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Category: Medical Practice

The Dangers of EMR-Defaulted Prescription Stop Dates

By HANS DUVEFELT

It happens in eClinicalworks, I saw it in Intergy, and I now have to maneuver around it in Epic. Those EMRs, and I suspect many others, insert a stop date on what their programmers think (or have been told) are scary drugs.

In my current system all opioid drug prescriptions fall into this category. For a short term prescription that might perhaps be a good idea but for a longer-term or occasionally needed prescription it creates the risk of medical errors.

In Epic there is a box for duration, which is very practical for a ten day course of antibiotics. If I fill in the number 10 in the duration box, the medication falls off the list after 10 days. This saves me the trouble of periodically cleaning up the list.

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Interview: Sarah MacDonald, Author, The Cancer Channel

by MATTHEW HOLT

I met Sarah MacDonald in the early 2000s. She is the ultimate extrovert who sings, cooks, maintains a huge circle of friends, and lives life to the fullest–all at a pace & level most of us can’t imagine. In the early 2010s Sarah was flying high. Newly married, trying to get pregnant, all while being a Silicon valley business exec who had increasingly senior roles at eBay. Then in 2012 she was diagnosed with two completely separate types of cancer. And in her head “The Cancer Channel” started playing nonstop.

That became the title of her book. I just read it and I literally couldn’t stop. It’s practical, it’s heart-wrenching, it’s warm, it’s funny (yes, funny!). And it’s an amazing look at the exact experience of someone going through cancer. Or in this case cancer x 2. I was lucky enough to interview Sarah (so there is a very happy ending). So please watch this and buy & read the book

Sticks and Stones…

BY KIM BELLARD

According to the old saying, sticks and stones may break your bones, but names can never hurt you.  I’m not sure that still applies in a social media environment that can have real impacts on mental health of both teenagers and adults, but I have to note that healthcare seems to be pretty sensitive about who calls whom what.  

I’ll start with a new study from The Mayo Clinic about whether patients addressed their physicians by their first name.  It’s a tricky thing to get a gauge on; one could do surveys of both populations, or implant observers in exam rooms, but these researchers had the clever idea of examining how patients addressed their physician when using portal messaging.  They looked at over 90,000 messages from nearly 15,000 patients, with about 30,000 messages from 15,000 patients including a physician’s name (first or last).

The researchers don’t seem to have provided an overall percent of patients using the doctors’ first name, but they did report:

  • Female doctors were twice as likely as male doctors to be called by their first name;
  • DOs were similarly almost twice as likely as MDs to have their first name used;
  • Primary care doctors were 50% more likely than specialists;
  • Female patients were 40% less likely to use first names when addressing their physician.
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A Country Doctor Reads: What if Burnout Is Less About Work and More About Isolation? (NYT)

BY HANS DUVEFELT

This weekend I read a piece in The New York Times that put a slightly different slant on what burnout, in the case of physician burnout, is or is caused by. We have heard theories from being asked to do the wrong thing, like data entry, to “moral injury” to my favorite, “burnout skills“, when you keep trying to do the impossible because people praise you when you pull it off.

Tish Harrison Warren’s piece is a dialog between her and psychiatrist/author Curt Thompson. He focuses on isolation as a driver of burnout:

Assume that if you’re burned out, your brain needs the help of another brain. Your brain is not going to be OK until or unless you have the experience and opportunity of being in the presence of someone else who can begin to ask you the kind of questions that will allow you to name the things that you’re experiencing.

The moment that you start to tell your story vulnerably to someone else, and that person meets you with empathy — without trying to fix your loneliness, without trying to fix your shame — your entire body will begin to change. Not all at once. But you feel distinctly different.

I’m not as lonely in that moment because you are with me. And I sense you sensing me. That’s a neural reality.

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What Does It Mean To Be Human?

By MIKE MAGEE

“These are unprecedented times.”

This is a common refrain these days, from any citizen concerned about the American experiment’s democratic ideals.

Things like – welcoming shores, no one is above the law, stay out of people’s bedrooms, separation of church and state, play by the rules, fake news is just plain lying, don’t fall for the con job, stand up to bullies, treat everyone with the dignity they deserve, love one another, take reasonable risks, extend a helping hand, try to make your world a little bit better each day.

But I’ve been thinking, are we on a downward spiral really? Or has it always been this messy? Do we really think that we’ve suddenly bought a one-way ticket to “The Bad Place”, and there are no more good spots to land – places that would surprise us, with an unpredicted friendship, a moment of creative kindness, something to make you say, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.”

I’m pretty sure I’m right that human societies, not the least of which, America, will never manage perfection. But is it (are we) still basically good. What does it mean to be human, and more specifically American?

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Explorations in French Health Care! (Or what I did on my vacation!)

By MATTHEW HOLT

This is a personal story about this blog’s publisher (me!) but it has just enough health care stuff to keep it relevant!

This year I finally got invited on the annual week-long mountain bike ride run by my friend JB and his ex Taiwan/Hong Kong buddies. I’ve actually been practicing and training most of the summer and arrived pretty confident even though I knew it would be tough. This edition is in Provence in France.

Before it all went wrong

And then…..2 hours in on the first day it turns out I was too confident…

Back in 2002 I smashed my knee snowboarding into a tree. When I told him my dad said ” You silly twit”

I actually was a silly twit this time too. I was on a new bike (a rental) that was actually much more advanced than my usual one and had a feature I had barely practiced with (a drop seat) that requires a new technique. It had rained heavily the day before so it was wet (& living in California I have very limited experience mountain biking in the rain), and I was behind the pack as my chain had come off. (There was a guide sweeping the rear who fixed it for me). So when I got to the first challenging down hill slope I didn’t do the sensible thing of stopping & walking to the bottom to check it or do what 75% of the group did and walked their bike down it, I just thought, “I can do that’ and plunged down it. Not quite sure exactly why I fell but I went over the bars slightly to the right (luckily missed a tree) & hit the ground on the downslope hard on my right side. In any sport any one of new equipment, new environment, new technique means you should err on the side of caution and I had all 3, yet just went for it! Very bad decision!

After I got up I thought I had just badly winded myself. The guide helped me back on the bike & I rode on. For the next 5 miles or so he helped push me up the steeper bits of a climb (he had an eBike). I actually did a slightly less challenging but still tough downslope section & a friend gave me a big dose of Tylenol at the next stop point. I actually crashed again after that (slipped on a wet rock) but landed ok on my elbow which was padded (as were my knees but not my torso) and only had some slight scratches but I made it to lunch feeling sore but OK.

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When Medical Error Becomes Personal, Activism Becomes Painful

BY MICHAEL MILLENSON

In the mid-1990s, researching a book about the quality of medical care, I discovered how the profession had for years been ignoring evidence about the appalling death toll from preventable medical error. Though I’d never myself experienced an error, I became an activist.

Recently, however, a relative was a victim, and the frustrating persistence of error became personally painful.

Thanks to my relative being acutely aware of the need to be alert (and a bit of luck), no harm was caused by what could have been a serious medication mistake. That was the good news. The bad news is that even Famous Name Hospitals, like the one where my relative was treated, are rarely doing everything possible to forestall the impact of inevitable human fallibility.

September 17 was World Patient Safety Day, and the theme for the next 12 months is “Medication Without Harm.” That makes this an opportune time to examine more closely what the profession euphemistically calls a “medication misadventure.”

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What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Outbreaks of Injustice Linked by Two Different Dobbs.

BY MIKE MAGEE

Under the definition for the noun, epidemic, there are two main (and distinctly different) definitions. I know this fact because it was the beginning point of my preparations earlier this summer for a Fall course on “The History of Epidemics in America” at the Presidents College at the University of Hartford. 

The entry reads:

Epidemic noun

ep·​i·​dem·​ic | \ ˌe-pə-ˈde-mik  \

Definition of epidemic (Entry 2 of 2)

1: an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time an outbreak of epidemic disease

2: an outbreak or product of sudden rapid spread, growth, or development; an epidemic of bankruptcies

In my course, sessions 1, 2, and 4 will be devoted to the first (and classical, microbe-centric) definition. But my third session will focus on “manmade” epidemics which fall under definition two.

I thought long and hard about this choice. The deciding factor was reading New York Times best selling author, Adam Cohen’s book, “Imbeciles.” It details the shameful story of “The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck.”

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It’s Time for No

BY KIM BELLARD

We all – well, most of us – try to be agreeable.  It’s usually a better social lubricant to say “yes” than “no.”  It’s widely considered to be better for your career to be the one who always says “yes” instead of being the troublesome worker who often says “no.”  “Yes, dear” is a safer marital strategy than “no” or “not again.”  But, like most conventional wisdoms, these deserve to be challenged. 

I’ve read several articles recently where “no” is the suggested strategy, and I think there’s something there.  Especially for healthcare.  

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Amazon’s Coitus Interruptus: In or out?

Each week I’ve been adding a brief tidbits section to the THCB Reader, our weekly newsletter that summarizes the best of THCB that week (Sign up here!). Then I had the brainwave to add them to the blog. They’re short and usually not too sweet! –Matthew Holt

Meanwhile, it’s time for Matthew’s tidbits and of course given their recent news-making I am going to focus on Amazon in health care. The news is of course that they are in health care in a big way, buying One Medical. The news is also of course is that they are out–shutting down Amazon Care.

This reminds me of the famous criticism delivered in the British parliament by one MP about another back the last time (in the 1970s) there was a vote about leaving the EU. “The Honourable gentleman can’t make up his mind. First he’s in, then he’s out. In, out. In, out. This is the politics of coitus interruptus.” After a moment a voice from the backbenches shouted “Withdraw.”

So is Amazon in or out?

They are out of their 4 year effort to build a hybrid telehealth-to-home medical group that helps mainstream employers manage their costs. This is despite stating their intent just a few months back to add new clinics and this year adding a decent number of employer clients including Hilton hotels–before that they only really had a few of their own employees as clients. Interestingly enough, it was the development of this platform that convinced Amazon that they didn’t need Haven–their alliance with JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway which was developing a similar offering.

They are in to the business of One Medical to the tune of a $3Bn acquisition as well as putting in $300m extra cash so far, and likely a lot more later. Like Amazon Care, One Medical has a hybrid telehealth and clinic approach (though no home visits as yet). When Amazon said they were killing Amazon Care, they suggested that a lack of employer uptake was the biggest problem. One Medical does have employer clients. But these aren’t mainstream low or medium wage employers to whom they are delivering capitated care at a worksite. In One Medical terms that means an employer pays their employees’ $200 per member annual fee, after which the employee can see a One Medical doctor. And curiously enough by far their biggest employer client is Google.

One Medical says that they lower overall costs for their employer clients, but to use another British political line, “they would say that wouldn’t they.” In reality One Medical does very little specialty or hospital care management, and via its relationships with local high-priced health systems is able to charge insurers very high prices for primary care which they seem to actually pay! (And yes I have lots of personal experience here..). Putting aside the fact that One Medical somehow is contriving to still lose loads of money–a big reason why it put itself up for sale–it is not an organization trying to manage costs for employers in value-based care arrangements, unlike say Firefly Health or even Crossover Health (of which Amazon is a big client for its lower paid workers).

You’ll notice that I am conveniently ignoring the Iora Health part of One Medical which they inexplicably bought last year. Iora focuses on capitated services for Medicare Advantage plans, and it is trying to manage costs. Though given the amount it’s losing, that effort isn’t going so well either.

It’s possible that Amazon is going to surprise us and try to turn Iora + One Medical into a capitated giant to work with and steal the margin of the big Medicare Advantage plans. Then later, move that strategy into mainstream employers.

But if they were going to try that it would probably have been easier and more culturally aligned to merge Iora with Amazon Care. My suspicion is that Amazon means what it says and is finding it too hard to manage costs for employers. My guess is it will jettison Iora, keep using Crossover and others to manage costs for its own lower-paid employees, and try to turn One Medical into a Whole Foods-like national brand for the cost- unconscious top 25% of Americans….and somehow make it profitable.

If they manage that it would be great for Amazon’s business. But it would be very disappointing for those of us hoping that Amazon was going to have a serious go at providing a low-cost, innovative service that was trying to lower overall health care costs for employers and make a serious dent in the market power of America’s high priced, under-delivering hospital systems.

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