OP-ED

flying cadeuciiSome years ago I was in Australia’s Northern Territory. The intrepid explorer that I was, I was croc-spotting from the comfortable heights of a bridge over the East Alligator River. The river derives its name because it is east of something. And because it’s croc-infested.

I was reading a story about a German tourist (it’s usually a German) who was attacked by a saltwater crocodile in the vicinity (1). The story concluded to reassure that one is more likely to be killed by a vending machine than a saltwater crocodile.

I imagined what the apotheosis of a left brain thinker, the data-driven Renaissance man, might have done with that statistic. Might he have peeked in to the East Alligator River looking for a vending machine and seeing none, jumped right in?

This empirical fact is useful if you suffer from croc-phobia and live in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and the biggest voyage you ever plan to undertake is to the Hamptons. But it’s not terribly useful, and marginally harmful, if you’re deciding whether to kayak rivers in Northern Australia.

The vending machine has reared its deadly head again. It seems that more Americans have been killed by vending machines than have died from Ebola. Well let’s head to Liberia for the winter, because there are fewer vending machines there.

Sorry, I jest. But this is not a joke. Some actually think this is a relevant statistic to put Ebola in perspective. And some are actually reassured by it!

Continue reading “The Antifragile CDC”

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Texas Health Presbyterian

A group of nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian has come forward with a very different picture of what happened when Liberian Ebola patient Thomas Duncan arrived at the hospital with Ebola-like symptoms on September 28th.  If true, the allegations are certainly unsettling.

In an unusual move, the nurses spoke anonymously to the media, conducting a blind conference call in which none of the participants were identified.

After arriving at the emergency room with a high fever and other symptoms of the disease , the nurses said the patient was kept in a public area, despite the fact that he and a relative informed staff that he had been instructed to go to the hospital after contacting the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta to report a possible case of Ebola.

Continue reading “Angry Nurses Tell of Ebola Patient’s arrival at Texas Hospital”

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Risa preferred headshotFor the past several months the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been promoting a particular vision– of a Culture of Health in America, where everyone  has the opportunity to live the healthiest life possible, no matter their income, or where they live, or work, or play.

With  that vision in mind, geriatrician Dr. Leslie Kernisan asks an important question in her Oct 7 Health Care Blog post, “Why #CultureofHealth Doesn’t Work For Me.”  She writes: “Is promoting a Culture of Health the same as promoting a Culture of Care? As a front-line clinician, they feel very different to me.”

For physicians treating the chronically ill and patients facing the end of life, good health might seem like a pipe dream. Kernisan and some of her commenters even wonder if the phrase “Culture of Health” could be misconstrued as “blaming the victim.”

Continue reading “Let’s Make Sure “Health” Encompasses “Care””

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Leslie Kernisan new headshotEarlier this month, I attended the Fall Annual Health 2.0 conference. There was, as usual, much talk of health, total health, and of extending healthy years.

And this year, there was a special emphasis on promoting a “Culture of Health,” a meme that has become a centerpiece of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s work.

So much so, that when I approached a conference speaker, to briefly comment on my interest in helping beleaguered family caregivers with their carees’ health and healthcare issues, I was advised to work on promoting a culture of health.

Hm. Funny, but as a generalist and geriatrician who focuses on the primary care of older adults with multiple medical problems, I’d been thinking more along the lines of:

  1.  Promoting the wellbeing of older adults and their caregivers.
  2. Optimizing the health – and healthcare — of my aging patients.

In other words, I’d been thinking of a “Culture of Care.”

Continue reading “Why #CultureofHealth Doesn’t Work For Me”

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John Mandrola MDIt was a mistake to send the Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan home from a Dallas emergency room after he presented with fever and pain, which were early signs of Ebola infection.

It would be a larger mistake to miss an important learning opportunity. This case demonstrates what I believe to be a major threat to patient safety—caregiver distraction.

Doctors and nurses are increasingly prevented from giving full attention to the important things in patient care. The degree of value-added nonsense has reached the point where delivering basic care has gown dangerous. This morning, in Canada, news of a case of deadly drug interaction occurred because of alert fatigue—or distraction.

I am a cardiologist; I am also a patient. I want the Duncan case to be a turning point, a wake up call, a never event that serves as a spark to improve the delivery of medical care. Right now, all that this case has changed are tweaks to EHR protocols and checklists. We need more than tweaks; we need big changes.

An uncomfortable truth is that medical mistakes are normal. Errors, like this one in Texas, have occurred since doctors started treating patients. The good news is that technology has made medical care better. No credible person suggests a return to the paper-chart era. Yet, it is still our duty to face mistakes, learn from them, and in so doing, improve future care. Being honest about root causes is necessary.

Another truth about medical mistakes is the ensuing rush to inoculate against blame–which always comes. In the Duncan case, initial blame was assigned to the electronic health record. The computer software failed to flag the travel history in the physician “workflow.” (Just using the word, workflow, hints of the bureaucracy problem.) And you know there is trouble when hospital administrators use the passive voice. “Protocols were followed by both the physician and the nurse…”

Continue reading “An Extremely Teachable Moment”

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Medicine and public health have had a long history and strong roots in experimentation and solving problems through iteration. As healthcare now begins to intersect with tech like never before, the health focused hackathon offers an unprecedented opportunity for us to embrace this past while giving a home to the tinkering, experimentation, and solution-building that is needed now more than ever in our industry.

The first recorded use of the word “hack” occurred 900 years ago, but the more common and positive use of “hack”—to write a computer program for enjoyment—originated in the hallowed halls of MIT in the 1950s. The “hackathon, a portmanteau of ‘hack’ and ‘marathon’,” was first born out of a challenge posed to programmers at a conference in Silicon Valley by John Gage of Sun Microsystems in 1999.

Borrowing from what became a tech sector institution, one of the first health focused hackathons was launched at a national scale over a decade later in 2010 as a part of a public-private partnership between the US Government and Health 2.0 (co-launched by Aman Bhandari and Indu Subaiya as the Health2.0 Developer Challenge).

Since that time, the practice has expanded rapidly: we have found and analyzed over 100 health-focused hackathons (the full living database is available for download, analysis and editing on the MIT Hacking Medicine website here:

Continue reading “3 Reasons Why Healthcare Needs Hackathons”

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Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 7.32.39 PMOften, at scientific conferences, the most important learning happens in the question and answer period.

I spoke at the American Diabetes Association conference earlier this year, presenting results of an observational study we did on medication adherence and diabetes.

We found that if people starting using the online patient portal (sometimes called the personal health record), to order their medication refills, they were more likely to take their medication regularly. Dr. Katherine Newton of Group Health Research Institute spoke before me, describing a randomized study showing that a clinical pharmacist-led blood pressure management program did not lower blood pressure any more than usual care by an outpatient provider.

The first audience comment came from a program officer from the National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. Program officers are incredibly important because they help set the research priorities for the major funding mechanism for medical research. I will never forget her comment, because it was so strongly worded.

Continue reading “What’s So Wrong With Randomized Trials?”

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Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 2.28.53 PMNot accustomed to visiting hospital executive suites, I took my seat in the waiting room somewhat warily.

Seated across from me was a handsome man in a well-tailored three-piece suit, whose thoroughly professional appearance made me – in my rumpled white coat, sheaves of dog-eared paper bulging from both pockets – feel out of place.

Within a minute, an administrative secretary came out and escorted him into one of the offices. Exhausted from a long call shift and lulled by the quiet, I started to doze off. Soon roused by the sound of my own snoring, I started and looked about.

That was when I spotted the document on an adjacent chair. Its title immediately caught my eye: “How to Discourage a Doctor.”

Continue reading “How To Discourage a Doctor”

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Art Caplan 2Why are they so afraid of public health types who want to do something about the carnage caused by guns in America?

Vik Khanna is the latest man with a gun to write squealing in terror  before the kale crunching, fitbit wearing hordes of public health types who he is somehow sure are out to disarm him and, even more hilariously, have any chance of doing so.

Vik, buddy, no one and especially the roughly 28 folks in public health not completely distracted by their lack of funding and inability to secure tenure is capable of doing anything that will pry your gun from your warm-blooded grip. There is no political movement to take away anyone’s guns. The NRA is the mightiest lobbying outfit in these United States and the best Mike Bloomberg or Bill Gates are going to be able to do is to get the anti-gun lobby a few more op-eds and soundbites.

Vik stop being afraid of your critics. You hold all the bullets er … cards. Time to think harder. Do public health folks have anything to offer that might reduce the mayhem while letting you hunt deer or shoot partridge or blast targets or whatever it is you and your son like to do with your guns?

Well yes in fact there are some things from the minds of the unarmed weenies of public health worth your consideration and that of your open-carry pals.

Continue reading “What Is It With Gun Rights Proponents?”

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The Future Looks Like a Girl With a Gun Resized

I am a public health professional, educated at the vaunted Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Hygiene and Public Health. I like guns, and I believe the Second Amendment clearly secures the rights of individuals to own firearms.

You read that correctly. I am a public health professional.

And I like guns.

This make me a heretic in American public health, where embracing firearms and the rights of gun owners is a gross violation of orthodoxy.

As a society, our focus on guns and not gun users derives from the shock of mass killings, such as those in Newtown, CT, Aurora, CO, Virginia Tech, and Norway, which has some of the strictest gun control laws on the planet. Mass killings, however tragic, get distorted by saturation media hysterics and 24-hour political grandstanding. What gun opponents refuse to discuss is the precipitous fall in violent crime and deaths by firearms over the past 20 years, and how it coincides with an equally dramatic increase of guns in circulation in the US.

While that isn’t cause and effect, the association is certainly curious.

In 2013, the Institute of Medicine, at the behest of the Centers for Disease Control, produced a report on firearms violence that has been ignored by the mainstream media. The upshot: defensive use of firearms occurs much more frequently than is recognized, “can be an important crime deterrent,” and unauthorized  possession (read: by someone other than the lawful owner) of a firearm is a crucial driver of firearms violence.

That report went away for political reasons. Translation. Nobody wanted to talk about it because it raised more questions than it answered.

Continue reading “Why Public Health Needs a New Gun Doctrine”

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