My second foray into Suboxone treatment has evolved in a way I had not expected, but I think I have stumbled onto something profound:
Almost six months into our in-house clinic’s existence, I have found myself prescribing and adjusting treatment for about half of my MAT patients for co-occurring anxiety, depression, bipolar disease and ADHD as well as restless leg syndrome, asthma and various infectious diseases.
Years ago, working in a mental health clinic, we had strict rules to defer everything to each patient’s primary care provider that wasn’t strictly related to Suboxone treatment. One problem was that many of our patients there didn’t have a medical home or had difficulty accessing services. Another problem was that primary care providers unfamiliar with opioid addiction treatment were uncomfortable prescribing almost anything to patients on Suboxone.
Drivers are distracted klutzes and computers could obviously do better. Self driving cars will make all of us safer on he road.
Doctors have spotty knowledge and keep illegible records. EMRs with decision support will improve the quality of healthcare.
The parallels are obvious. And so far the outcomes are disappointing on both fronts of our new war against human error.
I remember vividly flunking my first driving test in Sweden. It was early fall in 1972. I was in a baby blue Volvo with a long, wiggly stick shift on the floor. My examiner had a set of pedals on the passenger side of the car. At first I did well, starting the car on a hill and easing up the clutch with my left foot while depressing and then slowly releasing the brake pedal with my right forefoot and at the same time giving the car gas with my right heel.
I stopped appropriately for some pedestrians at a crosswalk and kept a safe distance from the other cars on the road.
A few minutes later, the instructor said “turn left here”. I did. That was the end of the test. He used his pedals. It was a one way street.
Three times this spring, driving in the dark between my two clinics, I have successfully swerved, at 75 miles (121 km) per hour, to avoid hitting a moose standing in the middle of the highway. Would a self driving car have done as well or better? Maybe, maybe not.
Every day I get red pop up warnings that the diabetic medication I am about to prescribe can cause low blood sugars. I would hope it might.
Almost daily I read 7 page emergency room reports that fail to mention the diagnosis or the treatment. Or maybe it’s there and I just don’t have enough time in my 15 minute visit to find it.
For a couple of years one of my clinics kept failing some basic quality measures because our hasty orientation to our EMR (there was a deadline for the incentive monies to purchase EMRs) resulted in us putting critical information in the wrong “results” box. When our scores improved, it had nothing to do with doing better for our patients, only clicking the right box to get credit for what we had been doing for decades before.
Our country has a naive and childish fascination with novelties. We worship disrupting technologies and undervalue continuous quality improvement, which was the mantra of the industrial era. It seems so old fashioned today, when everything seems to evolve at warp speed.
But the disasters of these new technologies should make us slow down and examine our motives. Change for the sake of change is not a virtue.
I know from my everyday painful experiences that EMRs often lack the most basic functionalities doctors want and need. Seeing a lab result without also seeing if the patient is scheduled to come back soon, or their phone number in case they need a call about their results, is plainly speaking a stupid interface design.
I know most EMRs weren’t created by doctors working in 15 minute appointments. I wonder who designed the software for self driving cars…
Being a radiologist, I rarely speak to patients, but I was asked to counsel Mrs. Patel (not her real name, so calm down HIPAA totalitarians), who was worried about the risks of radiation from cardiac calcium CT scan. Because of her risk factors for atherosclerosis, her cardiologist wanted her to take statins for primary prevention, but she was reluctant to start statins. They eventually reached a truce. If she had even a speck of calcium in her coronary arteries she would take statins. If her calcium score was zero she wouldn’t. This type of shared decision making is the most frequent reason why cardiologists order calcium scans at my institution.
Retrieve: Given a target problem, retrieve cases from memory that are relevant to solving it. A case consists of a problem, its solution, and, typically, annotations about how the solution was derived.
Reuse: Map the solution from the previous case to the target problem. This may involve adapting the solution as needed to fit the new situation.
Revise: Having mapped the previous solution to the target situation, test the new solution in the real world (or a simulation) and, if necessary, revise.
Retain: After the solution has been successfully adapted to the target problem, store the resulting experience as a new case in memory.
The complexities associated with programming and implementation of a knowledge management system based on case histories is both non-obvious and difficult, but ironically this is the actual process that an expert physician uses in his day to day clinical work.
American healthcare has a customer service problem. No, customer service in the US is terrible when it comes to healthcare. No, the customer service in the US healthcare system is horrendous. No, healthcare has the worst customer service of any industry in the US.
There. That seems about right.
What makes me utter such a bold statement? Experience. I regularly hear the following from people when they come to my practice:
“You are the first doctor who has listened to me.”
“This office makes me feel comfortable.”
“I didn’t have to wait!”
“Where’s all the paperwork?”
“Your office staff is so helpful. They really care about my needs.”
“This is the first time I’ve been happy to come to the doctor.”
“It’s amazing to have a doctor who cares about how much things cost.”
The United States population suffers from staggering numbers of lifestyle related diseases. We know the situation is not improving. Recent research found that over half of the country has prediabetes or diabetes. The facts don’t lie—the vast majority of the US burden of disease are due to lifestyle.
Photo Credit: Dr. DArriush Mozzafarian
People know they should eat less and exercise more, but they don’t. They don’t because without the right knowledge and direction, behavioral change is really hard. Doctors also know they should be advising their patients on lifestyle, but they don’t.
I am honored by the opportunity to offer some advice on how to safeguard your professional career in a treacherous healthcare system.
I will not elaborate on why I think the healthcare system is “treacherous.” I will assume—and even hope—that you have at least some inkling that things are not so rosy in the world of medicine.
I am also not going to give any actual advice. I’m a fan of Socrates, so I believe that it is more constructive to challenge you with pointed questions. The real advice will come to you naturally as you proceed to answer these questions for yourself. I will, however, direct you to some resources to aid you in your reflections.
I have grouped the questions into three categories of knowledge which I am sure are not covered or barely covered in your curriculum: economics, ethics, and philosophy of medicine.
I have found that reflecting on these questions has been essential to give me a sense of control over my career. I hope that you, in turn, will find them intriguing and worth investigating.
One more thing before we proceed. Don’t be overwhelmed by the depth of the questions posed and don’t attempt to answer them today, in a week, or in a year. In many ways, these are questions for a lifetime of professional growth. On the other hand, I believe that the mere task of entertaining these questions in your mind will be helpful to you.
Through Dec. 15, federal regulators will accept public comments on the next set of rules that will shape the future of medicine in the transition to a super information highway for
Electronic Health Records (EHRs). For health providers, this is a time to speak out.
One idea: Why not suggest options to give leniency to older doctors struggling with the shift to technology late in their careers?
Meanwhile, doctors are reporting data while the infrastructure for sharing it doesn’t exist. Now, for the first time, physicians will be reporting to the federal government on progress toward uniform objectives for the meaningful use of electronic health records. Those who meet requirements will be eligible for incentive payments from Medicare and Medicaid, while those who don’t may face penalties. In addition, audits are expected to begin in 2016.
Today’s healthcare information technology headlines are littered with how large delivery networks are scaling up and successfully building and using IT infrastructure. But the real success story is hiding in the shadows of these large enterprise deployments, in the small and independent practices across the US. The recent ICD-10 transition, that had been foretold to drive small enterprise into financial despair due to their lack of IT savvy and infrastructure, has shown just the opposite. A report from a leading provider of billing software that was based on government and private payer claims analysis for the past 30 days shows a different story.Continue reading…
“How would you feel if I tracked every e-mail you sent and tracked how many people responded to them? You wouldn’t like that very much would you?”
“The people who make EMRs. Why aren’t they graded?”
If there’s one negative I hear time and time again from doctors when the subject of quality measurement comes up, it’s this one near-universal complaint. The world is unfair, the cards are stacked against us.
As a specialist at a busy urban medical center I hear the complaints almost every day from colleagues and peers at other hospitals. We’re being singled out for unfair treatment: They’re out to get us. It’s the world against the doctors.
Many of the so-called experts I’ve talked to at meetings around the country express disdain when the topic of physician resistance to quality improvement programs comes up.
But it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that the idea that one’s performance is being tracked can be seen as intrusive and threatening. The reaction is in many ways completely predictable. Continue reading…