I grew up watching the Star Trek television series and was always intrigued by the amazing technology that included phasers, warp speed, cloaking devices and the transporter – the fastest (and coolest) way of getting from point A to point B! “Beam me up Scotty” still comes to my mind as the iconic phrase that promises fast and immediate action in the most dire of circumstances.
Today, the San Diego Beacon Community is implementing our own “beaming” technology with dramatic results. We are using health information technology to electronically transmit electrocardiograms (EKGs) from ambulances to hospital emergency departments to ensure faster and better coordinated care for emergency cardiac patients. When a patient demonstrates symptoms of a heart attack, getting the right information quickly to a cardiac specialist is critical.
“Beaming” the EKGs and other relevant health information to the hospital while the patient is still miles away allows for the patient’s condition to be appropriately assessed by specialists before he or she arrives. Then, immediate treatment can be provided as soon as the patient arrives at the hospital. The sooner blood flow is restored to the heart muscle, the better the outcomes for surviving a heart attack.
In case you missed it, a recommendation came out last month that physicians cut back on using 45 common tests and treatments. In addition, patients were advised to question doctors who recommend such things as antibiotics for mild sinusitis, CT scans for an uncomplicated headache or a repeat colonoscopy within 10 years of a normal exam.
The general idea wasn’t all that new — my colleagues and I have been questioning many of the same tests and treatments for years. What was different this time was the source of the recommendations. They came from the heart of the medical profession: the medical specialty boards and societies representing cardiologists, radiologists, gastroenterologists and other doctors. In other words, they came from the very groups that stand to benefit from doing more, not less.
Nine specialty societies contributed five recommendations each to the list (others are expected to contribute in the future). The recommendations each started with the word “don’t” — as in “don’t perform,” “don’t order,” “don’t recommend.”
Could American medicine be changing?
For years, medical organizations have been developing recommendations and guidelines focused on things doctors should do. The specialty societies have been focused on protecting the financial interests of their most profligate members and have been reluctant to acknowledge the problem of overuse. Maybe they are now owning up to the problem.