Sunday, December 23, 2018

Medscape's Best and Worst

As each calendar year reaches its conclusion, many organizations attempt to compile best and worst lists, be it TV shows, movies, cars, people of prominence or infamy that bring character and maybe immortality to the year that will soon fade into history

Medicine like any other pursuit has its heroes and its scoundrels.  I would take a safe guess that all physicians can name in an instant the five teachers who shaped them and the five guys they thought should be reported to the state board, if not the FBI.   For the bad apples, we contented ourselves as residents to mostly scoring them with a lot of zeroes on our attending physician evaluation form but never pursued anything seriously punitive.  For the benefactors, we not only gave them higher scores but assimilated some elements of their revered practices into what became of us professionally forever.  We know who they are and what they did on our behalf, even if nobody else does.

We also come across medical colleagues who we do not know but find their way into the medical and secular news for their exceptional deeds that reach beyond our personal experience.  Some win Nobel Prizes, some swindle Medicare.  In recent years we have passively received enough lurid news in print or electronically that it registers as our daily expected dose of world affairs.  Some respond, most don't but file some imprint deep into the cerebrum where it might be retrieved if ever needed but does not stay with our awareness for very long.  At the other pole, when we attend our annual meetings, some physicians get awards while we sit in the audience and clap.  Professional achievement always gets our admiration.  We see the news of physicians gunned down, including a personal college friend killed in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre or by a disgruntled patient, usually not the superstars of medicine but professional colleagues who get some combination of sympathy and honor for the dignity that their abruptly halted careers brought to the medical profession.

While our recognition of these physicians tends to have the trajectory of a funnel where stuff goes in the big end, gets concentrated and disappears in a moment out the small end, we are fortunate to have an organization like Medscape that identifies, catalogs, and retains these positive and negative outliers each year in an easily searchable way.  The list comes out in mid-December and is traceable at least back to 2011.  Being something of a news voyeur, I scrolled through the current roster as it came passively to my email inbox.  What makes physicians, and sometimes scientists, heroes or villains can be hard to tease out on one year's list, but by searching back about five years, laudatory and despicable themes emerge with some consistency, which may not be all that different than how we each individually assigned the best and worst physicians who we personally encountered between medical school and retirement.

The rascals have a lot more consistency, and most years larger numbers, than the exemplars.  With rare exceptions they have traded in their white coats for orange jumpsuits.  Some are outright predators, engaging in assaults on mostly female or pediatric patients.  Others engage in various forms of lucrative unconscionable care.  The scientists among us might call them errors of the First Kind, assigning significance to diseases that were not present.  The intent takes it outside the realm of error.  Patients without cancer received chemotherapy, normal coronary arteries got stented, inappropriate but systematic retinal photocoagulation, and any variety of excessive bodily invasions from sinus surgeries to repetitive skin biopsies.  While these docs seem more profiteers than predators, there is something inherently evil about intentional unneeded care.  Over the few years of my review, there were few overtly incompentents, other than a few surgeons functioning above their level of training, but generally medical schools and residencies produce capable people, though not always ethical people.  The next common category are the profiteers.  There are a lot of these.  They probably caused little bodily harm to vulnerable people so, in my mind at least, would fall one level less on my personal evil-meter.  They are more financial cheats than medical ones, though a few cut corners by obtaining less expensive medicines from authorized sources then billing for the real thing.  But mostly these doctors arranged for others to due financial processing of bogus services for financial gain but not medical harm.  There were a lot of these on each annual list.  And finally we have a handful of unfortunate people who offered suitable care but got videotaped engaging in mockery of patient or staff or fulfilling a dream of being a rapper while removing a body part.  Poor judgment probably, worthy of a worst of doctors list, probably not.

Medscape's best of doctors each year fall into more categories with too few to make generalizations of how the majority of practitioners can upgrade themselves to be more like them.  One common category of people worthy of admiring though not emulating are those whose recognition that year was brought about by their untimely death.  They did good work, for sure, but it was the car accident or plane crash while on a mercy mission that caused Medscape to include those physicians that year.  About an equal number also arrived on the annual recognition list by appearing in obituaries first.  These people had lifetime achievements, mostly in advancing the science of medicine.  Their CV's no doubt had a few awards while still functioning well enough to appreciate the adulation their work had earned.

There is another very large category of praiseworthy doctors whose medical knowledge and skill does not tower any higher than the rest of us, though their dedication and tenacity might.  Each list has physicians, mostly still alive and working, who enabled people at the margins of medical care to have better access.  Some travel into the Third World to bring this about.  Some set up rural clinics, some make a career of treating medical pariahs, the modern version of lepers perhaps, people who a lot of us would groan if we saw those patients on our schedule.

Image result for dr moe dr larryOne final category that appears on every list, probably no more skilled medically than anyone else, but who endured unusual challenges to complete their medical degree.  These include professional and Olympic athletes, refugees from war zones partly completed with their education who had to flee and reapply with some difficulty in an unfamiliar country with a new language.  One started as a patient, a teenage surgical ICU alumnus with life threatening gunshot injuries who became captivated by what the surgeons were doing for him and then pursued his education under burdensome conditions but prevailed.  One does not need to be the most prodigious clinical or science maven to excel.  Pursuing a dream relentlessly is an option available to most of us in some form.

So what becomes of these people?  The medical scoundrels amass quite a lot of prison time.  Do they remain bottom feeders in custody, or might there still be some spark of benevolence that once got the favor of the Admissions Committee?  Do they sit in their cells and mope or do they impart the literacy skills and science aptitude that they have to be of benefit to other inmates who had less going for them at the time of their arrests than the doctors did?  There are medical reporters for Medscape and elsewhere that could pursue that direction.

And the Top Docs who are active, do they continue to inspire colleagues and patients with that same persistence they used to excel so that others might be more dedicated to self-management and responsibility for the diseases that they have?  Appearance on the Medscape exceptional list should have an enduring presence beyond the 15 minutes of fame or infamy that Andy Warhol thought all people are entitled to have.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

License Renewal

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Every two years, the state has an obligation to its inhabitants, or not even inhabitants but also those who traverse borders to get their care, that the people offering that care in exchange for their livelihood have a threshold of training and character that justifies this.  It's a little harder to certify skill, but education makes a reasonable surrogate, or at least one that is easy to document, not very different than quality measures imposed on us in practice that give the illusion of quality in lieu of the real thing.

My three licenses have come from my state of residency training, lapsed many years ago as the maintenance requirements became increasingly onerous and expensive, justifiable only for those still hostage to that Board for their livelihood.  I have maintained one in my state of residence, where I also maintained a solo practice for 20 years and in the state where I practiced for my final eight years, retiring a few months ago.  On the off chance that I might want to do some locums tenens in one of those states, and the fee not being too exorbitant, I opted to maintain them one more time.  One comes due in a few weeks, renewal submitted electronically with MasterCard authorization, with a prompt email notice of approval.  Pennsylvania has a retired physician option which waives the educational requirements but not the fee so it pays to just do the Continuing Medical Education for now.

Unless one has been accused of activity unbecoming of a physician, which is not a lot of people other than maybe malpractice accusations which need to be acknowledged but do not disqualify, the barrier to renewal rests with the CME needs.  Like my other states, and a fair number of my insurance credentialing criteria, Pennsylvania requires 100 hours of CME spread over two years.  Category 1, the type that gets certificates of completion is usually the most difficult to obtain and sometimes requires a fee, only has to be 40 of those hours.  Much more, and the Commonwealth might have to deal with de-licensing their rural physicians who either do not have access readily or would need too much time away from  the practice to accumulate that much, which would run counter to the mission of making competent medical care available.  City slickers, which is me, just pick from the Grand Rounds or online options.  And since Category 2 can be interpreted loosely, medical writing in my case, consultation, lectures, mentoring medical students, it is readily available to rural physicians and accumulates in the course of ordinary physician activities. 

But there is always fine print.  Twelve of those hours need to be in risk management education, which can be interpreted rather broadly.  Medpage Today used to have an agreement with the University of Pennsylvania to certify what qualifies as risk management and offer a UPenn certificate of completion.  The University dropped their participation but Medscape Today kept the same classification, so when in doubt it is safe to assume that qualifies.  It comes in quarter hour increments so you could be doing dozens of those articles and questions to come to 12 hours.  Grand Rounds with appropriate titles do not require a learning exam, so that's probably the fastest way to accumulate these over two years.  I got six that way, the rest online.

My home state of Delaware found itself in a pickle a decade or so back when a pediatrician turned out to be a sexual abuse predator.  As unusual as this is, Delaware followed by many other states including Pennsylvania, enacted a series of child protective laws and require all licensees who might have occupational contact with children to take a course in what those laws are and answer some questions to make sure they are understood.  It's fairly easy, but takes a full three hours, for physicians who are highly literate and used to taking reading comprehension tests to do this.  The requirement may be more difficult for some of the holders of other occupational licenses or others without a state license but occupational contact with children who have little formal education or familiarity negotiating a computer course.  Printed certificate in CME folder.

Finally Pennsylvania officials are still uncertain whether their docs are the cause of a dangerous expansion of opiate use among the state's citizens, or maybe the best resource for its resolution.  A two hour CME module on opiate prescribing was added to module, probably irking the pathologists and radiologists whose patients are beyond pain. 

Done.  $360 added to my next credit card bill.  Maybe an audit somewhere in the next year or two to see if I am more truthful than our current President, which I perceive myself to be.

Those fees are a big windfall for  the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which has a lot of doctors.  There are disciplinary proceedings that the Board reports from time to time but I do not think I have ever personally known a doctor cited.  Level of skill varies, but I think everyone exceeds its threshold.  While I am technically permitted to do brain surgery but don't know how, some self-screening occurs and for those who really want to practice above their level of skill, there are other credentialing mechanisms of hospital staff membership that keep the medical Walter Mitty's in check.  And when all is said and done, those 140 hours of CME category 1 that finally accrued probably added less to my skill than the board might have hoped, except for the 22 obtained at my national specialty meeting.  But pursuing medical knowledge for the sake of mastering it has its psychic dollars, so I really didn't mind the effort.  And it's likely the last time except for a minor provision I will need to satisfy for Delaware in the coming months.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Almost Like It Was

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It had been my intent to sign back into Sermo the first day of Hanukkah, leaving me with an absence of a few months.  It's the longest I've been away, not even a lurker, and had no interest in being a lurker on return.  At one time Sermo absorbed a lot of my free moments, and even my productive ones.  I would engage in discussions, make fast quips, use the Endocrinology cases that people posted and commented upon to teach my residents on elective with an analysis of the various comments that individual respondents would make, some expert, some less familiar.  Like much social interaction and media, an element of echo chamber became increasingly apparent.  The best scholars both in clinical medicine and in general erudition had moved on.  In retirement I could have depleted all day there, but as my electronic colleagues became less endearing, I gave myself a limited hiatus which concluded yesterday.

My time back was intentionally brief.  Much like you cannot tell the difference in your kids from one month to the next but their aunt who has been in the hospital can, that's what I found.  Scrolling back about 5 days, the subjects and posters had changed, mostly for the better.  Libtard this and libtard  or related sloganeering that so dominated titles of recent years, did not appear in any meaningful volume.  At my exit there were a handful of folks who I thought might be trolls, probably not paid to pitch the political hardball five times a day but self-motivated to see how much of an electronic gathering they might generate.  The physicians I would walk across the electronic street to avoid had disappeared.  A few frequent flyers remained, a fellow who was still between jobs when I left, a fair number of physicians still moping about administrators and insurance companies who'd done 'em wrong, a lot of stuff that might come out verbally at a Medical Staff Christmas party.  I engaged in a few of the conversations, one by a lady who had taught herself to read.  I was taught to read in two different alphabets but would have failed if I had to do it on my own.  One conversation involved the demise of the prestige that once accompanied the MD or DO degree.  True enough, but I decided a long time ago that my self-esteem did not depend on my possessions and my diplomas are my possessions.  My knowledge and skill are shared, and seem to have been appreciated right through retirement.

There were people creating threads who I did not recall from months past.  One had the nom du plume tushi, a fellow from a developing country.  The censors are apparently more tolerant than the state motor vehicle divisions who might have censored that from their vanity plate roster.

Being there had very little emotional impact.  Not offensive.  Not an echo chamber.  Better than when I had left but without the return of the dozen sharp minds of years back whose comments I made a point to read.

An obscure but important book about recapturing a waning Jewish organizational culture in America came out about ten years ago, Getting our Groove Back by Scott Shay, a rather well-to-do NYC banker of Orthodox background.  He devoted a chapter to the attrition of Conservative Jewish affiliation, regarding the loss of the middle as one of the great American Jewish disasters, which it probably is, no matter how self-inflicted.  I think the departure of the best and the brightest who contributed their articulate analyses to clinical and non-clinical aspects of the American medical pageant approaches a disaster for the American medical community.  The forum remains but its previous glory does not with no means of recapture, other than maybe hiring their real scholars and conversation makers as the more beneficial trolls paid to post.  Every bit as self-inflicted as the leadership generated attrition of Conservative Jewish institutions but a public loss just the same.

Have I passed through the exit door for the last time?  Probably not, though even though the offensive posters seem gone, beneficially provocative replacements needed to enhance an attractive physician forum don't seem all that highly desired.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Abandoning SERMO

Image result for posting sitesBeen reading Robert D. Putnam's iconic Bowling Alone on declining social attachments, which is probably applies to the medical profession as much as anything else.  He notes a number of transforming events, now and historically, including the rise of corporations and cities before 1900, the diversion of people from work to entertainment with the movies after World War I and TV in my childhood years.  The book has a publication date of 2000, which is the time  when people became connected in cyberspace.  He had no means of knowing the impact of this and it remains a social process in transition, but there is a precedent of the telephone which connected people over distance but mostly people you already knew.  Posting sites have changed that aspect of the landscape, an immense opportunity that may be going bust.

Medicine has had personal interaction for a long time.  You knew your local colleagues, mostly as fellow physicians, sometimes also as friends or other social acquaintances.   People you didn't know would post their research at regional or national meetings where anyone could discuss there work face to face.  But these are not really friendships.  Come the Internet and now an obscure nobody like me who has an MD and sees patients finds himself invited to be a member of the community, be it Physicians Online which became Medscape, Doximity, Sermo, or for less populated but more substantial give and take, KevinMD.  Facebook arrived at about the same time, a mixture of people I knew from high school who were dormant but real friends and strangers who had common interests, sharing a hometown, cooking mavens, or bloggers.  And let's not forget the predecessor, AOL chat rooms where the 40-somethings were impeccably polite, my fellow Jews less so, and unwelcome troll Abdul with a slur that instead of hitting the ignore button, people would respond back.  Abdul succeeded in interrupting pretty much all conversations.  I do not know if these chat rooms remain but I've graduated from 40-something.

In person, people are mostly gracious.  There are ornery patients but as a professional who has seen this before, I never felt victimized in any way, just fulfilling my duty to these people as best I could.  Objectionable members of the public were also expected.  The pool of ornery patients is a subset of these people.  I've never met an actor who played a TV villain but I'd probably judge him that way if I did.  We now have public figures who are cheered on as they become the surrogates for overriding social norms that would violate our Codes of Conduct at work.  With few exceptions, they underperform me professionally, educationally, and in all likelihood economically.  They may be patients, we may cross each other in the supermarket aisles, but for the most part they live someplace else.  Prof. Putnam's more recent work suggests that they and their next couple of generations fulfill the Biblical edict that misconduct perpetuates down generations.

What I did not expect were physicians who when given anonymity would start expressing some pretty vile social ideology that they would not want attached to their office entrance with their name on it, while other similarly anonymous colleagues cheered them on.  It's never exactly like Abdul making reference of "Death to the Zionist Swine" on the Jewish discussion sites, but it is the expression of an id that would remain prudently tacit in any on-site medical encounter.  My professional colleagues have mostly been personally cordial even when there have been rivalries and once in a while limited respect based on real interaction.  And this predates institutional Codes of Conduct and Disruptive Physician edicts though it may be more understandable now why our employers make us sign a statement that we have read them.  Committee meetings could have contentious issues but we never called anyone dumb or incompetent or evil, even when it might think that.  But once your presence is a keyboard and avatar, in the absence of comment moderation, it did not take long for Medscape to become Mudscape and for the parent company to realize they could not fix a problem that caused some of the most talented contributors to depart, resulting in withdrawal of that part of their service to their participating physicians.

The premier forum, though, has been Sermo, for which I have been a member physician for many years.  It has some advantages, not the least is being limited to licensed physicians.  One can register in a minute or two.  Physicians are asked to choose a screen name.  A few keep some abbreviated variant of their own name, but most search the creative portions of their hemispheres for something unique.  People are identified by specialty, which is essential in some of the clinical conversations where it becomes clear who does the medical tasks professionally and who dabbles but is opinionated just the same.  I started there a number of years ago, I forget how many, flattered that they would have me no questions asked other than my state license number, and immersed among people who I have never met but shared their medical knowledge, often a profound intellect that can tease out the nuances of our professional EHR and insurance challenges, take interesting vacations, and engage in various political discussions in the way that friends would.  That was the nascent Sermo.  We had conversation makers, a few provocative thinkers, evangelicals and atheists, and most importantly that silent expectation of reciprocity where they could express what they want, I could express what I want and we'd be on the same page with next week's exchange.

That did not last indefinitely, maybe in parallel with larger American trends.  Discussions with reasoning underlying what you were writing about devolved into the more crass sloganeering, sometimes targeting people.  The Islamists departed first as gratuitous attacks became something of an expectation.  The really astute analysts came next as any reasoned mini-essay would find a bunch of trolls making snide remarks about libtards instead of refuting the merits of what was written.  Before long there was a Code of Conduct, and a few deactivations of various lengths, usually for clear personal attacks.  But it was no longer a discussion forum worthy of people who succeeded personally and professionally by being at the top of their college classes.  People whose minds I held in the highest regard started limiting themselves to clinical input, where their expertise could not be reasonably challenged and the rest of us could advance our own knowledge, but the community which started in the right direction had begun to fritter its intellectual capital.  At about the same time, there was some awareness of this communal atrophy with a number of frequent posters noting the absence of some of the most revered participants.

About two years ago, I began wondering whether I also needed an absence, starting with two weeks, repeated a few times.  Then last year, a month, which turned out to be one of my most personally productive, adding to some of my own professional writing, diverting it from Sermo to KevinMD, which meant selecting a single idea and expanding on it.  The downside was that it was limited to medical commentary.  I handled it in the manner of a Nazir.  If unfamiliar with this, a Nazir is a person in Torah who takes himself voluntarily out of commission for a specified time, does not drink wine, cut hair or come in contact with a corpse.  At the completion of this hiatus, he must bring a sin-offering for having voluntarily deprived himself of what the world had to offer.  If I said two weeks, it was two weeks, if I determined a month, it was a month.

This time it's different.  I specified three months to be concluded at the start of Hanukkah.  For a very short while I was itching to type and each Sunday for the next month, the Sermo headquarters would send me an email with how many helpful clicks my comments had accumulated the previous week.  It took a month for them to disappear, much like the last time I was away for a month.  But this time after a few weeks, I found myself indifferent about returning.  Not eager.  Not hostile even though I had left partly due to annoyance and partly to protect my own analytical skills by doing other things.  Indifferent, that emotion which Elie Wiesel, z"l, repeatedly described as the real opposite of love.  I was indifferent and still am as my separation nears the pre-determined return date.  I'm not sure I want to re-immerse myself or if I would be more tolerant of the current reality in my previously preferred virtual community, having no realistic expectation that the people who energized my mind but are no longer there would be replaced by new analytical minds.  Yet I have that not quite promise to myself to restart at Hanukkah.  I always had the option of unsubscribing but never did.  The service still sends me emails of weekly highlight postings that I haven't opened and surveys that screen me out as soon as I click retired status.  It's not the only medical forum that I have, since KevinMD though smaller, has avoided the sloganeering that turned the best thinkers away from Sermo.  And I have started going to Grand Rounds at two medical centers where I see former colleagues who have hands to shake.  But Sermo remains a community, or maybe in its current circumstances something of a dysfunctional family.  It's not always apparent which ties bind and which ties restrain.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018


Among the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue mass shootings was my college friend Jerry Rabinowitz, MD.  Jerry and I shared a lot of classes and remained friendly.  Graduation separated us for the ensuing forty years with an occasional professional snippet from an alumni source.  It came as no surprise that the tributes that followed his murder lauded both his kindness and his dedication as a physician.  It was my honor to have known him in our formative years and to take satisfaction in his personal and professional success.

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Friday, September 21, 2018

Young Adult Trauma as a Marker of Later Health

In my final working weeks, my medical center had cemented an agreement with the Veterans Administration to offer care at our center to veterans who could not be accommodated at the VA for a variety of reasons .  We could use paying patients, they could use doctors of our caliber so our representatives established mutual benefit.  We have always had patients who have served in the military.  For much of my professional life, that has included most men of my father's generation whose young adult years encompassed World War II with its widespread draft.  World War I and Korea conscription was less universal but patients having served in these settings were frequent.  Vietnam service seemed more selective.  For the most part, even when employed as a VA physician 1980-88, the patients' service while appreciated was largely parenthetical to their congestive failure, COPD, or diabetes.  Some had permanent sequelae of their service, missing limbs, shell-shock or post-traumatic stress disorder depending on which military conflict, a chemically related setback often still in adjudication where medical care intermingles with compensation.  Some were more indirect, the many alcoholics or other substance abusers, maybe some of those with hypertension, but these were also highly prevalent in people who never wore a uniform.  But by age 60 when people started getting admitted to the hospital more frequently, the diseases I treated at the VA did not seem very different from those encountered elsewhere, at least on the Internal Medicine service.  They got admitted, I took the best care of them that circumstances would allow for whatever I thought they needed.  In the community hospitals and in the office, I shared patients with the VA though separate payment systems, and people came by who just happened to have been in the army as young adults but were pretty mainstream thereafter, going to college, joining a union, maybe for some latching onto a business, or seeking jobs as they became available without ever acquiring an identifiable occupation.  As prescriptions became more expensive, the VA would often supply medicines to veterans like my father and others who saw the doctor or nurse practitioner as a precondition for having the prescription supplied but regarded physicians external to the VA as the doctors they made most of their appointments to see.

With systems, particularly governmental ones, process often becomes excessive.  This being an important medical center initiative, the first Grand Rounds of the academic year went to the VA's physician representative to this project.  He outlined process.  Every patient admitted to the hospital would have a complete military history, where they served, which unit, injuries, illnesses, anything that might connect to their military service.  This seems to me like a good invitation for some errors of the first kind, those Type I errors that attribute significance to what is non-contributory to the hospitalization.  Even at the VA itself, by the time somebody is 60 years old and has an MI, it was not the military mess hall that made the cholesterol high.  And the need to fill out what may be too comprehensive a questionnaire runs the risk of distraction from more vital information gathering and examination that has a more immediate effect on the encounter of hospitalization.  What we may be doing is propagating an event of young adulthood, labeling it as an imprint which portends an invisible forty year interval until they come to our ER.  I think the process needs to be more selective than what the speaker described in his presentation to be meaningful.  In this era of Electronic Health Records, we already gather reams of historical information that never gets refined or prioritized by its importance, since we often don't know its importance.  Or as the New York Times advertising once told its consumers, "you don't have to read it all but it's nice to know it's all there."  However which portions you read matters a lot.  If the military history acquires an inflated importance by the very time allotted to it, the more immediate medical imperatives risk distortion as well.

The other consideration would be why select military service as the shaping event that forms the underpinning of once's health at some time in the remote future, then trying to reconstruct this in reverse?  In attendance at this Grand Rounds were our residents.  At age 20 they had a fair amount of academic terror, fretting over the Organic Chemistry final that might weed them out professionally.  At age 25 they had The Match culminating the rigors of medical school, some overseas.  As residents many departed their families from Asia or Latin America.  And by the time they get their certificate, many will experience burnout.  Will the experience of medical training in their 20's be more favorable or less to their health at age 60?  And our city campus where I saw inpatients and outpatients has an immigrant population.  West Africa dominates as the region of origin but Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Indochina and the Caribbean are all represented.  Having had the privilege of breaking the ice with some small talk before starting the medical history, a lot of the men were war refugees who came to America as young adults.  Many of the women, particularly those of Indochina, were also displaced by either extreme poverty or a few by adverse political situations.  We have a large African American population with patients who spent their 20's in our penal institutions instead of college or the army.  No question these are all major traumatic events that have enduring impact on the psyche and maybe on health.  And lets not forget those adult patients of another era, though well within my own professional lifetime, the Holocaust survivors, some known to me as patients others as neighbors.  Military service while rigorous and formative, probably falls short of the terror to a young adult of having their families perish and fleeing to an unfamiliar place alone.  While it is expedient for the hospital to select out military service as a base of exploration, I wonder if from a health perspective it may be too short sighted.  If emotional and recoverable physical trauma at age 20 portend health outcome at age 60, maybe the source of trauma needs to be more comprehensively explored to include professional training burnout, civilian victims of civil conflict, crime victims, imprisonment, divorce or family abandonment among others.  We have ample numbers of patients in each category.  If focusing on the rigors of youthful military service make us more sensitive to the many other disruptions that young adults experience so that we consider this in a more general way than we do now, we probably will do much of our population a lot of good over time.  But we have to be careful not to engage in excessive information gathering for its own sake and stay focused on our mission of optimal health long past the traumas of young adulthood.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

My Own Advice

As a kid, I was really skinny.  A coxswain on the freshman crew team at under 120 lb.  I reached a nadir of 108 lb as a young parent with the help of giardia lamblia acquired from my infant daughter and her day care center.  Suit size 36S.  Some quinacrine resolved the infection and my weight returned and remained fairly static until my mid-30's.  During my endocrinology fellowship, I ate lunch more and gained about 10 lb,, feeling observably better in the process.  Weight gradually settled at 140 or , so, stayed there a long time, suit size 38S.  Then about 10 years ago, it rose gradually and as it approached about 160, suit size now 40S, I could tell that it needed some attention, which it got, with roughly the same result that my patients got.  I set a goal of 155, where I still felt well, got as close as 157 but intake is probably an ingrained regulated process so the new plateau settled at 165.  I still feel good, but since I am going on cruise shortly, I decided to have some clothing altered.  That venerable 40S sportscoat could no longer be buttoned.  I did not want to pay $50 for the alteration.  I bought new pants, my usual size, which ordinarily need the length adjusted.  Now it needs the waist adjusted.  Weight is not much different, distribution may be around the midsection.

Since retiring about six weeks back, I have been better than ever with diet and exercise consistency.  I have breakfast every day, I go on the treadmill two days of three with almost no lapses.  For a while supper was less and mid-day snacking less but a new feeding pattern may be setting in.  It's time to do what I tell the patients.  Pick a diet, any diet.  Minimize bread, potatoes, pasta, and rice which happen to be my staples.  Some things I can do easily.  On my kitchen table right now I have a box of Tastycake left over from my son's recent visit, a container of Trader Joe's Cat Cookies which really do not have a lot of calories and Trader Joe's Strawberry bars.  In the refrigerator I have fresh figs and baby carrots.  To my surprise a Shop-Rite crummy bagel has 250 calories.  I do not really need to make Hasidic Noodle Kugel except for a special occasion.  Keep it easy and measure. 

Keep the jacket unbuttoned on the cruise formal nights.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Attending Grand Rounds

Image result for grand rounds medicineJust under three weeks ago I concluded my mission as clinician, following through on retirement plans set in place five years earlier, delayed by eight months to help my hospital with a transition and at the age I had anticipated ten years earlier.  I do not miss the patients or the clinical challenges they impose.  I thought I would miss the pageantry of the hospital more than I have, but I don't.  This unstructured time sorts out in stages, first being to take better care of myself.  I have an exercise schedule fully maintained and I eat breakfast every day, something that would often take a back seat to the pressures of the clock and the morning commute.  On the advice of a weight control expert who lectured at the Endocrine Society meeting a few years ago, food is verboten from 8PM to 6AM, mostly adhered to.

Part 2 is to get my personal space fully functional.  While a Man Cave seems an excessive extravagance, my hospital always provided me a functional work space which I intend to recapture at home, though it means clearing oodles of paper and obsolete electronics and kids stuff from where I intend my study to be.  Progress there has been satisfactory, limited a little by the amount of recycling that can fit in the bins that get carted off every two weeks, but so far so good.

My mind comes next.  Every six months I read a novel, a non-fiction work and a Jewish work distributed over standard book, e-book, and audiobook.  On schedule.  My journals still arrive, though I have not read beyond the titles yet.  I asked my previous two hospitals to put me on the announcement list for Grand Rounds and other conference schedules, which they did, and I attended my first yesterday.  It took place as a simulcast from the main medical center auditorium twelve miles away at the much expanded hospital in town where I once saw patients almost daily.  The speaker gave a presentation of Medical Homes, a concept that I understand better from the talk, though with some skepticism of whether the mission of better care at less expense will accrue.  Some old friends attended, some retired, some probably asking if I can do it why can't they as some were my contemporaries.  And a lot of residents attended as well.  They had coffee but to my surprise and slight disappointment nothing else.

So which will bring me back, the chance to learn and think about where medicine is headed without me or the handshakes with old friends?  A mixture to be sure.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Funky Lab

Asked to see a young man who had been admitted 5 days earlier with what appeared to be extreme alcohol induced hepatitis.  In addition to an extreme liver panel, but not so bad ultrasound, his proteins were very low for a young previously healthy man and his sodium was only 123.  The residents had the presence of mind to address the hyponatremia in the usual way.  Osmolality 335 in serum, 691 in urine, sodium 150 in urine.  This is pseudohyponatremia of extreme degree, though not recognized for that.  After some testing, his cortisol was low at 3.1 so they called me.  The original lab looked like there was some other substance restricting plasma volume so I had the residents repeat the serum osmolality which had come down to 290, still inappropriate to the sodium of 129.  Since his glucose, bun and proteins were not high, this is usually from a lipid problem.  Sure enough, the cholesterol was 1208 and ldlc 1098, by far the highest numbers I have ever seen.  I assume the liver dysfunction impairs some of the serum cholesterol disposal enzymes.

Not sure why it took 5 days to figure this out.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Unrestrained PRN

Sometimes we get complacent.  A very nice diabetic came to the hospital about 10 days back having been at our other campus not long ago.  He had a foot wound requiring two toe amputations here.  Glucose management at the other hospital seemed more difficult than it was here, with the continuation of insulin dosing proving too much, particularly the nightly basal dose which brought the dawn glucoses too low.  With some minor revisions the glucose control coasted along, his BP remained decent on medicine and his underlying cardiovascular disease mandated high dose atorvastatin which he continued uneventfully.  He always seemed pleasant, never seemed in any distress, a placid and pleasant fellow who never complained, at least not to me.

Ordinarily I take a look at my medicines on daily rounds.  The computer makes this easy by putting an asterisk next to the medicines I ordered.  There were antibiotics and there were analgesics ordered by other people to which I did not pay a lot of attention, his being in the hands of medical and surgical colleagues who do this professionally.

As he prepared for discharge I went over the list and noted a prn q 4h oxycontin order.  When I called up how much he actually took, it turns out that he has been requesting 4 doses a day on roughly a q4h while awake pattern every day for 5 consecutive days.  It seemed like a much larger amount of medicine than I would have anticipated for somebody who never looked uncomfortable at any of my visits.  Needless to say there are questions relating to his medical care and there are better ways to manage ongoing anticipated pain.  Was his pain control adequate or was there incomplete treatment of its source?  Does he really desire euphoria more than analgesia?  Does the prn nature of the order create a conflict between a patient in pain now and a surgical nurse who is otherwise occupied at the time with other patients whose needs are more immediate?

And who should be the one noticing this aberration?  I asked some of the nurses on the ward at the time if they note excessive prn use of opiates as the patients start demanding it of them repetitively.  Generally no, as no single nurse dispenses more than two in any shift and doesn't really come passively on the overall utilization.  I asked the pharmacist.  There really is no automatic mechanism to detect this.  Every day  there is a group meeting to discuss the progress and discharge planning for each patient.  Needless to say, this would not continue past discharge, but it whizzes by the daily sessions.  And then there is the surgical resident.  They look at wounds at the bedside.  Looking at medicines is a distraction from their surgical tasks.

So as we deal professionally with excess opiate utilization as a public health crisis, how much of that was our own creation, initial legitimate prescribing with a blind eye to use that seems excessive.  We have no mechanism to intercept that other than individual diligence in paying attention to medicine orders and administration.  Alas, good systems work better than astute people, and our system here seems absent.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Old Records

Got a semi-urgent consult, a man with a calcium of 11.9.  He was asymptomatic but what made it urgent was the desire to send him to a rehab facility the next day.  Not being otherwise engaged, I went up to see him, having read the current chart from my desk.  As I got to the charting room, some brand new interns, first week, were milling around, already discussing discharges with each other to the neglect of incomplete medical care.  One of them owned up to having been assigned this fellow who just had his hyperparathyroidism confirmed by the lab.  So the questions were obvious to me:  what was his previous calcium?  Did he have urolithiasis?  Did he ever fracture anything?  Why was he on Casoex?  They looked at the lab work, called me, took no relevant history, did not seek out records, and plotted his exit at the earliest possible time.  Not a good way to imprint the expectations of medical care on medical newbies.

I called the young'un over.  We opened the chart from the other campus of our medical center, about a five minute effort.  He had been hospitalized the previous year.  His calcium was consistently 10.6-11.0.  No testing was done, though he did have an abdominal CT which showed no renal stones at the time.  There was a lab result from six months ago, calcium 11.0 so it is clearly rising.  He had a medicine list.  hctz on it, though stopped here.  Also leupron on it so now it is clear why he also took Casodex.  Renal function normal, then and now. 

Haven't even entered this fellow's room and it was clear he had hyperparathyroidism with a rising calcium and he also had prostate carcinoma that was being treated medically.

Interviewing him did not add a whole lot.  He could tell me who was prescribing the prostate treatment.  He did not have stones, moans, groans, or psychic overtones.  He had also not been told of the calcium elevation before.  And his bp was pretty high, presumably some of it from stopping the hctz.

So he would benefit from a parathyroidectomy and from some revisions in his antihypertensives.

And the new trainees need to redirect their focus away from discharge to more thorough care while the patient is their responsibility.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Non-Consult

Sometimes it is the silliest of things that expose some of the systemic deficiencies of what we do.  One of the psychiatrists asked me to see a patient with a glucose of 295 taken by finger stick in the ER  The patient had no known diabetes.  He had been in the hospital the year before with a random lab glucose of 117 and otherwise normal lab work, so the progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes was plausible.  During his few days in the hospital, several bedside glucoses were obtained and were all normal.  A HbA1c measured 4.9%.  By all evidence he does not have diabetes but had a spurious ER fingerstick, which made for a very brief consult and the lowest billing code available.

What caught my attention, though, was that the entire evaluation was done by the psychiatrist.  Every psychiatric inpatient gets seen by a medical physician, typically the nurse practitioner or on weekends the resident, with review of the hospitalist.  Even though that 295 was the most recent glucose obtained in the ER the day before, there was no recognition of it by the Internal Medicine people, not to repeat it, not to do a HbA1c, not even a concern that he might be a newly identified diabetic.  But the psychiatrist either was attentive, or was the recipient of this lab value by verbal report from the ER and took it upon himself to check it out when it whizzed past the medical people who often function more as scribes to put a paper in the chart than as consultants to take advantage of a patient on the psych unit who frequently slips through the ordinary venues of scheduled outpatient care.

And we have erroneous lab data.  Did that fingerstick belong to somebody else who should have been treated?  Was it contaminated?  Should it prompt a lab draw from the ER?  No, it was just added to the chart, assumed to be true and passed along to somebody, though not necessarily the person best able to act on it.

And yes it is ok to give him Risperdal if it helps the psychosis.  No risk of severe hyperglycemia this time.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Copy & Paste

Patients in the hospital get seen by a lot of people.  There's the admitting resident, the hospitalist, any number of consultants each with their own niche. And on transfer out of the ICU a new crew takes over.  As the consultant I do not ordinarily encounter the person on the first day.  By then they can give me a history, which I take, but I also read the History of Present Illness.  Too often, the HPI's done on Day 1 by different providers look a little too identical, though each signed independently.  If journalists did that it would be plagiarism though when doctors do it the term is copy & paste or even more benevolently, gathering needed information from available records.  That's an OK thing to do, even an expected thing to do.  Calling it your own is not, particularly if you never really gathered any information directly from the capable patient but misrepresented what you have done personally.

But while it enhances payment and reduces work, does it harm patient care?  To some extent I think it might, particularly when I look at my histories taken from the patient, usually in happier circumstances, have details and insights not elicited by others but could have been.  Histories are often tapestries, contributions from different interviewers who stumble across something unexpected by relevant that differs from information the previous person obtained.  And sometimes it makes all the difference

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Reviewing Medicines

Obsessive-compulsive, probably not.  Attention to detail, probably.  Inquisitive, for sure.  Two interesting encounters this week, both very typical consults on uncontrolled diabetics.

First fellow came in with ketoacidosis following a lapse in insulin from a previous prescribing snafu that left him without basal insulin for two days.  He had been a type 1 diabetic for more than 50 years.  His history was an interesting one, being started on NPH and regular insulin in the 1960's as a preschooler, then having a number of revisions in his protocol as the fashions for using these types of insulins changed from decade to decade.  He had been on the same treatment since the 1990's, maintained by his primary doctor from visit to visit, never converted to the current analogs.  he had been seeing a nephrologist as his creatinine rose.  At his last encounter, the switch was made but he had marginal prescription coverage and never received it, resulting in the current hospitalization.  After treatment of the ketoacidosis, Levemir and Humalog were initiated and an endocrinology consult was requested.  He had an interesting glucose pattern for the previous three days:  normal or low in the morning but 400+ at lunchtime every day.  On looking at the medicine record, it seems he had not received the Humalog at breakfast for each of the last three days, since the nurse opted not to give it based on the morning glucose, which was never extremely low.  That's easy enough to figure out and correct for that patient, a lot harder to correct as a system-wide policy where the aggregate nurses think this is the right thing to do for that situation each time it arises, despite the predictably adverse outcome.

What struck me more was the conversation with the referring resident who asked why I thought those spikes were occurring.  Having received the patient from the ICU, he never expanded the history beyond that needed to address the presenting crisis.  He also never sought an explanation of why the glucose would spike the way it did, even though it would be obvious from a review of what insulin the patient actually received.

The other consult was also very typical, a man with uncontrolled diabetes that came under reasonable control after resumption of insulin following an unintended interruption.  He had injured an amputation site which was revised.  However, five days later he was still requesting his prn iv opiates at just under the minimum allowed interval.  The residents were next to me in the computer room.  I asked them how his pain was doing, told OK, and then showed them the narcotic administration record.  Either he is having a lot of pain, or the sensation that he desires from the hydromorphone is more euphoria than analgesia.   Needless to say, he needs his pain revisited as he should not be needing that much IV narcotic.  Or if the pain were not going to resolve, there are many better ways to give this than q 4-6 IV dosing.  In either case, nobody read what is actually being given and therefore did not appreciate the need to reassess the pain management before they sent him home with that iv prn order still in place and no better long term alternative.

The essence of work rounds in my era, and in my office encounters today, has been to focus primarily on the medications.  What are people taking and how are they doing on what they are taking?  What is prescribed often differs considerably from what is actually being swallowed or injected.  At least the hospital medication records are accurate, the office ones border on fiction.

And there is also the question of being inquisitive.  If something looks extreme, as a glucose going from 70 to 400 on consecutive days would be, this cries out for an explanation.  Even if it had no bearing on what I am there to do, it's presence would attract my attention, as did the opiate schedule which was really not integral to the endocrinology consult.

One of the attending physicians of my residency, an outstanding rheumatologist, once pulled me aside and told me how he was taught to do consults and passed the advice to me.  Be thorough.  If you see something that needs to be fixed that seems to be neglected, mention it in the note even if not rheumatology.  It is that ingrained attention to detail that has kept the patient encounters professionally challenging, even as other elements of being a physician in the modern age have taken their toll.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Keeping People Independent

Diabetic blindness used to be much more common than it is now but fortunately with laser photocoagulation and vitrectomy, sight preservation has advanced greatly as more diabetics live longer and become more subject to this.  Still, visual loss is an unfortunate reality while their diabetes and need for testing and insulin continues.

Such a person came to my attention recently, nice fellow on oral agents whose family member had been testing his glucoses twice a day.  He developed a foot wound, came to the hospital rather hyperglycemic.  Hyperglycemia persisted after below knee amputation while the residents tinkered with his pills and eventually added basal insulin.  Cavalry called in, basal insulin increased, pills discontinued, and prandial insulin introduced.  Quick, easy, straightforward,  Glucoses corrected in a day and remained controlled the remainder of his stay, with a slight insulin dose reduction toward the end.

In New Age Hospital Medicine, once corrected people just kind of go on auto pilot with no refinements to medical care but all sorts of efforts to move people to their post hospital destination. And so it was here. Ready to go, all fixed.  And then came the phone call from the intern, what do we do about his insulin if he cannot see?

Forgive me, but the medical center pays through the nose for a very expensive discharge planning process that includes a meeting on every floor every day from the day of admission attending by a who's who of hospital functionaries experienced at sending people home.  This isn't really very hard, and why was it not addressed by these people of professional title earlier?  So I asked the intern, who lives at home with the patient?  He didn't know.  How was he getting his finger sticks done all these years?  He could not tell me if the patient had an auditory machine or if somebody at home did it for him.  I knew, because I asked him as  part of the initial consult.  Basically there is somebody else home most of the time.  And he had one leg less than when he arrived, not that the infected leg was of much use for walking prehospitalization.  So keeping him independent would require more than providing him insulin.

Basically, they had two choices, either pre-fill syringes one week at a time and keep the two types of insulin separately in the refrigerator in different shape containers that he could identify by feel and inject himself, or send him home with pens that either somebody else could give him or since the doses are low, he could probably just count clicks on the dial with each injection.  Amid the grandiosity of a hasty exit from the hospital, sometimes the simplest of things cause the impediments.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Nine Mg Riders

Too often what the residents want you to address is so they don't have to except for infectious problems where they putz around with antibiotics until lunchtime on Friday, then call ID.  For me this seemed rather routine, a diabetic with another medical illness,  not terribly well defined in the hospital records but including atrial fibrillation and congestive failure at presentation.  At day 9, with pressure from the DRG Lady to discharge pronto, they figured that might be a good idea to have some predictable insulin dosing and reliable office follow-up so they called me.  Nine days of hospitalization gives a lot of electronic record clutter, and most of the progress notes were the usual copy and paste of limited intellectual input on their part.  Of note, the magnesium level never quite corrected.  When I examined her, there was a Mg rider hanging, with the last measured level 1.7 mg/dl, a little low, but not dangerously.  I finished the exam, decided what to do for the insulin and went back to the hypomagnesemia.  On presentation, she was in atrial fibrillation with a serum Mg 1.0 so nobody would look askance at the two IV infusions she received in the ICU.  However, on day 9, she was receiving infusion #9 for a very borderline result.  I went back through the lab testing and notes, absolutely devoid of any search for cause or any discussion short of the orders for repetitive IV replacement.  As I typed the consult in the computer room, I asked who was responsible for her care on the floor.  The resident two screens down owned up, so I asked him about this.  Well, the Mg was low so he replaced it.  Well, does everyone need to be euboxic, a term that had pretty much disappeared from medical slang at about the time he was born.  Of course not.  And more importantly, if you do nothing to fix it and send her home with neither daily monitor or replacement, what did he think would happen to her?  If the answer was nothing, she got at least six infusions too many.  Excessive care is a variant of WRONG.  Thoughtless care sometimes goes beyond WRONG to NEGLIGENT.

Lest this be an electrolyte problem, I've seen people get ten amps of D50 for low finger glucoses and normal sensorium in the absence of hypoglycemic agents, only to find that the venous glucose done simultaneously was normal.   If they really have a hypoglycemic disorder they deserve diagnostic testing which starts with a bedside assessment.  Even with a prolonged fast for insulinoma, the blood doesn't get drawn in the absence of symptoms even if the glucose reads low.   If they do not generate enough capillary blood to give a proper measurement, their fingers and the pharmacy's D50 supply should be spared.

I see two issues that are very common, neither addressed well.  We seem to teach by algorithm, if this do that.  The first event will probably get you by.  The next one should arouse some suspicion, either to read the chart, see the patient, get a consult, or at least put on the thinking cap.  The second failure may be lack of accountability.  The resident sitting two screens over was one of four that had responsibility for her care over those nine days.  There was an attending hospitalist too, a bystander for the days in the ICU and pre-occupied with CHF and two resident teams to get the detail.  Nor do we have the pharmacy as a safety net to intercept questionable care, outside of antibiotic use where certain automatic reviews take place.  I would think in this day of computerization, 5 Mg or K-riders or 10 amps of D50 might be more easily identified by the pharmacy than by rotating residents and hospitalists.  Those are patients who need a little more than just being processed through in the shortest length of stay for their assigned DRG. 

One of the elements of internal medicine that attracted me as a student and remains forty years later has been the analytical challenge.   That may be the final deterrent of burnout.  The inquisitive mind can probably still overcome the irritations of the medical computer and the functionaries you talk to at the pre-authorization desks, as neither of them think as well as a methodical clinician.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Keeping Engaged

As I experience some lumbar discomfort in what seems to be the left quadratus lumborum distribution, it is good to have very little running around and some desk time to study some medicine.  There is some pretty good work floating around.  NEJM has some articles on ICU experimentation with glucocorticoid + mineralocorticoid supplementation and different IV fluid options.  I've been through the last six months of the Leonard Davis Institute Blog which has some items on how we practice.  While the NEJM helps determine low value or high value interventions, we still do the things of low value.  An LDI article looked at how docs would look at being penalized for doing things of limited value.  They targeted use of urinary catheters to measure urine output in people not critically ill, use of cardiac monitoring without a preset end point, and use of ulcer prevention medicine in people who were not likely to get ulcers.  I do not see too many catheters at my place.  There are a lot of people on telemetry, mostly play it by ear.  And proton pump inhibitors are now cheap and don't cause a lot of harm so people tend to get them irrespective of risk, though I've yet to see an ulcer develop during hospitalization, maybe because these were used or maybe in spite of them being used.  So they asked if the docs who do these things should incur a financial penalty.  Well, unneeded catheters can cause harm to people.  Monitors cost somebody money.  PPI's short term probably don't cause harm and don't cost much money though there seems to be some correlation of acid inhibition with opportunistic infections so maybe they do.  Like the majority of the respondents, I have relatively little sympathy for the hospital or insurer making less money than they could have, which would be the outcome of less monitoring.  Having insurance premiums go up because of these expensive days is a little more problematic so the societal cost does merit some consideration, as it did to those polled.  And the catheters are a no-no as they harm patients.

However, we all do non-productive things.  The residents order Mg and Phos on everybody and then give IV replacement for trivial variances.  These people will have the same variances at home, undetected by the lab, and do just fine ignorant of those results and absent any intervention.  We do ac and hs glucose monitoring and supplemental insulin on all diabetics.  Probably nobody's microvasculature will be improved from this practice though for some people it does help recommending chronic insulin dosing.  We are just not selective about this.  We have acts of omission too.  I've yet to see a resident include a rectal exam in the initial H&P, irrespective of its value.  Reviews of old records leave a lot to be desired.  These cost nothing, can add a lot of value, sometimes save money on not repeating things that will not have changed and infuse a habit of thoroughness that reaps its rewards later.  We are just not selective enough or thoughtful enough in what we do.

But penalties for excessive care?  Being punitive rarely improves care and probably wouldn't here either.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

No Consults Thus Far Today

No consults today thus far.  While these requests for advice seem to be the last clinical work that keeps me energized from one day to the next, the slack time is appreciated when it arises.  Some time to read, some time to think, some time to organize.  Doctors never really run out of things to do, though we often run out of things we want to do.  Spent yesterday on the phone and on the screen with an afternoon in the office.  One consult that was straightforward, a person with newly acquired tsh suppression, borderline free t4, no symptoms and a fairly normal exam.  The hospitalist watched me do the consult, concerned most about whether the person could be sent home.  This being a common office referral, there was no problem with discharge and a decision made later on antithyroid drugs if the T3 was elevated or watchful waiting if it was not.  But none so far today.  I can look at more lab work or I can renew prescriptions and test strips though none of that is nearly as satisfying to me as taking a medical record apart from the first available entry and matching it with what becomes apparent at the bedside.  Maybe later or maybe tomorrow I'll get my next chance.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

First Responder

Image result for first responderMy first real post.  By way of introduction, I am an endocrinologist, class of  '77, on medicine's exit ramp, or at least planning to retire from office care.  We can debate whether my hospital's EMR killed the golden goose or Father Time just caught up with me, but I have a genuine Medicare card in my wallet that has started to fray.  The final vestiges of my engagement are a real fondness for hospital consults, the more extreme the lab work, the more enthused I become, and expressing my opinion, which accounts for my not being on any important committees ever in forty years.

This weekend the beeper went off Saturday morning with at least one consult that should not wait until Monday.  It could have waited until Sunday, but having declared Sunday a Me Day, right after Shabbos Services, I schlepped to the hospital.  While there, I may as well round on everyone or at least look at all the glucoses.  I started from the top floor, planning to work downward. Player #1, just an insulin adjustment.  Player #2 I greeted as the physical therapist put him through his paces with a walker.  His sugars had gotten high and the therapist informed me of chills and a swollen arm.  Sure enough, he had been febrile for two days, seen by the ID consultant, judged not real sick, and wait and see advice seemed reasonable at the time.  But with chills and a temperature just under 39C, he got a real exam.  Ordinarily I would call the resident but he was assigned a non-resident service so I'm on my own.  Having been a hospitalist before there were hospitalists everywhere, I knew how to address a fever.  Some abdominal tenderness, probably a hot right wrist or cellulitis of the forearm.  However, I do not know much about antibiotics.  I called the attending physician to convey the findings, the ID consultant in a mournful plea for help, and ordered blood cultures x 2, urine culture, an xray of the wrist and forearm, and a single dose of vancomycin at the recommendation of the attending physician.  And he needed more insulin.  That I know how to do.   A resident stopped by and showed me how to enter an IV order on the computer.  And before I left, the cavalry in the form of the ID consultant made a trip in to save the day.

Then downstairs to newly identified rip-roaring primary hyperthyroidism, something I know how to address without help.

While I have become something of a mullet at sorting out fevers, diarrhea, headaches and insomnia, the things nurses call residents about, I am still from an era where we were taught to read charts and examine people.  A fever could come from anywhere.  That hot wrist could only be found if you went and looked at the patient without any preconceptions of where the fever might be originating.  It was a challenge, totally unexpected, but pretty gratifying to still be able to do this.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Singing Pen of Doctor Jen: In defense of SOAP notes

The Singing Pen of Doctor Jen: In defense of SOAP notes: Our hospital system's IT department has recently encouraged us all to change our default encounter note template from the traditional &q...

Hi Jen:

Never been a fan of SOAP notes but our templates both in and out patient follow that format, however the A/P are lumped together.  The S is also problematic, as patients are often here for nothing that really has an S like an incedentaloma on an imaging study, though they do have pertinent negaitives. 

Interestingly, now that we have PDOCS for consults and Dragon Dictation, I find myself doing consults with Stephen Covey's sage advice "Begin with the end in mind."  I will list the problems, dictate the analysis and solutions, the go back to page 1 and dictate the HPI, copy and paste the pertinent lab in the lab section, then click what's needed for past history, ROS and exam, with a few phrase dictations where needed.  What's different between my note and our residents' output is that mine has no fake news.  If I didn't ask about dyspareunia, which I don't, it is left blank.  My patients with prostheses never have pulses in them, and if a thyroid is palpable there is a description of that.  Where we lose out in the EMR seems to be in the copy/paste which saves time but propagates falsehood.