By HANS DUVEFELT
Today I saw a patient I have known for years. He suddenly pulled his mask down and said, “I’d like to know what you think I should do about this”.
On his nose was an 8 mm (1/3”) brownish-red flat spot with a crack or scrape through it.
“How long have you had it?”, I asked.
“Oh, a while now” he answered. That is about the least helpful time measurement I know of. I asked him to pin it down a bit more precisely. He settled for about a year. I prescribed a cream and made a two week follow-up appointment for either cryo or a biopsy. It’s probably just an excoriated, premalignant, actinic keratosis.
By GAIL PEACE
We have heard the phrases “physician fatigue” and “burnout” too often in the last year – and for good reason. Covid-19 has placed an incredible burden on our healthcare providers. However, as healthcare professionals, the stats representing physician burnout are not new for us.
We have seen similar trends and stats for years. Covid-19 did not cause the current state of physician burnout, it has just exacerbated it and further exposed critical issues with the expectations placed on physicians in today’s healthcare system. Ludi conducted a survey of physicians across the country confirming that exact theory:
- 68 percent of physicians feel pessimistic or indifferent about their occupation
- 48 percent describe the relationship with their hospital partners/employers as combative or transactional at best
We need to ask ourselves: What is actually causing this dissatisfaction and how can hospitals better align with their physician partners?
According to the physicians surveyed, 68 percent agreed they have too much administrative burden placed on them. More often than not, our industry blames EHRs for dominating administrative time, but from the physicians we surveyed, EHRs are just part of the problem. In fact, 54 percent of physicians indicated they spend 1-3 hours per day on administrative work outside of EHR time, with another 35 percent spending more than 4 hours per day on similar tasks.
Let’s put that into perspective. On top of seeing patients, charting in EHRs, and all the other things physicians are expected to do to take care of patients, physicians are also spending at least another 1-3 hours per day on “everything else.” This everything else includes meetings, training, compliance, policy, etc.
We are asking our physicians to do too much. It’s no wonder they are burnt out.
By HANS DUVEFELT
I happened to read about the pharmacodynamics of parenteral versus oral furosemide when I came across a unique interaction between this commonest of diuretics and risperidone: Elderly dementia patients on risperidone have twice their expected mortality if also given furosemide. I knew that all atypical antipsychotics can double mortality in elderly dementia patients, but was unaware of the additional risperidone-furosemide risk. Epocrates only has a nonspecific warning to monitor blood pressure when prescribing both drugs.
This is only today’s example of an interaction I didn’t have at my fingertips. I very often check Epocrates on my iPhone for interactions before prescribing, because – quite frankly – my EMR always gives me an entire screen of fine print idiotic kindergarten warnings nobody ever has time to read in a real clinical situation. (In my case provided by the otherwise decent makers of UpToDate.)
I keep coming back in my thoughts and blogging about drug interactions. And every time I run into one that surprised me or caused harm, I think of the inherent, exponential risks of polypharmacy and the virtues of oligopharmacy.
By HANS DUVEFELT
(Desperate times called for desperate measures.)
In the tech world, we have come to expect our devices to become outdated and obsolete very quickly. The biggest tech companies in the world didn’t even exist a few years ago. Bitcoin, a virtual currency which at least I can’t wrap my head around, seems to be more attractive than gold.
I get the sense most people embrace or at least accept the speed of change in tech.
But medical advances that occur rapidly are frightening to many people. Vaccine hesitancy, for example, involves concerns and characterizations like “unproven” and “guinea pigs”.
But can we as a society strive for and reward rapid progress in one area and reject it in another, especially if we feel threatened by outside forces or phenomena – be that a virus, climate change or the collapse of our economy’s infrastructure like supply chains and raw materials.
Tech has its own momentum, more driven by profit motives than altruistism or a desire just to make peoples lives better. Medicine clearly has profit as a driving force, but also a goal of improving life for people. Curing or mitigating disease must rank higher than making life more convenient.
By HANS DUVEFELT
The medication and allergy lists seem like they would be the most important parts of a health record to keep current and accurate. But we all see errors too often.
I think it shouldn’t be possible to enter an allergy without describing the reaction. Because without that information the list becomes completely useless.
The other day I saw a patient who needed an urgent CT angiogram. The allergy list said “All Contrast Materials”, which isn’t even “structured data entry”, and thus not recognized by the computer if my EMR (Me again, Greenway!) would have been clever enough to check for allergies when I order a CT scan.
After a lot of probing, the “allergy” in this case turned out to be a host of nonspecific, chronic symptoms after several lumbar CT myelograms in a short period of time many years ago.
Some people claim to be penicillin allergic because “it never works”. Others list ciprofloxacin or sulfa antibiotics because they get a yeast infection after taking them. Others were slightly nauseous after their first dose of an SSRI like fluoxetine or fatigued after starting gabapentin.
Some symptoms listed as allergies are poorly understood. For example, morphine causes itching in many patients, even skin manifestations like blushing as well as sweating. But this is not usually a histamine mediated symptom, and not an allergy. Other opioids, like hydromorphone, tend to have less risk for itching.
Cough from ACE inhibitors isn’t a true allergy, but we often note that in our allergy lists. People with this side effect can safely be switched to angiotensin receptor blockers, ARBs.
By HANS DUVEFELT
Before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1450, books in Europe were copied by hand, mostly by monks and clergy. Ironically, they were often called scribes, the same word we now use for the new class of healthcare workers employed to improve the efficiency of physician documentation.
Think about that for a moment: American doctors are employing almost medieval methods in what is supposed to be the era of computers. Why aren’t we using AI for documentation?
The pathetically cumbersome methods of documentation available (required) for our clinical encounters is only one of several antiquated presumptions in American healthcare. Other inefficiencies, often viewed as axioms, especially in primary care, make the trade I am in chock full of time wasters.
Whereas in most other “industries”, people talk about reach, scale, leverage and automation, primary care is still doing things one patient at a time. The automation in our field is not one where processes happen without human involvement according to preset patterns. Instead, it is an ongoing effort to make medical providers behave in automatic fashion with patients on a one-on-one, one visit at a time basis. The value of one-on-one is when you individualize, give unique advice considering multiple individual parameters; saying “in your particular case”, rather than “everybody should eat a healthy diet”.
Primary care here is wasting time in many ways:
When health maintenance and disease prevention is done by physicians. I keep writing about this, but a standing order to offer pneumonia or shingles shots, diabetes or lung cancer screenings and so many other things to people over a certain age or with certain risk factors can be handled by non-physicians. This would keep the six figure problem solvers doing what only they can do. It would also (a not-so-wild guess) probably double physician productivity.
By HANS DUVEFELT
Perhaps it is because I love doctoring so much that I find some of the tools and tasks of my trade so tediously frustrating. I keep wishing the technology I work with wasn’t so painfully inept.
On my 2016 iPhone SE I can authorize a purchase, a download or a money transfer by placing my thumb on the home button.
In my EMR, when I get a message (also called “TASK” – ugh) from the surgical department that reads “patient is due for 5-year repeat colonoscopy and needs [insurance] referral”, things are a lot more complicated, WHICH THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE TO BE! For this routine task, I can’t just click a “yes” or “authorize” button (which I am absolutely sure is a trackable event in the innards of “logs” all EMRs have).
Instead, (as I often lament), I have to go through a slow and cumbersome process of creating a non-billable encounter, finding the diagnostic code for colon cancer screening, clicking on REFERRAL, then SURGEON – COLONOSCOPY, then freetexting “5 year colonoscopy recall”, then choosing where to send this “TASK”, namely the referral coordinator and , finally, getting back to the original request in order to respond “DONE”.
By BRYAN CARMODY
If you’re involved in medical education or residency selection, you know we’ve got problems.
And starting a couple of years ago, the corporations that govern much of those processes decided to start having meetings to consider solutions to those problems. One meeting begat another, bigger meeting, until last year, in the wake of the decision to report USMLE Step 1 scores as pass/fail, the Coalition for Physician Accountability convened a special committee to take on the undergraduate-to-graduate medical education transition. That committee – called the UME-to-GME Review Committee or UGRC – completed their work and released their final recommendations yesterday.
This isn’t the first time I’ve covered the UGRC’s work: back in April, I tallied up the winners and losers from their preliminary recommendations.
And if you haven’t read that post, you should. Many of my original criticisms still stand (e.g, on the lack of medical student representation, or the structural configuration that effectively gave corporate members veto power), but here I’m gonna try to turn over new ground as we break down the final recommendations, Winners & Losers style.
By HANS DUVEFELT
Leo Dufour is not a diabetic. He is in his mid 50s, a light smoker with hypertension and a known hiatal hernia. He has had occasional heartburn and has taken famotidine for a few years along with his blood pressure and cholesterol pills.
Over the past few months, he started to experience a lot more heartburn, belching and bloating. Adding pantoprazole did nothing for him. I referred him to a local surgeon who did an upper endoscopy. This did not reveal much, except some retained food in his stomach. A gastric emptying study showed severe gastroparesis.
The surgeon offered him a trial of metoclopramide. At his followup, he complained of cough, mild chest pain and shortness of breath. His oxygen saturation was only 89%.
An urgent chest CT angiogram showed bilateral pulmonary emboli and generalized hilar adenopathy, a small probable infiltrate, a small pulmonary nodule and enlargement of both adrenal glands, suspicious for metastases.
He is now on apixiban for his PE, two antibiotics for his probable pneumonia and some lorazepam for the sudden shock his diagnoses have brought him.
By KIM BELLARD
There was a lot going on this week, as there always is, including the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the beginning of the NFL season, so you may have missed a big event: the announcement of the 31st First Annual Ig Nobel Awards (no, those are not typos).
What’s that you say — you don’t know the Ig Nobel Awards? These annual awards, organized by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research, seek to:
…honor achievements that make people LAUGH, then THINK. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology.
Some scientists seek the glory of the actual Nobel prizes, some want to change the world by coming up with an XPRIZE winning idea, but I’m pretty sure that if I was a scientist I’d be shooting to win an Ig Nobel Prize. I mean, the point of the awards is “to help people discover things that are surprising— so surprising that those things make people LAUGH, then THINK.” What’s better than that?
Healthcare could use more Ig.