Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Should every man over the age of 65 be on a statin?

If you believe the latest arteriosclerotic cardiovascular risk calculator, the answer is yes.

A previous version seemed to recommend statins for everyone over a certain age. I decided to plug in the optimal values, conveniently stated in a footnote beneath the data entry fields, for a 65-year-old man. Here is what the data entry looks like.

As you can see below, the risk calculator recommends "moderate to high-intensity statin therapy."

Below the recommendation, it says, "Adults 40 to 75 years of age with LDL-C 70 to 189 mg/dL with no diabetes and estimated 10-year ASCVD risk ≥7.5% should be treated with moderate to high-intensity statin therapy." This is a apparently high-level (A1) evidence-based recommendation.

What am I not understanding here?

I would very much appreciate it if some cardiologists would comment and explain to me how such a sweeping recommendation came to be.

Is this accepted as gospel? Do all cardiologists recommend statins in the above situation?

Monday, April 13, 2015

What are the chances of international medical grads matching in surgery?

Anyone considering attending a Caribbean or any foreign medical school should do due diligence. An Internet search is step one. If the school does not list residency match statistics, that could be a red flag. It would not be easy to accomplish, but try to speak with some current students or recent graduates of any schools you are thinking about.

If the school won't give you any names, use caution, and remember, they are not likely to give you the names of dissatisfied students or alumni.

If a school does not require Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores, I would advise extreme caution. That suggests they probably take all comers.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How does a 16-year-old boy receive 38 times the normal dose of an antibiotic?

If you are a doctor, nurse, patient, or just someone interested in patient safety, you should read a five-part story called "The Overdose: Harm in a Wired Hospital" excerpted from a book "The Digital Doctor" by Dr. Robert Wachter.

Dr. Wachter and the hospital are to be commended for publicizing this incident so others may learn from it. The hospital staff, the patient, and his mother, also deserve credit for allowing their stories to be told.

A synopsis does not do justice to this well-written account of the boy's near-death experience in a top hospital in San Francisco. In short, he somehow received a massive overdose of the antibiotic Septra despite the presence of a sophisticated electronic medical record and multiple systems in place that were supposed to prevent such a thing from happening.

After the patient recovered from receiving 38½ pills when he should have been given only one, a root cause analysis found numerous faulty system issues such as an electronic ordering program that was overly complex, a nurse "floating" to an unfamiliar floor, a satellite pharmacy that was too busy and susceptible to distractions, "alert fatigue" among hospital staff, and a culture, like that of most hospitals, that may have discouraged questioning both authority and the almighty computer.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Are guidelines a "safe harbor" against malpractice suits?

Several months ago, Physician's Weekly featured an article describing a bill that was introduced into the House of Representatives called HR 1406 The Saving Lives, Saving Costs Act. It would create a "safe harbor" for physicians who could show that they followed best practice guidelines when faced with a malpractice suit. At the end of the piece, a question was asked, "Do you think this bill will help safeguard physicians against the influx of federal rules and regulations?"

Knowing little about the bill at the time, I tweeted that such a bill would never pass.

I couldn't list the reasons in a tweet, but here are a few.

Although guidelines are useful, they can be controversial too. Take the guidelines on screening mammography and PSA testing. When they came out, there was so much criticism that it would be difficult for any lawyer to use them as safe harbors. Plaintiffs' experts would simply say they disagreed with any guideline. A seed of doubt would be planted in the minds of jurors, and the safe harbor defense would fail.

The Dr. Whitecoat blog published a conversation between an emergency physician and a plaintiff's lawyer. It should be read in its entirety, including the comments, to be appreciated.

The conversation was mostly about the Choosing Wisely campaign, in which specialty societies publish guidelines listing certain tests and treatments that they feel can be avoided.

The lawyer said, "There will be a lot of bad discharges, refused admits, procedure delays, diagnoses delays, all in the name of ‘costs.’ Your societies and hospitals are masking this as evidence based practice, etc. But I can get a jury to see that very differently. A lot of physicians will be paying out before long, as will hospitals…Testing is what makes diagnoses, saves people.

"I have a pretty set script here. To the effect of ‘so Doctor, you just didn’t care enough about my client to order this test?’ Or ‘so my client was just a statistic, just a percentage to you?’… [Juries] love that stuff!”

A post I wrote last year about a supposed set of common goals shared by lawyers and surgeons had these comments from another plaintiff's lawyer.

Regarding the use of guidelines as a malpractice defense which some have labeled a "safe harbor," the lawyer said, "The safe harbor concept becomes unacceptable if it allows guidelines to be used as a 'get out of jail free' card. Guidelines must be useful in exonerating and implicating clinician wrongdoing." My interpretation of what he said was that it's OK to use a guideline to prove a clinician did wrong, but following guidelines should not be a fail-safe defense strategy.

Just for fun, I looked up HR 1406's history. It was introduced on February 27, 2014 and immediately referred to three committees—the Energy and Commerce Committee, The Judiciary Committee, And the Subcommittee on Health. On March 20, 2014 it was referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, and it hasn't been heard from again.

A website that tracks bills lists its status as "Died in a previous Congress."

I don't think you will be sailing to a safe harbor any time soon.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Medicine, like air travel, once was fun

A Wall Street Journal blog about a reunion of employees of American Airlines lamented the good old days of air travel. Here's an excerpt:

"They came together to celebrate the days when flight attendants in white gloves hustled to serve you, gate agents doled out upgrades and arranged seating so families could be together, and managers worked flights with the single mission of ensuring excellent customer service."

The employees told tales of the fun they had and the camaraderie they shared. The passengers had fun too.

One retiree said of today's airline employees, "They don't look like they are having any fun at all."

Certainly the same can be said of today's passengers.

I'm usually not a fan of the airline-medicine analogy, but I'm going to make an exception here.

Back in the day, those of us in medicine had fun too. Don't get me wrong. It wasn't at the expense of the patients.

We always approached our patients with a proper attitude of respect. But it was OK to enjoy those encounters and also the fellowship of colleagues. We helped each other out, and we did it with spirit and camaraderie.

Not anymore.

All we read about now is how doctors are burned out, stressed, depressed. We battle with electronic records, hospital administrators, clipboard carriers, third-party payers, the government and just about everyone else.

What happened to the fun? It's all about the money.

David Shaywitz in Forbes: "The view from the front lines suggests that hospitals and care delivery systems are obsessing like never before on doing whatever they possibly can to maximize their revenue. They are consumed, utterly consumed, by this objective."

He added: "Many (I’d say most) providers and provider groups feel that they are locked in a deadly battle with payors (and increasingly, other providers) for their livelihoods; many feel they are having to work harder and harder to bring in the same (or less) money then doctors a generation ago. Many feel that the profession has lost the autonomy and respect it used to enjoy, and that providers are now viewed as mechanized assembly line workers, held to strict quantitative “quality” metrics that rarely capture the complexity, or essence, of the patient experience."

I believe what Shaywitz said is true. Can anything be done or is it hopeless?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Follow-up: Meaningful Use Stage 3 is coming

Yesterday, I posted "Meaningful Use Stage 3 Is Coming: Should Be Fun" which discussed some onerous new rules that Stage 3 will impose including this one:

More than 25% of patients seen by an eligible professional (EP) or discharged from a hospital or emergency department (ED) must "actively engage" with their electronic health records (EHRs).

I said that in my experience most of the patients I took care of would have been unlikely to engage their EHRs and expressed concern that physicians would be penalized for their patients not reaching the 25% threshold.

A reader commented that the VA has had a patient portal called the Blue Button since 2010. He pointed out that in May of 2012, more than 500,000 unique patients had accessed their EMR. He meant this as a rebuttal to my opinion about the potential level of engagement.

However, it turns out that in 2012 over 6.3 million patients were treated by the VA system.  [See page 4 of this link.] If you divide 1 million by 6.3 million, you get 15.9%.

It seems like they have quite a way to go to get to 25%

I rest my case.

Friday, March 27, 2015

German airliner crash: A system error with a system solution?

From the Associated Press: Airlines around the world on Thursday began requiring two crew members to always be present in the cockpit, after details emerged that the co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525 had apparently locked himself in the cockpit and deliberately crashed the plane into the mountains below.

This represents an organization's typical response to a problem. The crash, which by all accounts was caused by a single deranged individual, has been perceived as the result of a “system error” and will be dealt with as such.

The idea that a flight attendant going into the cockpit whenever one of the pilots has to pee will prevent anything seems a bit absurd to me. How is a 5’2” 120 pound female flight attendant supposed to stop a 6’3” 210 pound pilot who is hell-bent on committing suicide by airplane?

When I tweeted a similar thought yesterday, someone suggested that she could simply sound an alarm and unlock the cockpit door. I suppose that’s true as long as the crazed pilot does not punch her in the face and knock her out or shoot her first.