ounce bottle of sugared soda per day is estimated to shorten one’s life by 4.6 years – which approximates the effects of cigarette smoking.

Started taking NSAIDs recently for aches and pains? Your risk of dying if you have a stroke just went up an average of 42% – depending on what type of NSAID you’re using. According to this study recently published in the journal Neurology, etodolac (Lodine) (which may have been discontinued) creates the biggest risk of the medications studied.

Think hand dryers are more “sanitary” than using paper towels? Think again. Bacterial counts in the air around jet air dryers were 27 times as high as those around paper towel dispensers and stayed around for up to 15 minutes after the drying ended. Bacterial counts for warm air dryers were about 6 times as high as those around paper towel dispensers. In other words, using a public bathroom with electric hand dryers is likely causing you to inhale the bacteria on other peoples’ hands … after they have used the toilet.

Then again, if you live near this defecating dwarf, you probably don’t have to worry about airborne germs – just those on the steps.

Finally, the video of the week takes one final look at the media coverage of Ebola in the US versus that in the UK. There is some profanity, so probably NSFW. Also note that the one person being filmed discussing “Ebola ass-ness” is a comedian doing a comedy spoof. Still pretty funny, though.

An Argument With No Clear Winner

November 23rd, 2014

Fingertip Amputation“You’re going to the hospital.”
“I’m NOT going to the hospital. There’s nothing they’d do and it would cost us thousands of dollars for nothing. Besides … we have to leave. We’re already late.”
A husband was attempting to attach the family’s camper onto the trailer hitch of the family’s truck when the trailer slipped. His middle finger didn’t make it out of the way and got caught between the ball of the trailer and the top of the hitch. When family members helped him pull the camper back off of the hitch, they saw a lot of blood. Then the last portion of his middle finger dropped from inside the trailer hitch onto the leaves.
The wife raised her voice. “Get in the truck. We’re going to the hospital.”
The husband wrapped his bleeding finger in a Brawny paper towel he had retrieved from inside the camper. He raised his voice louder. “YOU get in the truck. We’re going to the CABIN.”
“Paul, don’t be silly. You’re bleeding. The tip of your finger is sitting on the ground. If we get to the hospital quickly, maybe they can reattach it.”
“They’re not going to do anything except sew this up and charge us thousands of dollars to do it. I’m NOT going to the hospital. I’ll have Doc Welby call me in a prescription for antibiotics. We can pick it up on the way out of town.”

So the patient shows up in triage with a blood soaked paper towel wrapped around his finger. It was obvious that he’d rather be about anywhere else than sitting in the emergency department at that point.
The finger was amputated just past the distal interphalangeal joint – meaning that the tip of the finger, the nail, and the end of the bone were missing. Clean wound. There were some extra flaps of skin to the sides of the finger which would make it easier to repair the wound. I did a digital block to numb the finger so that we could clean it and we used a commercial tourniquet to stop the bleeding.
The wife softly asked “Is there any chance that the end of the finger could be reattached?”
I started to respond “I don’t think so …” when the patient let out a loud “HEH” and smirked at his wife.
“You were saying, doctor?” She continued.
“I was saying that I didn’t think so, but I can ask the hand surgeon. Do you have the end of the finger with you?”
“Tell him what happened to the end of your finger, Paul.”
“We couldn’t find it.”
“Tell him what really happened to the end of your finger, Paul.”
“It’s gone.”
“Paul didn’t want to come to the hospital. I told him that you may be able to reattach the end of his finger. Paul had a temper tantrum, picked up the end of his finger, and threw it into a field. Isn’t that right, honey?”
Paul folded his arms and looked at the opposite wall, maneuvering his tongue to pick an imaginary piece of food from a tooth. He pretended he didn’t hear what she had said.

OK, then.
So I called the hand surgeon. He came down, looked at the patient’s finger, and arranged to send the patient to outpatient surgery to repair the injury.
Just as the patient had predicted, he was probably charged thousands of dollars to sew up his finger. He was discharged later that day.

For the rest of the day, I kept thinking how that husband and wife dispute ended up in a draw. They were both right. The wife was right that he needed to come to the hospital for evaluation, but he was right in that the surgeon probably wasn’t going to do much except sew up the injury.

OK, I also wondered how many times during their vacation that the husband held up his hand and waved the dressing on his injured finger in front of his wife’s face … as in “see which finger I injured, honey?” … but the irony of their argument was still pretty compelling.


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. If you would like to have a patient story published on WhiteCoat’s Call Room please e-mail me.

Healthcare Update Satellite — 11-04-2014

November 4th, 2014

Ebola PictureBack with more of the Ebola Chronicles …

Ebola fears causing discrimination problems all over the US. Thomas Duncan died from Ebola. Now his fiancee is having difficulty finding a place to live as landlords are refusing to rent to her. People of African descent are facing discrimination just because they are from Africa. Mothers of some school children told one African cafeteria worker to leave the school because she “might have Ebola.”

In Liberia, bleeding patients are often refused medical care due to Ebola fears. The picture at the link shows a picture of a woman who was bleeding heavily from a miscarriage and who was unable to find treatment at multiple clinics.

Hospitals developing policies on what care may not be provided to Ebola patients. Invasive procedures, hemodialysis, endotracheal intubation, and CPR are all being reviewed to determine whether the risk to health care workers is worth the benefit to patients. For example, if an Ebola patient suffers a cardiac arrest and it takes a half hour to don protective gear, will doing so benefit the patient?

The CDC says it is unlikely (.pdf file), but other infectious disease experts assert that Ebola can already spread by aerosols and droplets. Even vomiting creates an aerosol which can transmit gastrointestinal viruses.

Tori Spelling's Ebola Nervous Breakdown Picture Of The Week

But at least Tori Spelling is OK. She was hospitalized with “symptoms of Ebola” which ended up being a nervous breakdown caused by her husband cheating on her. Took selfies of herself in her hospital bed with Twitter hashtags written on a facemask she was wearing. We need to have a 21 day media blackout on any celebrities that pull this crap. Make that a 21 week media blackout.

And some other select news …

Support for California’s Proposition 46 drops almost in half once voters actually learn about the ballot language.

Patients gone wild. Former police officer gets drunk, gets brought to emergency department, assaults nurse, then tries to take Taser from the police who responded to the scene. He got a smackdown by police officers before being arrested for disorderly conduct and attempting to disarm a police officer.

Alabama jury awards family of patient $4 million for missed MI resulting in patient’s death. 40-year-old man went to the emergency department complaining of abdominal and chest pain after eating breakfast two days prior. He was diagnosed with gastrointestinal problem, was sent home, and died of an MI two days later. Plaintiff attorney argued that full cardiac workup should have been performed and hopes that the large verdict “sends a message to doctors, particularly emergency room physicians.”

Remember, marijuana is a harmless drug. Adolescents who use cannabis were 63% less likely to complete high school, 62% less likely to earn a college degree, eighteen times more likely to develop cannabis dependence, eight times more likely to use other illicit drugs, and seven times more likely to attempt suicide.

Science journalist describes how she suffered a broken heart … literally. She was diagnosed with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy

British woman has cosmetic procedure performed during medical tourism trip to Thailand. She was unhappy with the results, so she returned to the clinic for corrective surgery and died under anesthesia.

Healthcare Update Satellite — 10-21-2014

October 21st, 2014

More medical news from around the web on my other blog over at DrWhitecoat.com

Study from University of Maryland proves that emergency physicians are idiots … at least when treating pediatric extremity injuries. Splints were placed improperly in 93% of suspected pediatric fractures treated in emergency departments. “The researchers found that the most common reason for improper placement of a splint was putting an elastic bandage directly on the skin, which occurred in 77% of the cases. In 59% of the cases, the joints were not immobilized correctly, and in 52%, the splint was not the appropriate length. Skin and soft-tissue complications were observed in 40% of the patients.”
Of course, I’m sure that the orthopedists evaluated the patients immediately after the splints were placed to make sure that the patients had not readjusted the splints prior to their orthopedic follow up. That almost never happens.
This study makes a good case for requiring orthopedic evaluation in the emergency department for every pediatric patient suffering from any type of bone or joint injury – regardless of the time of day or night.

What no one is telling you about Ebola … from a Hazmat Trained Hospital Worker. The gear used to protect providers from Ebola is difficult to put on, difficult to remove, and can usually only be worn for 30 minutes at a time. The medical providers in Dallas who contracted Ebola had no protocols in place and this author believes that the “system failed them.”

Patients apparently believe that being in the same hospital as an Ebola patient is bad for their health. Patients at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital are canceling outpatient procedures, no one is walking in the hallways, and the ED wait times have dropped from an average of 52 minutes to … zero.
“It feels like a ghost town,” said one vendor who recently visited the hospital.

Ketamine has almost immediate positive effect on anhedonia and depression associated with bipolar patients who are resistant to other treatments. The more remarkable thing is that the effects can also be seen on PET scans and effects from a single dose of medication last for over two weeks.

Another example of why doctors should be wary of treating VIP patients. Former NFL running back sues orthopedic surgeon after alleging that his Achilles tendon tore during Baltimore Ravens tryout. Alleges that the surgeon misrepresented the fact that the Achilles tendon had fully healed after his prior Achilles surgery.

Ambulances line up outside North Wales hospital waiting to drop off emergency patients. At one point the line was 13 ambulances long and the wait was hours just to get into the emergency department. One of the government administrators recommended that patients go to NHS Direct or pharmacies for speedy health advice.
At least the patients are covered by insurance, though — just like many of the patients in the US now.

Australian nurses want penalties to be imposed on hospitals if patients aren’t seen within four hours in emergency departments.
If this penalty materializes, a few things will happen. First, nurses will be penalized by hospitals for not effectively moving patients through the emergency department. Second, there will be massive fudging of statistics during busy times. Third, patients who have exceeded the four hour threshold wait will be passed over so that patients who have been waiting less than four hours can be evaluated within the threshold.
When you pay for a statistic, you get the statistic … not necessarily the intended benefits behind the statistic.

From comments at Overlawyered.com
Employee of a surgicenter goes to facility for a colonoscopy. When he wakes up, he was wearing pink underwear. As a result, he suffered extreme emotional distress, humiliation, loss of wages and loss of earning capacity. He is now suing.
While I probably would have laughed off a prank like this, I can understand why some people would have been upset. But suffering a loss of earning capacity from being dressed in pink panties as a prank? I’d like to see how that happened.

Healthcare Update Satellite — 10-13-2014

October 13th, 2014

More medical news from around the web on my other blog over at DrWhitecoat.com

So what are medical providers supposed to do if they are faced with a potential or actual Ebola victim? Who knows?

Here’s a case you don’t see every day … Patient transferred to University of Alabama Medical Center after having what was thought to be a hand grenade embedded in his thigh. He wasn’t allowed in the emergency department, but was instead treated in an ambulance in the parking lot for more than six hours as a military consultant advised medical personnel how to remove it. Eventually was determined to be the 40 mm ammunition for a smoke grenade that reportedly was embedded in his leg when the smoke grenade went off.
I’m not sure I would have been treating him in an ambulance in the parking lot, though. Gasoline tends to make explosions worse, not better.

Medicare enrollment can be so difficult that even a journalist who has been writing about Medicare for almost 40 years needs help from an insurance expert to understand the process. Open enrollment starts soon, so get those appointments for experts now.

Patients gone wild. Arizona schmuck steals an ambulance parked outside a hospital, takes it on a joy ride, refuses to pull over for police … and then parks the ambulance outside his home. I can just see him saying “it wasn’t me” to the police as they arrested him.

You think you’re good at multitasking? You aren’t. In fact, you’re probably worse at multitasking than people who don’t multitask. Interesting study showing how multitasking significantly affects performance. Unfortunately, Forbes’ contributor must have been multitasking while writing the article. His story was based on a study that was published five years ago.

Emergency nurses want to become board certified. Article doesn’t say what board is doing the certifying, but all of the extra training is sure to save lives … and enrich the certifying organization.

Hospitals in Louisiana are charging rape victims for emergency medical care. The National Organization for Women alleges that when private hospitals charge patients for medical care related to sexual assault, it becomes “a form of political extortion to discourage the pursuit of prosecution of crimes of sexual assault.” While Louisiana has a victim compensation fund, it doesn’t provide compensation to all crime victims and under state law, victims who do not file a police report “are to be treated as regular ’emergency room’ patients.”
Rape is a horrible crime, but is it fair for NOW to demand that companies and medical personnel provide their services for free because those companies and personnel try to help crime victims? Once we start down that slippery slope, where do we stop? Shouldn’t all crime victims receive things for free? And if they’re receiving free medical care, shouldn’t they also receive other things for free as well? Free replacement clothing from any clothing store? Free food from any restaurant if they are hungry? Free child care while attending court hearings or while meeting with police? Free travel back and forth to appointments?
If states want to provide compensation for crime victims (and many already do), then that’s the state’s prerogative. Demanding that private businesses and private citizens provide services for free solely because someone was a crime victim is rather Draconian. NOW‘s position just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Indigent patients still using emergency departments for their dental problems. Now Minnesota is licensing dental therapists – midlevel providers of dental care than can clean teeth, fill cavities, and care for other dental problems. Other states considering doing the same.

One in ten Canadian seniors who are admitted to a hospital is kept in an emergency department for more than 31 hours before being transferred to a medical floor. “They have no privacy, no toileting facilities. Their basic human needs are unmet, largely because emerg staff are trained to deal with the constant flow of sick people.” But at least the patients all have insurance – just like us.

Healthcare Update Satellite — 09-30-2014

September 30th, 2014

Pittsburgh police taser a reverend who was praying over his dead stepson in the emergency department. His stepson had been shot and was dead. The hospital stated that the reverend was interfering with attempts to revive the patient, but the video shows no such attempts taking place. Now the reverend has filed a lawsuit against the police.

Waits of two days to receive treatment in the emergency department. Frequent misdiagnosis. Lack of resources to treat simple problems like asthma. Hospitals that run out of medications regularly, forcing patients to purchase the medications at private pharmacies. 20% the amount of emergency physicians needed to provide services to patients.
Welcome to health care at King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre in Saudi Arabia.
Is this the kind of care that we can look forward to with our new “insurance”? We’re already seeing “narrow networks” where insurance companies fail to have sufficient primary care and specialty physicians to care for their patient populations.

Need an MRI and have insurance? That’s great. You still have to pay up front for your testing. With deductibles from $2000 to $5000 on the most common Obamacare plans, hospitals may have difficulty getting deductible payments after procedures have been performed. More hospitals are therefore requiring that patients pay for testing before it is performed.
The good news is that in order to require payment up front, the hospitals have to disclose their charges, which will lead to greater transparency – and hopefully downward market pressure when prices are compared. Up front pricing will also begin demonstrating to many people that medical care comes with a cost that’s more than just a $20 copay.
The bad news is that patients who can’t afford testing may not get necessary health care unless they … go to the emergency department where, by law, hospitals can’t require up front payments.

Thought provoking article on the decline of mental health care in America. The author, a psychiatrist, doesn’t cite his sources, but note that the number of psychiatric beds in the US has shrunk from 340 psychiatric beds per 100,000 population to 11 beds per 100,000 population – a net loss of 1 million psychiatric beds. As a result, 3.5 million severely mentally ill patients remain untreated. Many are arrested and housed in prisons and jails. Others use public libraries as “day care programs.” Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart noted that with the systematic shut down of so many mental health facilities, his jails have “become the de facto mental health hospital.”

Michigan oncologist pleads guilty to administering unnecessary cancer treatments to patients who were either in remission or who had terminal disease. Government also alleged that he would deliberately misdiagnose patients with cancer in order to justify cancer treatments and would fabricate diagnoses of fatigue and anemia in order to justify unnecessary hematology treatments. He submitted $109 million in Medicare claims between 2007 and 2013.

Your data is safe, really. Healthcare.gov web site reportedly hacked twice earlier this year, but CMS didn’t tell anyone until this month. And the GAO warned that the system still remains fulnerable to unauthorized access, disclosure of confidential data, and data manipulation. Check your credit reports and your medical histories from the MIB. It’s getting to be an every man for himself atmosphere out there.

One member of Parliament when Canada’s health care system was adopted in 1966 ends up waiting in the emergency department on a stretcher for 48 hours before hospital bed opens up. Later dies in the hospital.
One commenter to the article noted that “at least he got to experience the health care system he helped create for us.”

Nice special report in the Seattle Times about the operations in Harborview Medical Center’s emergency department. Some of the pictures are quite thought-provoking.

This article mocks some of the entries in the government’s new ICD-10 coding scheme. For example, “Bizarre personal appearance” is actually a codeable diagnosis. Estimates are that the costs for a doctor’s practice to change to the new coding system will average from $56,000 to $226,000. And sure, being required to differentiate between Orca bites and piranha bites or between first and subsequent run-ins with a lamp post may seem idiotic to most people, but if the coding isn’t accurate, it gives the government the ability to allege that there was false billing and to levy huge fines or even imprisonment. That’s no laughing matter.

How To Discourage A Doctor

September 26th, 2014


This post should be required reading for every physician in this country.

A physician finds a document on a chair in his hospital executive’s waiting room and reads through it, then realizes it is a manifesto on how to disempower physicians and put hospital administrators in control of patient care. The document’s title: How to Discourage A Doctor

While the physician implies that he transcribed the information from memory, the formatting breaks and text errors in the document make it appear as if the document was scanned and then the text pasted.

Transform physicians from decision makers to decision implementers. Convince them that their professional judgment regarding particular patients no longer constitutes a reliable compass. Hiring, firing, promotion, and all rewards should be based on conformity to hospital-mandated policies and procedures”
Increase physicians’ responsibility while decreasing their authority. For example, hold physicians responsible for patient satisfaction scores, but ensure that such scores are influenced by a variety of factors over which physicians have little or no control, such as information technology, hospitality of staff members, and parking. The goal of such measures is to induce a state that psychologists refer to as “learned helplessness”.
“Above all, introduce barriers between physicians and their patients. The more directly physicians and patients feel connected to one another, the greater the threat to the hospital’s control.”

Whether the entire backstory of the article is true or more of a parable, the concepts described are being implemented … and they are a serious threat to the health care in this country.

Look at some recent medical research.

This survey showed that hospital ownership of private physician practices has increased dramatically in the past 6 years. In 2008, 62% of physicians owned private practices. This year, only 35% of physicians maintain independent private practices. Only 9% of physicians “mostly agreed” that hospital employment of physicians would increase quality of care and decrease costs. 81% of physicians described themselves as “overextended” or at full capacity.

This survey showed that government regulations regarding electronic medical records are being implemented but that 75% of physicians believe that the electronic medical records increase costs and do not save time. 68% of physicians do not believe that the regulations improve productivity and 48% do not belive that the regulations support coordination of medical care.

This study showed that time lost in dealing with electronic medical records was “large and pervasive”, costing physicians an average of 48 extra minutes a day – during which they could have been performing other tasks such as patient care.

I’m sure that hospitals, their administrators, and their attorneys will all deny that they are trying to discourage physicians or to drive a wedge between physicians and their patients. Draw your own conclusions.

However, as more physicians move to hospital based practices and exhibit less autonomy, think about who stands to gain and who stands to lose from such transitions.

Healthcare Update Satellite — 09-22-2014

September 22nd, 2014

More updated from around the web at my other blog at DrWhiteCoat.com

Study in the journal Pediatrics shows that about 10,000 children are hospitalized each year for accidental medication ingestions. Three quarters of those hospitalizations involved 1 or 2 year olds. Twelve medications were responsible for 45% of all pediatric emergency hospitalizations for accidental drug ingestions. Opioids were not surprisingly the top classification prompting hospitalizations, but buprenorphine and clonidine were the top two medications – responsible for 15% of all hospitalizations. The rate of hospitalization for buprenorphine products was 100 times greater than that for oxycodone-containing products.
Keep in mind that we’re not talking about overdose rate, we’re talking about hospitalization rates.
I looked up suboxone which seems to be a major source of buprenorphine prescriptions, but didn’t see anything that would suggest more of a danger over other opiates. Can any tox folks out there comment on why hospitalization rates are so much higher for buprenorphine ingestions?

Not a good day for this Iowa emergency department patient. Goes to the emergency department with abdominal pain. Apparently doesn’t like the treatment he’s receiving, so he tries to call an ambulance to come and get him inside the emergency department. Then prepares to spit on a security guard and gets sprayed with mace as a result. Police called and find out that he has warrants for his arrest. Handcuffed and runs out of the emergency department, then falls and scrapes his back all up. Eventually ends up in the Greybar Motel.

Attempts to keep the NYU-Langone Medical Center open appear to be falling through. The hospital was losing money and the current owners of the facility can’t find a health care provider to operate the emergency department. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio then makes the idiotic statement that it is SUNY’s “responsibility to ensure that people who relied on LICH in the past will continue to have access to the care they need.”
Actually, Mayor de Blasio, that’s YOUR responsibility. Maybe you and Governor Cuomo could put a little more emphasis on providing health care to the citizens in your city and state.

New study shows tort reform savings are mythical. LA Times investigative reporter Michael Hiltzik cites “copious evidence” (which his investigation doesn’t identify) that defensive medicine accounts for only 2-3% of all US healthcare costs before concluding that tort reform savings are a myth and that tort reform is really just “nastiness” intended to defund Democratic party supporting trial lawyers. Now there’s a new article in JAMA that Mr. Hiltzik mentions to bolster his arguments, but even that article doesn’t say what Mr. Hiltzik asserts. The graph in the article which is reproduced in Mr. Hiltzik’s column shows that “defensiveness” can play a role in more than 60% of a physician’s orders and that 28% of orders and 13% of all healthcare costs were at least partly “defensive.” A little more than 2-3%, but don’t let statistics get in the way of a good story.
And if tort reform is bad and full liability for all one’s actions is good, then why is there government immunity for medical treatment of our veterans and why is there full immunity for legislators, prosecutors, and judges?

Fortunately, there was an investigation into the events at the Phoenix department of Veteran’s Affairs. That report concluded that officials could not “conclusively assert” that delays in care at the VA caused more than 40 patient deaths. However the “conclusively assert” statement wasn’t included in prior versions of the report. The former medical director of the clinic calls the report “at best, a whitewash, at worst, a feeble attempt at a cover-up.”
How would the investigation have been different if the incident didn’t involve a government-run facility?

Should states make it easier to get medication to treat heroin overdoses? Pennsylvania is debating the issue now. Should police and firefighters be allowed, or required, to carry and administer naloxone? Should other users have immunity from prosecution if they are using heroin with the victim and call for help?
Why not just make naloxone over-the-counter and solve all the problems with access?

What if you’re a female in Saudi Arabia, you have a medical emergency at home, and need to go to the emergency department? Whatever you do, don’t get in your car and drive to the hospital. One Saudi woman who was recently caught driving herself to the hospital was pulled over by police and fined. It is forbidden for women in Saudi Arabia to drive because, according to an Islamic cleric’s interpretation of the Quran, driving causes women to lose their modesty, allows women to leave the house when their “homes are better for them,” allows divorced women to go wherever they want, and would lead to “overcrowding in the streets.”

Proponents of California’s Proposition 46, which would increase damage limits in malpractice cases to $1.1 million and would require drug testing of all physicians, put out an ad using assertions and statistics that are deemed “mostly misleading” by the Sacramento Bee.
Then again, opponents of the Proposition put out an ad that is also deemed misleading by the Sacramento Bee.

Dr. Steven Passik, a PhD lecturing at “PAINWeek” Conference recommends doing risk assessment for opioid abuse before reaching for their prescription pads. If you have risk factors for drug abuse such as “younger age, male gender, comorbid psychiatric problems, a history of substance abuse, a family history of substance abuse, [or] a history of smoking,” maybe you get drug tested every visit or maybe you just don’t deserve to have your pain treated.

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