Friday, May 21, 2010

Time to Go Galt?
The below is video of a recent Grand Rounds presented by a Chief Resident at the University of Alabama.

Going Galt: When Will Surgeons Say Enough is Enough? from Daniel Cox on Vimeo.

Excellent presentation by a young surgeon on the uncertainty of the future. Could have done without the Tebow love....

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Gone to the Dogs....
A frequently heard remark about a poor physician is: "I wouldn't let him operate on my dog!" Well in the UK, sometimes the dogs have it better:
As a British dog, you get to choose (through an intermediary, I admit) your veterinarian. If you don’t like him, you can pick up your leash and go elsewhere, that very day if necessary. Any vet will see you straight away, there is no delay in such investigations as you may need, and treatment is immediate. There are no waiting lists for dogs, no operations postponed because something more important has come up, no appalling stories of dogs being made to wait for years because other dogs—or hamsters—come first.

The conditions in which you receive your treatment are much more pleasant than British humans have to endure. For one thing, there is no bureaucracy to be negotiated with the skill of a white-water canoeist; above all, the atmosphere is different. There is no tension, no feeling that one more patient will bring the whole system to the point of collapse, and all the staff go off with nervous breakdowns. In the waiting rooms, a perfect calm reigns; the patients’ relatives are not on the verge of hysteria, and do not suspect that the system is cheating their loved one, for economic reasons, of the treatment which he needs. The relatives are united by their concern for the welfare of each other’s loved one. They are not terrified that someone is getting more out of the system than they.

The latter is the fear that also haunts Americans, at least those Americans who think of justice as equality in actual, tangible benefits. That is the ideological driving force of health-care reform in America. Without manifest and undeniable inequalities, the whole question would generate no passion, only dull technical proposals and counter proposals, reported sporadically on the inside pages of newspapers. I have never seen an article on the way veterinary services are arranged in Britain: it is simply not a question.

Nevertheless, there is one drawback to the superior care British dogs receive by comparison with that of British humans: they have to pay for it, there and then. By contrast, British humans receive health care that is free at the point of delivery. Of course, some dogs have had the foresight to take out insurance, but others have to pay out of their savings. Nevertheless, the iron principle holds: cash on delivery.

But there is the animal equivalent of the NHS:
Strangely, no. This is not because there are no poor dogs; there are many. The fact is, however, that there is a charitable system of veterinary services, free at the point of delivery, for poor dogs, run by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, the PDSA. This is the dog’s safety net.

Honesty compels me to admit that the atmosphere in the PDSA rather resembles that in the National Health Service for British humans, and no dog would go there if he had the choice to go elsewhere. He has to wait and accept what he’s given; the attendants may be nice, or they may also be nasty, he has to take pot luck; and the other dogs who go there tend to be of a different type or breed, often of the fighting variety whose jaws once closed on, say, a human calf cannot be prised open except by decapitation. There is no denying that the PDSA is not as pleasant as private veterinary services; but even the most ferocious opponents of the National Health Service have not alleged that it fails to be better than nothing.

The point is made that once "equality of results" becomes the overall goal, human nature takes over and the incentive to go "above and beyond" is lost, with predictible results.
Of course, from the point of view of social justice as equality, it wouldn’t really matter whether the treatment meted out to dogs was good or bad, so long as it was equal. And, oddly enough, one of the things about the British National Health Service for human beings that has persuaded the British over its 60 years of existence that it is socially just is the difficulty and unpleasantness it throws in the way of patients, rich and poor alike: for equality has the connotation not only of justice, but of hardship and suffering. And, as everyone knows, it is easier to spread hardship equally than to disseminate blessings equally.

I hope I shall not be accused of undue asperity towards human nature when I suggest that the comparative efficiency and pleasantness of services for dogs by comparison with those for humans has something, indeed a great deal, to do with the exchange of money. This is not to say that it is only the commercial aspect of veterinary practice that makes it satisfactory: most vets genuinely like dogs at least as much as most doctors like people, and moreover they have a pride in professional standards that is independent of any monetary gain they might secure by maintaining them. But the fact that the money they receive might go elsewhere if they fail to satisfy surely gives a fillip to their resolve to satisfy.

And I mean no disrespect to the proper function of government when I say that government control, especially when highly centralized, can sap the will even of highly motivated people to do their best.
No one, therefore, would seriously expect the condition of dogs in Britain to improve if the government took over veterinary care, and laid down what treatment dogs could and could not receive.

I have asked the question before:floor or ceiling? Because if fairness, rather than improved health is the goal, then the NHS has failed on both counts:
Across the Channel, there is very little that can be said in favor of a health system which is the most ideologically egalitarian in the western world. It supposedly allots health care independently of the ability to pay, and solely on the basis of clinical need; but not only are differences in the health of the rich and poor in Britain among the greatest in the western world, they are as great as they were in 1948, when health care was de facto nationalized precisely to bring about equalization. There are parts of Glasgow that have almost Russian levels of premature male death. Britain’s hospitals have vastly higher rates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (a measurement of the cleanliness of hospitals) than those of any other European country; and survival rates from cancer and cardiovascular disease are the lowest in the western world, and lower even than among the worst-off Americans.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Are we the Greedy Bastards Dr. Gawande Makes us out to be????
The criticisms of Dr. Gwande's New Yorker article have ranged from the patients in McAllen are sicker, that the cost issues are multifactoral, and that Gawande makes his point by using the outlier.

Honestly, in our own towns we see care driven by financial incentive. We see the billboard ads put up by the cardiovascular and general sugeons touting their "vein centers". The gastroenterologists and plastic surgeons that have their own in-office operating suites. The physician group that owns their own imaging center. The internist that employs 4 midlevels and also owns a "medical spa". While there is evidence that hospitalists reduce length of stay and improve quality, the main selling point for your workaday physician is that they can make more money seeing patients in their office than rounding in the hospital.

Point is also made by this paper from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: Short wait times for patients seeking cosmetic botulinum toxin appointments with dermatologists :
Wait times for both routine and urgent dermatology appointments typically exceed 3 to 4 weeks. Many factors affecting physician workforce adequacy and patient access have been explored, but little is known about the impact of increasing numbers of doctors offering cosmetic services.

We sought to evaluate access to dermatologists for patients requesting cosmetic services.

Scripted patient telephone calls were made to 898 dermatologists in 12 metropolitan areas to assess wait times for an appointment to receive cosmetic botulinum toxin injections. The areas chosen were surveyed completely, and respondents represented about one tenth of practicing dermatologists in the United States. The methodology was identical to that used in a previous study of wait times for evaluation of a changing mole (a possible indicator of malignancy).

Half of dermatologist respondents (455, 50.7%) offered appointments for botulinum toxin injections, and the median wait time was 8 days. Acceptance rates and wait times varied greatly by geographic area (range of median wait times 6.0-32.5 days), with dermatologists in Miami, Fla, and Orange County, California, most likely to provide a botulinum toxin appointment with a short wait time. Many dermatologists (241, 27%) employed physician extenders, and 39% of these extenders also offered appointments for botulinum toxin injections (median wait time 6 days). In comparison with a previous study showing median wait times of 26 days for evaluation of a changing mole in these communities, wait times for cosmetic injections were significantly shorter (P < .001). Limitations The metropolitan areas surveyed contain no highly rural areas and do not represent a random sample of all US dermatology practice sites. The cosmetic and medical studies were not conducted concurrently, but were carried out in the same metropolitan areas. Conclusions Patients seeking a cosmetic botulinum toxin injection have more rapid access to dermatologists than has been previously reported for patients seeking urgent consultation for a changing mole. This study cannot differentiate between many possible explanations for the observed differences in wait times. Because physicians in many other specialties with physician shortages are also offering cosmetic services, further studies are needed to assess the broader policy implications of these findings.

I believe that a reason for this is that the reimbursement for the bread-and-butter E&M has gotten so low that physicians have to turn to these alternative revenue streams. Even the threat of decreased payments will have physicians making moves to protect their income "just in case". There is also a domino effect from this. You are sitting in the physicians' lounge and hear how your colleague has started to offer some service that has increased his revenue. You and everyone else within earshot pick this up and run with it. You may wish to avoid such financial driven practices, but if your competitors advertise, then your patients may ask why you are not offering that service. And they may then find themselves a new doctor. Curtailing these behaviors will have to be all or none. If you or only a few of your colleagues do so you further tilt the playing field to your disadvantage. So while you clear conscience allows you to sleep at night, the worry about paying your bills will make that benefit short-lived.

While the issues at hand are complex, Gawande has unfortunately provided the advocates of radical health care reform the albatross to hang around our necks. From the See First Blog: The McAllenization of Health Care Reform
When we talk about health care reform, we are really talking about dozens of different issues. Is health care reform about covering the uninsured, or about cutting costs for employers? It is about having a publicly-funded health plan, or changing reimbursements to doctors? Is it about longer life expectancies or creating insurance cooperatives? Is it about caps on medical malpractice awards, or comparative effectiveness? Is it about healthier lifestyles, or cutting the cost of prescription drugs? Is it about cutting administrative waste, or incentives for more people to go to medical school? Is it about implementing new health care IT, or preventing insurers from making excessive profits?

It’s about all of these things, and more. And that’s the problem, if you’re an ambitious reformer. There is no simple way to get all of these things under one roof.

Well, until Atul Gawande introduced us to McAllen......

......The problems of McAllen make easy talking points. But they are also a convenient way of avoiding dealing with the enormous complexity of the health care system. There are nearly 650,000 doctors in America, millions of patients, thousands of hospitals, tens of thousands of insurance and pharmaceutical companies, hundreds of thousands of employers who provide health benefits, and thousands of other charities, academics, consultants, government agencies and others who have strongly held views about our system. Too often, their voices are not being heard in all the loud talking about McAllen.

So anyone speaking out in opposition of whatever is coming out of DC under the guise of "Health Care Reform" should be prepared to be beaten with the McAllen cudgel.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

My Late Take on Gawande...

I know I'm late with this.... McAllen, Texas is a city with a population of 101,604 people in the city proper and about 569,00 in the metropolitan area (2000 census numbers). It also has the cost for health care in the U.S. This was a topic of a New Yorker article by Atul Gawande who examines the situation.

McAllen has another distinction, too: it is one of the most expensive health-care markets in the country. Only Miami—which has much higher labor and living costs—spends more per person on health care. In 2006, Medicare spent fifteen thousand dollars per enrollee here, almost twice the national average. The income per capita is twelve thousand dollars. In other words, Medicare spends three thousand dollars more per person here than the average person earns.
So why is this? Gawande compares McAllen to another Texas City, El Paso:

Yet public-health statistics show that cardiovascular-disease rates in the
county are actually lower than average, probably because its smoking rates are
quite low. Rates of asthma, H.I.V., infant mortality, cancer, and injury are
lower, too. El Paso County, eight hundred miles up the border, has essentially
the same demographics. Both counties have a population of roughly seven hundred
thousand, similar public-health statistics, and similar percentages of
non-English speakers, illegal immigrants, and the unemployed. Yet in 2006
Medicare expenditures (our best approximation of over-all spending patterns) in
El Paso were $7,504 per enrollee—half as much as in McAllen. An unhealthy
population couldn’t possibly be the reason that McAllen’s health-care costs are
so high.

McAllen has a lot of nice stuff:

I was impressed. The place had virtually all the technology that you’d find at
Harvard and Stanford and the Mayo Clinic, and, as I walked through that hospital
on a dusty road in South Texas, this struck me as a remarkable thing. Rich towns
get the new school buildings, fire trucks, and roads, not to mention the better
teachers and police officers and civil engineers. Poor towns don’t. But that
rule doesn’t hold for health care. At McAllen Medical Center, I saw an
orthopedic surgeon work under an operating microscope to remove a tumor that had
wrapped around the spinal cord of a fourteen-year-old. At a home-health agency,
I spoke to a nurse who could provide intravenous-drug therapy for patients with
congestive heart failure. At McAllen Heart Hospital, I watched Dyke and a team
of six do a coronary-artery bypass using technologies that didn’t exist a few
years ago. At Renaissance, I talked with a neonatologist who trained at my
hospital, in Boston, and brought McAllen new skills and technologies for
premature babies. “I’ve had nurses come up to me and say, ‘I never knew these
babies could survive,’ ” he said.
But don't get much from their investment:
And yet there’s no evidence that the treatments and technologies available
at McAllen are better than those found elsewhere in the country. The annual
reports that hospitals file with Medicare show that those in McAllen and El Paso
offer comparable technologies—neonatal intensive-care units, advanced cardiac
services, PET scans, and so on. Public statistics show no difference in the
supply of doctors. Hidalgo County actually has fewer specialists than the
national average. Nor does the care given in McAllen stand out for its quality.
Medicare ranks hospitals on twenty-five metrics of care. On all but two of
these, McAllen’s five largest hospitals performed worse, on average, than El
Paso’s. McAllen costs Medicare seven thousand dollars more per person each year
than does the average city in America. But not, as far as one can tell, because
it’s delivering better health care.

Apparently the divergence in expenditures began in 1992, prior to that McAllen was in line with the national average. Dr. Gawande has dinner with several physicians in town. They are unaware of the cost difference, and come up with the usual suspects as to why: malpractice, sicker patients, and then:

“Come on,” the general surgeon finally said. “We all know these arguments are
bullshit. There is overutilization here, pure and simple.” Doctors, he said,
were racking up charges with extra tests, services, and procedures. The surgeon
came to McAllen in the mid-nineties, and since then, he said, “the way to
practice medicine has changed completely. Before, it was about how to do a good
job. Now it is about ‘How much will you benefit?’ ”

But Dr. Gawande makes his point with an unusual example:

The surgeon gave me an example. General surgeons are often asked to see patients
with pain from gallstones. If there aren’t any complications—and there usually
aren’t—the pain goes away on its own or with pain medication. With instruction
on eating a lower-fat diet, most patients experience no further difficulties.
But some have recurrent episodes, and need surgery to remove their gallbladder.
Seeing a patient who has had uncomplicated, first-time gallstone pain requires
some judgment. A surgeon has to provide reassurance (people are often scared and
want to go straight to surgery), some education about gallstone disease and
diet, perhaps a prescription for pain; in a few weeks, the surgeon might follow
up. But increasingly, I was told, McAllen surgeons simply operate. The patient
wasn’t going to moderate her diet, they tell themselves. The pain was just going
to come back. And by operating they happen to make an extra seven hundred

I am unaware of this being a usual way of approaching this. If a patient is sent to me for a consultation to consider cholecystectomy, if they have been worked up adequately, and are a candidate, they get set up for their cholecystectomy. If I don't then the patient will find someone who will, and the next time the referring physician will send them to someone else. So the $700 dollars isn't saved overall, someone else just gets it. A similar example is the primary care physician who refuses antibiotics; the guy down the street will be happy to prescribe them and has just gained a new patient. Anyway, the citizenry of McAllen do seem to be voracious consumers of medicine:

The Medicare payment data provided the most detail. Between 2001 and 2005,
critically ill Medicare patients received almost fifty per cent more specialist
visits in McAllen than in El Paso, and were two-thirds more likely to see ten or
more specialists in a six-month period. In 2005 and 2006, patients in McAllen
received twenty per cent more abdominal ultrasounds, thirty per cent more
bone-density studies, sixty per cent more stress tests with echocardiography,
two hundred per cent more nerve-conduction studies to diagnose carpal-tunnel
syndrome, and five hundred and fifty per cent more urine-flow studies to
diagnose prostate troubles. They received one-fifth to two-thirds more
gallbladder operations, knee replacements, breast biopsies, and bladder scopes.
They also received two to three times as many pacemakers, implantable
defibrillators, cardiac-bypass operations, carotid endarterectomies, and
coronary-artery stents. And Medicare paid for five times as many home-nurse
visits. The primary cause of McAllen’s extreme costs was, very simply, the
across-the-board overuse of medicine.

He writes of discussions with hospital administrators that are either ignorant of or are in denial of the facts on the ground. The culprit seems to be the physicians themselves:

“That is interesting,” she said, by which she did not mean, “Uh-oh, you’ve
caught us” but, rather, “That is actually interesting.” The problem of McAllen’s
outlandish costs was new to her. She puzzled over the numbers. She was certain
that her doctors performed surgery only when it was necessary. It had to be one
of the other hospitals. And she had one in mind—Doctors Hospital at Renaissance,
the hospital in Edinburg that I had toured.... .....It was a depressing
conversation—not because I thought the executives were being evasive but because
they weren’t being evasive. The data on McAllen’s costs were clearly new to
them. They were defending McAllen reflexively. But they really didn’t know the
big picture of what was happening. And, I realized, few people in their position
do. Local executives for hospitals and clinics and home-health agencies
understand their growth rate and their market share; they know whether they are
losing money or making money. They know that if their doctors bring in enough
business—surgery, imaging, home-nursing referrals—they make money; and if they
get the doctors to bring in more, they make more. But they have only the vaguest
notion of whether the doctors are making their communities as healthy as they
can, or whether they are more or less efficient than their counterparts
elsewhere. A doctor sees a patient in clinic, and has her check into a McAllen
hospital for a CT scan, an ultrasound, three rounds of blood tests, another
ultrasound, and then surgery to have her gallbladder removed. How is Lawrence
Gelman or Gilda Romero to know whether all that is essential, let alone the best
possible treatment for the patient? It isn’t what they are responsible or
accountable for. Health-care costs ultimately arise from the accumulation of
individual decisions doctors make about which services and treatments to write
an order for. The most expensive piece of medical equipment, as the saying goes,
is a doctor’s pen. And, as a rule, hospital executives don’t own the pen caps.
Doctors do.

A book of medical quotations given to me years ago had one that was appropriate for this discussion: "There is a difference between a physician and an entrepreneur with an MD". McAllen seems to have more of the latter:

“In El Paso, if you took a random doctor and looked at his tax returns
eighty-five per cent of his income would come from the usual practice of
medicine,” he said. But in McAllen, the administrator thought, that percentage
would be a lot less. He knew of doctors who owned strip malls, orange groves,
apartment complexes—or imaging centers, surgery centers, or another part of the
hospital they directed patients to. They had “entrepreneurial spirit,” he said.
They were innovative and aggressive in finding ways to increase revenues from
patient care. “There’s no lack of work ethic,” he said. But he had often seen
financial considerations drive the decisions doctors made for patients—the tests
they ordered, the doctors and hospitals they recommended—and it bothered him.
Several doctors who were unhappy about the direction medicine had taken in
McAllen told me the same thing. “It’s a machine, my friend,” one surgeon
explained..... ...Others think of the money as a means of improving what they
do. They think about how to use the insurance money to maybe install electronic
health records with colleagues, or provide easier phone and e-mail access, or
offer expanded hours. They hire an extra nurse to monitor diabetic patients more
closely, and to make sure that patients don’t miss their mammograms and pap
smears and colonoscopies. Then there are the physicians who see their practice
primarily as a revenue stream. They instruct their secretary to have patients
who call with follow-up questions schedule an appointment, because insurers
don’t pay for phone calls, only office visits. They consider providing Botox
injections for cash. They take a Doppler ultrasound course, buy a machine, and
start doing their patients’ scans themselves, so that the insurance payments go
to them rather than to the hospital. They figure out ways to increase their
high-margin work and decrease their low-margin work. This is a business, after
all. In every community, you’ll find a mixture of these views among physicians,
but one or another tends to predominate. McAllen seems simply to be the
community at one extreme.

But would the situation be such if the payment for an office visit were sufficient. What if phone calls and emails were compensated in a fair manner? Would there be less incentive to pursue these other revenue streams? Again, treated like tradesmen and commoditized, physicians begin to act the role of tradesmen, often with great benefit. And what role do patients play in this? Undoubtedly there is some demand by the patients, a large number of them on government programs, for these services. Would things be better if patients had some "skin in the game”? Probably not:

The third class of health-cost proposals, I explained, would push people to use
medical savings accounts and hold high-deductible insurance policies: “They’d
have more of their own money on the line, and that’d drive them to bargain with
you and other surgeons, right?” He gave me a quizzical look. We tried to imagine
the scenario. A cardiologist tells an elderly woman that she needs bypass
surgery and has Dr. Dyke see her. They discuss the blockages in her heart, the
operation, the risks. And now they’re supposed to haggle over the price as if he
were selling a rug in a souk? “I’ll do three vessels for thirty thousand, but if
you take four I’ll throw in an extra night in the I.C.U.”—that sort of thing?
Dyke shook his head. “Who comes up with this stuff?” he asked. “Any plan that
relies on the sheep to negotiate with the wolves is doomed to failure.”

Gawande compares the practice of medicine in McAllen to that at the Mayo Clinic, where all physicians are salaried, and Grand Junction, Colorado, where physicians have set up uniform payment schedules, peer review, and information sharing systems. While these have improved quality and reduced costs, in these economic times, the financial question becomes larger:

Something even more worrisome is going on as well. In the war over the culture
of medicine—the war over whether our country’s anchor model will be Mayo or
McAllen—the Mayo model is losing. In the sharpest economic downturn that our
health system has faced in half a century, many people in medicine don’t see why
they should do the hard work of organizing themselves in ways that reduce waste
and improve quality if it means sacrificing revenue. In El Paso, the for-profit
health-care executive told me, a few leading physicians recently followed
McAllen’s lead and opened their own centers for surgery and imaging. When I was
in Tulsa a few months ago, a fellow-surgeon explained how he had made up for
lost revenue by shifting his operations for well-insured patients to a specialty
hospital that he partially owned while keeping his poor and uninsured patients
at a nonprofit hospital in town. Even in Grand Junction, Michael Pramenko told
me, “some of the doctors are beginning to complain about ‘leaving money on the
table.’ "

An excellent analysis of the demographics that can explain the differences can be found here. The Buckeye Surgeon does excellent analysis here, here, here, and, here. With a comment by Gawande himself!!

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

Happy Birthday America.....
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Happy Blogday....
I guess since a post is present for each calendar year I can claim that this is the 6th blogday.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Kids these Days....
If this post sounds like the old "uphill both ways to the hospital barefoot" rant, well it is.

At the end of this month the second group of surgery residents (assuming a 5 year term) will graduate that have trained exclusively under the ACGME mandated work hour limits. As few programs extend beyond seven years, after next year there will probably not be a current surgery resident that was trained in the "bad old days".

Along the same line, this will be the third ob/gyn and fourth IM/FP/PEDS class to graduate.

A conversation with a gynecologist colleague of mine at lunch the other day was revealing. She asked me to compare the residents I worked with in my recent fellowship the those that I worked with when I was a resident. She and I finished training about the same time. She has a very successful practice but wants to spend more time with her children.

I told her that while the intelligence of the residents were the same, the motivation was not as "intense" as I remember mine and my compatriots to be. Their day was not over when the work was done, but when the night float shows up. Work hours nonwithstanding the "accountability factor" was lower. So while you had a more well-rested residents, you also had, for the most part, less dedicated ones.

Anyway, this conversation came up in the context of her hiring a new associate. The physician she is in negotiaions with comes from a well-regarded university program. My colleague was amazed that the soon to be former chief resident was unpleasantly surprised that they would be expected to work on their post-call day. Something that they had never had to do. Ever.

So if you think hiring a new associate will cut down on your hours, think again. But in a few years we will all be shocked, shocked, that our new associates will never have taken call without dedicatednap time.

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

ATLS again....
With warm weather comes misbehavior and an uptick in the trauma service business. I have also been caring for a young lady who has the worse case on pancreatitits I have seen in my career. To top it off I had ATLS yesterday and Thursday.

The 8th edition course is far superior to any put forth before. The book is well-done with multiple color photographs. A DVD is included with excellent demonstrations of skills. And they have come out and said there are no benefits from steroids in spinal injury.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Government Big Enough to Give You Healthcare.....
Callie Moore Is a 13 year-old young lady who lives in the Athens area and has a multitude of medical conditions:
Because of strokes she suffered while in her mother's womb, 13-year-old Callie Moore of Danielsville has a host of complex medical problems. They include spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, refractory seizure disorder, mental retardation, gastroesophageal reflux disease, cortical blindness, dysphagia, bone cartilage disease, scoliosis, kyphosis and restrictive lung disease.

Because of these she requires many services that are provided by Medicaid:
Callie's condition mandates round-the-clock care and treatment. Under federal and state Medicaid regulations and policies, she is entitled to screening, diagnostic and treatment services and, because she is medically fragile, skilled nursing care. Medicaid is a joint federal-state matching program that pays for medical assistance for low-income families and for people who would require institutional care if they were not receiving alternative services at home.
Medicaid reduced Callie's hours of nursing care and her parents sued Medicaid:

The Moores' lawyers convinced U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr. that the reduction was improper. The judge concluded the state must provide for the amount of skilled nursing care that Callie's treating physician deems necessary.

Thrash's June 4, 2008, ruling has states and Medicaid plan managers up in arms. They say that Thrash's order means that states won't have the flexibility they need and the discretion the law allows to allocate Medicaid resources fairly......

....When state authorities notified Callie's mother that her nursing hours were being reduced, they cited, among other things, a policy that the cost of in-home nursing care should be less than the cost of providing that care in an institution. But the state denies in its brief that it considered cost in determining what nursing hours Callie will receive. It says its experts simply disagreed with the judgement of Callie's doctor on how many nursing hours Callie needs.

After Thrash issued multiple injunctions in Callie's favor, he denied the state's motion for summary judgment and granted the Moores' motion in part.

The appeal of this decision was heard by the 11th circuit court of appeals. Part of the case was an amicus brief filed by the states of Florida and Alabama. The essence of which was: the state knows better than your physician
"Treating physicians...cannot be trusted with this sort of discretion," Senior writes. "When left to their own devices, they advocate for their patients and deem all manner of unproven, dangerous, ineffective, cosmetic, unnecessary, bizarre, and controversial treatments as 'medically necessary.'"

He continued: "Case law provides examples of treating doctors claiming medical necessity and attempting to bill Medicaid for: cosmetic procedures; sex-change operations; (unapproved) drugs; abortion on demand; 'treatments' that have never been proven to work; and round-the-clock nursing and personal assistance for patients who obviously do not need it..." (emphasis added)

Amazingly, the omniscience of the government is not mentioned on the website describing the Obama administration's plan:
Under the Obama-Biden plan, patients will be able to make health care decisions with their doctors, instead of being blocked by insurance company bureaucrats.

Mickey Kaus seems to believe that the government will be so scared of offending anyone that everything will be approved and the promise of cost control evaporates:
The “rational,” cost-cutting, “hard-choices” pitch isn’t just awful marketing–I don’t even think it’s accurate. Put it this way: I’m for universal health care in large part precisely because I think the government will be less tough-minded and cost-conscious when it comes to the inevitable rationing of care than for-profit insurance companies will be. Take Arnold Kling’s example of a young patient with cancer, where “the best hope is a treatment that costs $100,000 and offers a chance of success of 1 in 200.” No “rational bureaucracy” would spend $20 million to save a life, Kling argues. I doubt any private insurance company is going to write a policy that spends $20 million to save a life. But I think the government–faced with demands from patient groups and disease lobbies and treatment providers and Oprah and run, ultimately, by politicians as terrified of being held responsible for denying treatment as they are quick to pander to the public’s sentimental bias toward life–is less likely to be “rational” than the private sector.

That is to say, the government’s more likely to pay for the treatment (assuming a doctor recommends it). So it’s government for me.
But the potential for political interference can be strong. From the Coyote Blog: (Thanks Galen!!)
But Kaus is correct that if some high-powered and well-funded interest group gets behind a certain procedure, cost-effective or not, the government overlords of the program will likely approve it. As a result, for example, no potential treatment for breast cancer will ever be denied given the proven strength of women’s groups lobbying for breast cancer treatment (already, breast cancer research is hugely over-funded vs. other diseases given its mortality, due in large part to this powerful lobbying).

But it is not one dynamic or the other. Both will exist. There will be huge pressures to cut back somewhere, as costs skyrocket. And there will be huge pressure from certain interest groups to fund treatment for certain diseases in unlimited amounts. The result will not be, as Kaus posits, that everything will be funded more than it is today — the result will be that certain procedures and conditions with strong lobbying and political muscle will get funded more, with the difference being made up from cutting funding for conditions and procedures without a well-organized lobby.

And if you think that the current enthusiasts of health care reform will ignore special interest politics, or their own interests please ask them their position on wind energy.

(Hat tip Red State)

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Grand Rounds Vol. V No. 30....
See this week's best of the medical blogosphere, hosted by Pharmamotion.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Are Medical Staffs Independent or Even Relevant Anymore...
I have been dragooned into a leadership position at Big Hospital. Hooray. Another physician (employed by the hospital) pointed out the multiple incestuous relationships contracts The Acme Surgical Group has with the hospital and asked was there some sort conflict associated with that. Upon a moment's reflection I was able to point out the other Faustian bargains contracts that past physician leaders had made with the hospital.
This got me to thinking, are the days of the independent medical staff numbered? And are they relevant today?
I define as an independent member of the medical staff as a physician who :

  1. Has full, unrestricted admitting privileges (no "consult" or "courtesy"privileges).
  2. Takes call, according to bylaws, without compensation from the hospital.
  3. Does not receive a payment from the hospital on a fee-for-service or other basis for providing uncompensated care
  4. Does not have a contract to provide services to any hospital, with the exception of such things as EKG, echo and PFT interpretation. I am uncertain as how to approach unpaid "medical directorships".

I will admit that the above requirements are stringent, but they probably were the norm for most non hospital-based physicians in the not too distant past. I will also admit that I do not meet my own definition of "independence". My thoughts as to the "why":

  1. The rise of hospitalists and the economic realities of outpatient versus hospital burdens for primary care providers has caused many to forgo hospital privileges
  2. Hospitals are having to pay physicians to take call and provide guarantees for Medicare/caid rates for unfunded patients
  3. Hospitals are increasingly employing specialist physicians, as the procedures they perform can generate income for the hospital.
  4. Given the lifestyle concerns of recent (and not so recent) residency graduates, the appeal of a salaried hospital position is strong.

It is also difficult to get physicians to participate in the ongoing workings of the medical staff. yes the quarterly meetings are popular because a free dinner is thrown in. But it is a Herculean effort to get physicians to agree to be on committees, much less show up for them, for many the same reasons that local medical societies struggle to survive.

Proponents of a strong medical staff have our old, dear, friend the Joint Commission to thank since they require hospitals to utilize their medical staffs for credentialing and peer review.

But if the members are dependent on the hospital for all or a goodly portion of their income, just how independent are they?

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

    GO DOGS!!!

Red 13 Black 3
You know college football is big in Georgia when for your spring game: 1)About 40,000 show up, and 2)It's covered live on ESPN and Herbstreit does the play-by-play.

Yes, I know that that many or more will show up for the A-day game in Tuscaloosa next week. But it is Easter weekend, and The Masters is underway, so there!

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Physician Thunderdome..
In this post Kevin throws down the gauntlet:
Make no mistake, specialist organizations are ready to throw primary care under the bus, with the opening salvo of implying that generalist doctors can be easily replaced by mid-level providers telegraphing their intentions.

Let's hope that the ACP is aggressive in countering these tactics. It's becoming clear that a conciliatory approach with specialist organizations may not be feasible, and more contentious, potentially confrontational, methods may be needed to be heard above the din.
Two enter, one leaves indeed.

Kevin links again to Bob Doherty'sblog where the American College of Surgeons is taken to task over their Operation Patient Access website and advocacy program:
The American College of Surgeons, joined by other surgical specialty societies, has created Operation Patient Access (OPA), a campaign to "bring into focus the urgent issues facing access to quality surgical care in the United States ... and to call attention to urgently needed policy changes to address gaps in the availability of quality surgical patient." According to the OPA website (which is pretty nicely done, by the way), 400 surgeons - sporting "Will a surgeon be a there when you need one?" buttons - descended on Capitol Hill last week to urge lawmakers to "consider a wide range of solutions, such as providing more funding for graduate surgical education, reducing liability costs, expanding the National Health Service Corps, and implementing alternative payment methods for health care. If we fail to act now, these shortages will undermine attempts to expand access to health care and will further endanger the lives of all our citizens."

If this sounds familiar, it is because the surgeons' diagnosis and policy prescriptions are virtually identical to the case that ACP has been making on the primary care physician shortage.

Which is a problem, because it blurs the urgent need to rebuild the primary care physician workforce in the United States by suggesting that the crisis in surgery is of greater concern. The tools to increase the numbers and proportions of primary care physicians in the United States - payment reform, scholarships and loan forgiveness in exchange for service obligations, and graduate medical education funding - will be ineffective if the limited funding for such programs are broadly diverted to increase the numbers of surgeons, including some surgical specialties where there is scant evidence of a shortage. The OPA website speaks broadly of shortage of surgeons, when the evidence that I've seen - including the evidence on the OPA website - suggests that the shortage is principally in general surgery and a few of the surgical subspecialties and in certain parts of the country, particularly rural areas.
While there is a distribution problem with subspecialist surgeons there is a growing shortage of general surgeons. This is primarily due to the static number of residency slots, it is further worsened by the twenty-five percent of graduating chief residents that stay within general surgery. Some of the websites claims can be chalked up to advances in technology and declines in revenue: ("There aren't enough applicants to fill needed training spots in cardiothoracic surgery"), lifestyle and liability concerns: ("75% of U.S. hospitals report inadequate on-call surgical coverage in their Emergency Departments", "Emergency Departments have a shortage of neuro, orthopedic, general and plastic surgeons"), or demographics: (1/3 of rural hospitals have a surgeon leaving in the next two years). Given the income that surgeons bring in to those rural hospitals, a great many of them may close.

Demographics not only in the patient population, but within the specialty itself, will have a large impact. According to the AAMC's Center for Workforce Data's 2008 Physician Specialty Data general surgery had a higher percentage of its' workforce over 55 years of age (42.4%) than IM (32.3%), FP (36.7%), pediatrics (33.6%), or all specialties (37.6%). Even more interesting, while from 1996 to 2006 the numbers of family practitioners increased by 20.2 percent, internists by 30.2 percent, and pediatricians by 31.7 percent the number of general surgeons fell by 2.3 percent over that time. While the number of physicians of all specialties increased, on average, 28.6 percent, the number of general surgeons declined. All during Dr. Parker's post-medical school career.

If the number of primary care physicians grew by 21 percent over the past 10 years , and they are perceived to be in crisis, what of the specialty that not only shrunk, but grew older during that time period?

In fairness to Bob Doherty, he does give the ACS credit for a well-designed site. Here is a link found on the site to a Good Morning America interview with one of the best speakers I have ever heard, Dr. L.D. Britt.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Grand Rounds Vol. V No. 29
Grand Rounds hosted this week by Leslie.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Tales from the Trauma Service XIX.....
Gentleman working on a landscpe project. The worker above him falls and drops one of these on him:

And they strike him in the neck. He arrives alert and oriented, but every time he speaks or coughs air comes out of the wound on his neck. Off to the operating room...

The yellow circle represents the entry wound. Given his stability and the size I did not anticipate the degree of injury. I asked my friendly neighborhood ENT to assist. The yellow line indicates the endotracheal tube. The green line is the inferior portion of the thyroid cartilage, the white line the cricoid cartilage. He had been given a cricothyroidotomy. A tracheostomy was placed and the defect was covered with a rotated strap muscle. Post-injury direct laryngoscopy:

The black line points to the strap muscle.

The white line again indicates the muscle, the black lines represent the medial borders of the vocal cords. No evidence of vascular injury on exploration. Bronchoscopy allows for evacuation of some blood and esophagoscopy shows no injury.



Thursday, April 02, 2009

I Haven't Watched in Years...
But I will watch the last episode of "ER" tonight.



Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Grand Rounds Vol V, No. 28
Grand Rounds hosted by Paul Levy at Running a Hospital.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Gang's all Here...
Maybe it has to do with spring but thanks to GruntDoc I find that both Panda Bear and my old group-blogging buddy Galen have returned.

Now if Grunt Doc will only take me off the dead blog list.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Surgical Blog Carnival..
Surgexperiences 2:20 hosted this week at Vagus Surgicalis.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

On the Wagon...
First off, thanks for all of those who have welcomed me back after my hiatus.

Why so long away? After boards some other things came up and I didn't have the time. Then Mrs. Parker got on Facebook and got me hooked too.

Then I realized that the time spent on Facebook could also be spent on Blogger.

I dislike the new Facebook format, BTW.

I'm still spending time on sidebar maintenance, I would greatly appreciate any link ideas.
Tales from the Trauma Service XVIII

Patient comes in after a motor vehicle collision, intubated in the field for combativeness. Undergoes the Full Body Irradiation WorkupTM. Images and unpleasant surprise follows:

You can see the contrast within the subclavian vein.

Contrast and air within the superior vena cava.

Contrast and air within the right ventricle.

Contrast and air within the pulmonary outflow tract.

The patient experienced an air embolism, apparently from the power injector. The usual treatment is to insert a central line to extract the air as well as trendelenberg and left lateral decubitus position. Unfortunately the air had already passed into the pulmonary artery. The patient was placed on 100 percent oxygen. The classic exam finding of the "mill-wheel" murmur was absent. Sometimes a pulmonary artery catheter can be used to extract the air. The patient was asymptomatic, and was extubated the next day.

What amazes me is that according to this, air embolism occurs in about 12-23 percent of patients.



Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Did the Medical School in Athens just Hit a Snag ???
Word out today that Medical College of Georgia president Dan Rahn has accepted the position of chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Dr. Rahn was one of the driving forces behind MCG expansion to Athens and beyond. How will his departure , along with the tough economic times the state is experiencing, affect the new medical school?

Dr. Rahn's move to Little Rock has yet to be scheduled. Some Augusta-area politicians want to him to go ahead and pack the U-haul:
When Dr. Rahn will become a chancellor is still an open question. He said Arkansas officials have assured him that they will be flexible and that it could be any time between July 1 and the end of the year. There are many projects at MCG, such as finalizing funding for the new building for the School of Dentistry and firming up plans for new student housing, that he wants to complete.

"There are a number of things that I really want to see through to finish well in my current position," Dr. Rahn said, "and then have a smooth transition as the search goes forward for the next president at MCG."

It is for those same reasons, however, that state Sen. Ed. Tarver, D-Augusta, would like a shorter process. Mr. Tarver said he didn't know whether "in this instance a long goodbye is in the best interests of MCG, with the number of extremely important decisions that are being made regarding the future of MCG both in Augusta and statewide. It raises the question of whether or not moving forward as quickly as possible to select new leadership would be a better strategy in this case."....

...."I would like to see the search started as quickly as possible," Mr. Tarver said. "And that a new leader be identified for the Medical College of Georgia at the earliest possible date. And if necessary that the institution move as quickly as possible to identify an interim while their search is ongoing."

The Augusta community is not happy about the potential for a medical school in Athens. Those who are familiar with both cities will agree with me that Athens provides a more "student friendly" environment than does Augusta.

The Board of Regents website about the expansion is here.

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Epic Admissions Committee Fail....
From today's New York Times:A Quandary in Sweden: Criminals in Med School
A year ago, Sweden’s most prestigious medical school found itself in an international uproar after it unknowingly admitted a student who was a Nazi sympathizer and a convicted murderer, then scrambled to find a way to expel him.

It is hard to imagine how the case could get any more bizarre. But it has

The 33-year-old student, Karl Helge Hampus Svensson, having been banished from the medical school of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on the ground that he falsified his high school records, has now been admitted to a second well-known medical school — Uppsala, Sweden’s oldest university.

The details of his crime:
Mr. Svensson, who has not responded to numerous attempts to reach him over the last year, was convicted in the 1999 hate murder of a trade union worker and was paroled after serving 6 ½ years of an 11-year sentence — a typical penalty for murder in Sweden. He entered Karolinska in fall 2007 while still on probation; he had earned credits for medical school while in prison.
It seems that the admissions committee was too busy to ask about his past:
The disclosures about his past proved deeply embarrassing to the institute. Among other things, two senior faculty members on the admissions committee that interviewed him failed to ask for an explanation of the six-and-a-half-year gap in his résumé, the period he was in prison.

But since Dr. Parker applied to medical school a long time ago the likelihood of Charles Manson serving as a dissection partner has fallen:
In the United States, the chances of a convicted criminal’s being admitted to medical school were reduced in 2002, when the Association of American Medical Colleges’ standard application form began requiring answers to questions about felony convictions. In 2008, questions were also added about military discharge history and misdemeanor convictions.
So all you premeds getting ready for spring break, be careful.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

R-E-S-P-E-C-T..(Part Two)

A commenter on this post exposes what could be the dark underbelly of the whole issue of inter-specialist respect:
This leads to a another point. Could it be this very sense of superiority, that drives the attitudes of some of our surgical colleagues, and is influencing our medical students as they make their way through their training?
Could that be behind their reluctance to accept that primary care be paid at parity with them?
Do surgeons have a sense of superiority? For the most part, yes. Why? It probably goes back to training. Now my residency may have been unique in the quality of categorical IM residents it hired, but I don't think so. As surgery residents we did all the lines in the hospital. Many times I and other surgery residents beat on the call room door of an IM resident to get their lazy ass out of bed to do their own damn line. We ran our own ventilators, wrote our own TPN, managed our own antibiotics. Sepsis was not something we consulted Infectious diseases for. Renal failure not requiring dialysis was not something we consulted nephrology for.

IM had a night float, we did not.

The IM/FP residents did all sorts of stupid, silly and dangerous things in the middle of the night, without staff supervision, and had no requirement to defend their decisions. Surgery residents did all sorts of stupid, silly and dangerous things in the middle of the night, sometimes with staff, sometimes not. And every week we had to defend our decisions and actions in front of everybody.

My program was very benign, yet some residents were let go. A FP resident at the same time was paying his colleagues to take his out-of-house call, so he could moonlight. This only came to light when he gave his "employees" 1099 forms so he could avoid taxes. He was not fired, and only suspended from moonlighting for awhile.

We were the cavalry called when all else had failed. Sometimes we got the bear, sometimes the bear got us. But we tried, cared, fought, bled, and sweat. We sacrificed family, social skills, and good hygiene. We complained, but we loved it because as Hyman Roth says the The Godfather: Part II
...this is the business we've chosen..
With all the things described above, how can your average surgical Chief Resident not feel like he/she is like Jules in Pulp Fiction?

In the not too distant past, the shoe was on the other foot. The really smart medical students went into internal medicine, not surgery or orthopedics. The old joke of you take the bottom 25 percent of a medical school class and those that can bench press their body weight go into orthopedics, those that can't go into OB/GYN. LOL!!! And there are those out there who view me and my ilk as mere technicians.

But when I finished, the economic and political realities of private practice revealed that the local cadre of FP and IM folks were pretty good and they would be oh so happy to assist in the medical management of patients. No problem. But the realities remain.

An admission for pneumonia can be handled over the phone, acute appendicitis cannot.
An admission for COPD exacerbation can be handled over the phone, a severely injured patient cannot.
An admission for DKA can be handled over the phone, acute extremity ischemia cannot.
An admission for abdominal pain can be handled over the phone, the surgical evaluation of same cannot.

The hospitalists take care of the admissions at night, no such thing for me.

And unlike some of my neurosurgical and orthopedic brethren, I have no midlevel to separate the sheep from the goats.

Yes I piss and moan and am reminded (by Mrs. Parker, no less) that that is what surgeons do, and I went into it with my eyes open.
...this is the business we've chosen..

So you have chose to go into a field, and/or modeled your practice where you are over-regulated, underpaid, overworked, under-appreciated and disrespected. You specialize in a field where others of your specialty state that individuals with about half your training can do "90 percent" of what you do you complain and wring your hands, remember:
...this is the business we've chosen..


Grand Rounds Vol. V No. 27
This week's Grand Rounds hosted at Codeblog.



Sunday, March 22, 2009

R-E-S-P-E-C-T.... (Part One)
Dustup over at Dr. Centor's about the age-old question: Do surgeons respect primary care?

In this he links to a post from the ACP advocate blog, in which the testimony of Dr. Preskitt, on behalf of the American College of Surgeons, is beaten about.

First the testimony:

With trauma care and surgical emergencies, there are no good substitutes or physician extenders for a well-trained general surgeon or surgical specialist. Surgical training is vastly different from other physician training programs. Mastery in surgery requires extensive and immersive experiences that extend over a substantial period of time. Surgical residencies require a minimum of five years and often several more years for specialties such as cardiothoracic surgery. However, the prospects of declining payment coupled with rising practice costs; increasing liability premiums and the escalating threat of litigation; a crippled workforce leading to more on-call time, higher caseloads, and less time for patient care; and an uncertain future for the U.S. health care system understandably deter would-be surgeons from making the extra sacrifices necessary to become a surgeon.

Then the response:
Is the American College of Surgeons really implying that there are good non-physician substitutes for primary care physicians, but not, of course, for surgeons because "mastery" of surgery is so much more difficult and takes so many more years of training than primary care?
The comments of both posts go back-and-forth between
"Most PAs and NPs can do about 90% of what I do"....

"Many simple Specialty care procedures can also be delivered by appropriately trained mid-level practitioners, in fact the CardioThoracic surgery PA in our hospital routinely puts in Chest Tubes and does many simple procedures, if that is the argument we wish to have we could each have counter points. Many cystoscopies, endoscopes, along with much else that occupies a surgeons time can be done by technically adept nursing staff with the appropriate training. In fact, they employ such a model in some European countries."

So I guess we will all be out of jobs soon. Yes simple primary care can be handled by midlevel providers and yes portions of major procedures as well as minor procedures can be done by midlevel providers as well. But what of the other 10 percent? What if a complication occurs? What then?

I do respect primary care, they do an excellent job of managing chronic and acute medical problems.

The next post will discuss some of the reasons why we can't get along.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

No "I" in Team...
Kevin points to a post by Duncan Cross in which he opines that the trial lawyers take care of our patients interests better than we do:
Now I don’t think trial lawyers are saints, but here’s the thing: when faced with their own mistakes, doctors can no longer be trusted to act in their patients’ interests. Trial lawyers may be working from craven self-interest, but that self-interest is better aligned with patients’ interests on this problem.

I must disagree, their self-interest is better aligned with their client's interest. Before you become their client, they have to believe that they can win and get enough money to make it worth their while. How do I know? Because they themselves say so.
Allen: Even before we request records, Alice and I will sit down and evaluate the case. The first thing we need to assess is the dollar value of the damage. If there's no damage, then there's no case for us, no matter how badly the doctor may have screwed up. I could be more compassionate about it, but that's the real basis for our decision: You establish the damage first, then the liability.

Burkin: Because of our time investment and costs, we really can't consider a case unless we can expect a payoff of at least $200,000 in damages, and even that's really not enough. If we end up taking the case to trial, we're probably going to spend $20,000 to $30,000 or more. So we have to make a business decision: Are the potential damages worth the time and expense we'll have to invest to win?

Q Isn't that a pretty cynical way to evaluate the claim of a badly injured patient?

Burkin: I'd say it's the only realistic way to do it, even though it's one of the sad things about the economics of this business. If the damage is, say, $50,000, that may be a big deal for many people, but it's not enough to make the case worthwhile for us. So we'll turn it down.
I also admit that physicians support tort reform out of "craven self interest". I do not enjoy paying an insurance premium higher than the average personal income in the U.S. But physicians also have concerns over access. If the only neurosurgeon within 100 miles gets sued enough and leaves, are the patients in that community better off or worse off? If liability concerns lead to closure of the maternity ward in a small-town hospital are those expectant mothers better off or worse off?

The commendable efforts that anesthesia made are also discussed in Dr. Cross' post.

I've discussed this before, and as per a commenter on my post:
I join the Journal in applauding our anesthesia colleagues in their success in increasing the safety of their profession. While reading the article yesterday, I was struck by the impression that the progress made was low hanging fruit; it describes that horrors that accompany esophageal intubation and then, voila, pulse-ox monitors and capnographs appeared, and now the problem has been virtually eliminated.

as well as Dr. Cross' post:
As it turns out, anesthesiology is well-suited to standardization. There are x number of drugs that can be administered to a person of y weight with a few variable multiplicands yielding a graph that one can pin on the wall as set standards. Much of medicine is not so simple.
The results that have been achieved with anesthesia may not be transferable to other specialties. Your mileage may vary.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Match Stats 2009...
After neglecting my usual review of senior medical students voting with their feet last year, here we go again.

According to the NRMP a record 29,890 seniors partcipated this year. The breakdown...

General surgery:

Surgery offered fewer positions this year, with fewer positions filled by US graduates. Six programs did not fill.

Internal medicine:

While the fill rate for IM remains strong, fewer US graduates are choosing it. 25 programs did not fill.

Family practice:

Family practice offered 101 fewer spots this year. Total fill was up slightly, with a slight decrease in US graduate fill percentage. The trend of a majority of FP residents being non-US graduates continues. This trend has been going on long enough that the majority of residency graduating classes for the past few years have been made up of non-US grads. 88 programs did not fill. Family practice seems to be a job that "Americans won't do."


Higher fill percentage among US grads for pediatrics from last year, but still down from 2007. 29 programs did not fill.


More positions with higher fill with US grads than in the past few years. 5 programs did not fill

Emergency Medicine:

Higher total fill and US grad fill percentages. They added 73 more positions this year and filled more this year than their total last year. 5 programs did not fill.

Now for the residents who take the "road":


Increase of US grad fill percentage. Looks very similar to general surgery as far as total slots and percentages. Based on both PG1 and PG2 numbers. 5 Programs did not fill.

The "eye dentists" have their own match. The positions filled/total positions are 2009:458/459, 2008: 453/454, 2007:449/450.


Increases in US and total fill percentages. Given the large increases of positions filled, the supply of anesthesia slots seems to have leveled off. Again, very similar to surgery as far as numbers go. These numbers also combine the PG 1 and PG2 positions. 13 programs did not fill.


1 program did not fill. Dermatology remains insanely popular.

The trends remain stable among specialties with growth continuing the most in emergency medicine. US graduates continue to flee primary care. How many of these new IM and pediatric interns will be subspecialist fellows or hospitalists in three years?

See comment from Kevin here from the WSJ here.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

Back to Work....
While posting will be light until I take boards in September, I hope to start up again on a semi-regular basis.
At least blogger still works.
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