By HOOMAN AZMI MD, FAANS
When a patient enters a hospital either in an elective or more urgent manner, the main focus of the care team is to address the chief complaint. Other diagnoses, while important, may not receive as much attention. While this may not affect patients in most circumstances, it can be very impactful in patients who have Parkinson’s disease (PD). Studies have demonstrated that when patients with Parkinson’s disease enter the hospital, they are more susceptible to developing hospital related complications. Patients with Parkinson’s disease have a higher length of stay (LOS) than those entering the hospital for the same diagnosis without PD and can develop complications such as dysphagia, confusion and falls, impacting their outcomes and increasing their LOS.
Awareness about PD and its treatment and implications thereof are critical in ensuring reduced risks for this patient population. People with PD are very dependent on their medication, and timing of this medication is critical to maintaining good symptomatic control. In the outpatient setting, the main goal of medication management for these patients is to provide as much ON time as possible while minimizing side effects of the medications, such as dyskinesia. ON time describes a period of time when the medications are working and symptoms are controlled. Patients with advanced PD may have considerable difficulty with motor fluctuations if they transition from the ON state to an OFF state when the medication effect has worn off and they are symptomatic. The fine tuning of the medication regimen is pain-staking and often the result of multiple office visits and telephone calls to arrive at the best schedule customized for the patient. This can often result in seemingly unconventional timings (sometimes on the quarter after the hour) and at time q3 or even q2 intervals. Deviations from these regimens, even as little as 15 minutes delays, can have deleterious effects on patients with PD, as detailed above.
When patients with PD enter the hospital, attention is seldom paid to the exact timing of medication administration. If a patient takes a particular medication six times daily, ordering the medication six times daily in the hospital defaults to standard timings that often are different from the patients’ own regimen, causing timing errors. Almost 75% of PD patients who enter the hospital have delays in their medications and more than 60% of these patients can have complications during their hospitalization because of these delays.
I work at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. We call it The Brigham. A month ago we were subjected to a tragic murder of one of our doctors. The winter has been brutal and unrelenting. Then, as I was walking to work the other day I was struck by a ray of light.
It was 7:30 AM and the morning light shone directly into what was the original main operating room of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, one of the parent institutions of what we now know as The Brigham. Peter Bent Brigham was a restaurateur who left an endowment for a hospital for the poor. It was decided to site the Peter Bent Brigham in the Longwood area just behind the Harvard Medical School which had moved to this location in 1904.
After a national search, Harvey Cushing was selected to be the founding Surgeon-in-Chief. Cushing, a native of Cleveland and graduate of Yale College and Harvard Medical School, had trained in surgery at the The Johns Hopkins Hospital and was in the process of creating the modern field of neurosurgery. Between 1910 and 1913, Cushing worked with the architects of the new hospital and sited the operating room such that the morning sun would shine into its large window, thereby allowing the surgeons to see well with natural light.
Just over a half-century ago, in the mid-50s, at the height of our paranoia about communists and the Soviet Union, a boy sees a flying saucer land in the distance. No one else sees the event. The occupants of the mysterious spacecraft prove to be invaders from Mars. Their strategy is to capture people, one-by-one, and to perform brain surgery on them whereby an electrode controlling device is placed in the victims’ brains rendering them pawn
s of the invaders, though they retain the superficial appearance of human beings. The only clue to recognizing one of these unfortunate robots is to look for the telltale antenna at the base of the hairline in the back of the neck.
In order to understand the profound meaning of the Invaders from Mars, you have to know a little neurology.
There are really two people within each of us, a fact that reflects the two almost mirror image cerebral hemispheres, each responsible for the opposite side of the body and extra-personal space. Put simply, damage to the left hemisphere will cause paralysis and loss of sensation on the right side of the body, including loss of perception from the right side of the world.
This loss of perception is more profound than simple blindness. If reflects the fact that anything that the brain does not record is actually not there. We live, after all, in virtual reality. What our brains do not sense is, for us, not there. Do the following experiment. What is behind your head? Not what you imagine might be there or what you think you remember is there. What is actually there? Is it black, white, striped? Try to describe it. You don’t have the words, because what is there is nothing, and nothing has no color, texture or shape. Is there an antenna at the base of your hairline? You couldn’t possible know, could you?
If you are reading this then you are already well aware of the current concussion crisis in the NFL. No matter where on the spectrum your opinions lie regarding this topic, there is one question that still remains: How did we get here? Surely if something has gone wrong then there must be someone to blame for it. Was it the league’s fault? The coaches? The players? The doctors? Maybe it is the injury itself that’s to blame? Perhaps it was just the perfect storm of a number of factors that put us in this situation? To truly get to the bottom of this, it is important to have a better understanding of the doctor-patient relationship. Not just in general, but specifically as it applies to concussed athletes in the NFL. Ultimately we may not find blame here, but we should at least shed some light on the realities of the situation.
As a sports medicine physician, I have taken care of thousands of concussed athletes at all levels. Eight year old hockey players, high school soccer players, collegiate football players, professional moto-cross racers and skaters, you name it. For all of them, the doctor-patient dynamic is similar. However, for the NFL players, that dynamic is entirely different. Let’s begin by looking at the usual non-NFL doctor-patient relationship.
In this month’s Archives of Internal Medicine, my colleagues and I report the results of our early experience with hospitalist co-management of neurosurgery patients. We found stratospheric satisfaction among neurosurgeons and nurses, as well as impressive cost reductions ($1400/admission). At the same time, there was no impact on quality or safety, at least as judged by hard end-points such as mortality and readmission rates.
While these results might seem like a mixed bag, I believe that the overall impact of this service has been fantastic, for patients, surgeons, and our own hospitalists. Let me explain, beginning with a brief history of hospitalist co-management, folding in the history of our neurosurgery co-management effort (which we call the “Co-Management with Neurosurgery Service”, or CNS), and ending with some of the more subtle outcomes that lead me to feel that this is one of the most important things our hospitalist program has done since its inception in 1995.
A Brief History of Co-Management
When the hospitalist field took off in the mid-1990s, we projected that its growth would largely reflect the degree to which hospitalists assumed the care of inpatient internal medicine (and later, pediatrics) patients: those with pneumonia, heart failure, sepsis, GI bleed, and the like. Sure, I recognized that there would be increased opportunities for traditional medical consultation – we come when you call us – but I completely underestimated the siren call of co-management.
It turns out that once there are hospitalists in the house, the notion of having them actively co-manage surgical patients is hard to resist, for several reasons. First, many of the problems such patients experience before and after surgery are really medical, not surgical. Secondly, just as a hospitalist can provide on-site availability that the primary care physician can’t match for medical patients, he or she can do the same for surgical patients. (In this case, it’s not that the primary care doc is stuck in the office, but rather the surgeon is stuck in the OR.) Third, in an era of more widespread quality measurement and reporting, it seems likely that a hospitalist will improve quality measures such as DVT prophylaxis and evidence-based management of CHF more than a surgeon, flying solo, would be able to.