I think that almost everyone would agree that making good choices requires access to good information. That may be especially true with regard to choices about one’s health, where the stakes are high, the issues are often complicated, and there is a lot of uncertainty. That is why I feel so strongly that promoting patient access to clinical data is the right thing to do, that it drives better care, and that patients will increasingly demand it.
Here is another, more personal, reason why I feel strongly about it.
Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.
Every clinician knows that “framing” – how we present information to patients – has a big impact on decisions they make about their care. Even something as simple and apparently transparent as talking about “survival” versus “mortality” is important, with “a 90% chance of living” sounding a lot better than “a 10% chance of dying” even if both phrases convey the same estimate of risk.
Things get even more dicey when doctors start talking to patients about more subtle concepts like risk-reduction or number needed to treat. The clinical impact of a big relative risk reduction operating on a low absolute risk can be hard for doctors to explain and patients to understand.
The impact of that complexity was the subject of a recent editorial in Circulation. In it, Diprose and Verster speculate that doing a better job of explaining these things to patients, which certainly seems like a good idea, may paradoxically lead to worse population health outcomes. Here’s how it could happen.
Continue reading Prevention Paradox
A recent story in Crain’s New York Business cited the difficulty small independent medical practices face coping “with declining reimbursement rates from insurers, rising overhead costs and a torrent of new regulations that have come into play in recent years.” According to the article, only 26% of NY State physicians now own their own practice, compared with national rates of physician ownership of 76% thirty years ago. Honestly, I was not surprised by the numbers. Consolidation of independent medical practices into larger organizations is old news, and it is no secret that the drivers include those mentioned.
I was, however, struck by the subsequent letter to the editor by Malcolm Reid, the president of the Medical Society of the State of New York. In it, Dr. Reid states: “Physicians should have a fair choice of practice setting to deliver care to patients, whether that is in a large health system, large medical group or within a smaller medical practice,” and goes on to say that “Many physicians enjoy independent practice because of the personal attention that can be directed to their patients without external interference.”
I am sure they do, but honestly, why should we expect the government or the public to assure that physicians have a “fair” choice? To put it bluntly, Reid (and the rest of us) should get over the idea that the organization of care should revolve around what’s good for doctors. He makes it quite clear that he is not advocating that “fair choice of practice setting” is about patients, since he concedes that effective patient-physician relationships can be maintained in a variety of practice and employment arrangements. Rather, he is saying that doctors should have the right to practice in independent practices because, well, that’s how they like to practice.
To be clear – and before the pitchforks come out – I am NOT saying that independent practice is bad, and I am NOT saying that I don’t care about how physicians feel about their practice arrangements. What I am saying is that if an independent practice is worth preserving, then the case for it has to be made on the basis of what it provides to the patients we serve, and not on the basis of what it provides to the doctors who care for them.
What do you think? Continue reading Is this about Doctors or Patients?
A recent opinion piece in the Annals of Internal Medicine really resonated with me. It is entitled “Why Physician Leaders of Health Care Organizations Should Participate in Direct Patient Care” and made many of the same points I cite for my own ongoing clinical practice, and which I often point out to maturing or aspiring physician leaders.
The authors lay out 4 reasons for physician leaders to remain clinically active:
- Access to information about how the organization really works. I can tell you from personal experience that this is absolutely true. When I was a hospital chief medical officer, I used to joke (but truly meant) that I learned more about how the hospital really worked by being on call on a Sunday than by going to hours of meetings during the week.
- Credibility. This also rang true for me personally. I have had physicians’ attitudes toward me turn on a dime when they learned that I was still seeing patients and had not become a full-time “suit.” Despite the fact that effective organizational leadership requires a distinct skill set from clinical expertise, it is exceedingly difficult to be a physician leader without having genuine clinical bona fides.
- Personal fulfillment. Amen to that too. I refer to this as having an opportunity to “connect to purpose” by getting back to the reason why we became physicians in the first place – to forge intimate bonds with others, and to make a positive difference in their lives.
- Job security. OK, so they didn’t call it that, but they did say that physician leaders should maintain their clinical skills so that they can go back to being clinicians when their leadership roles expire. This reason fell a little flat for me. Most leaders I have seen do not go back to full-time (or predominantly) clinical practice, and it seemed like a hedge against failing rather than a positive game plan.
Here’s a big reason for physician leaders to continue to practice that the authors didn’t discuss. For me, physician leadership is an extension of clinical practice. Clinicians have the sacred and honorable ability (and responsibility) to make a positive difference for each patient that they see. I have always embraced the idea that physician leadership is about extending that ability and responsibility from one patient at a time to many patients at a time. I think that maintaining the one-on-one connection that can only be had through clinical practice is an important reminder of that higher calling.
What do you think?
I believe in the principle behind practice guidelines. That is, I believe there is value in compiling the best available evidence related to treatment options for a particular condition and synthesizing it into a series of recommendations for clinicians. There are certainly potential pitfalls in developing guidelines, but I still think that a high quality guideline, applied critically and with respect for patient preferences, can improve care.
One objection that clinicians often raise about guidelines is really not about the guidelines themselves, but rather about being judged on the extent to which their management matches guideline recommendations. The argument is pretty straightforward: management depends both on the physician’s recommendations and the patient’s adherence, and physicians can’t control the latter. I have argued that physicians have more influence on adherence than they may care to be accountable for, but the point is well taken. There are limits to how much physicians can influence patients’ behavior. Are there other means for improving adherence?
A novel collaboration between the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and Google is based on the assumption that patients can be engaged and activated if they have easier access to high quality information.
Continue reading Patient Engagement
The Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine recently graduated its second class. The commencement was a wonderful “feel-good” event, complete with beautiful weather, happy graduates and proud families. The ceremony closed with the newly minted physicians rising to their feet and reciting the oath of the physician. In a nice touch, the other physicians in the audience were invited to renew their commitment to the profession by joining in. I found the whole thing joyous, and the opportunity to publically take the oath again was a moving reminder of what doctoring is all about.
Coincidentally, I also had the opportunity this week to lead one of the sessions in Northwell’s Physician Leadership Development Program, part of a half-day session with Sven Gierlinger, our organization’s Chief Experience Officer, and Jill Kalman, the Medical Director of Lenox Hill Hospital, devoted to the voice of the patient. My bit was about our “transparency project”to publish our physicians’ patient experience scores on our public website. I used the story of how and why we did that as a case study that tied together the themes of physicians driving change and of improving the care we provide to patients and their families.
It was only after the fact that it occurred to me that there was a profound connection between the two events.
Continue reading Hippocrates and the Internet
I got a heads up the other day that our organization had been dissed by a CNN reporter who was frustrated by her inability to get tested for Zika. You can read her original piece and the follow-up here. Short version is that she was upset that it was difficult for her to get tested after returning from a vacation to Costa Rica where she encountered “a good amount of mosquitoes” and later developed a mild febrile illness.
I won’t defend that she was made to feel like she was getting the run around, and it seems like – at the very least – we could have done a better job of communicating with her. But what she seems to dismiss, even though it goes to the core of her encounters with all of the medical providers she contacted, is whether she should have been tested at all. Continue reading Test Responsibly
My first posting on this blog explained why I chose to name it “Auscultation.” I wrote that I wanted to promote a conversation, and that listening was essential to doing so. I went on to write: “With an obvious nod to my being a cardiologist, I believe auscultation has long been an act that defines us as physicians and connects us in a profound way with our patients. The act of leaning in, touching the patient, listening, concentrating, and interpreting is a powerful metaphor for the entire clinical encounter: getting close to the patient and listening.”
It is therefore no wonder that I was really pleased to read “The Physical Examination and the Fifth Maneuver” by Thomas Metkus in a recent issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The piece appeared in the “fellows in training and early career page” in the Journal, which regularly features articles by trainees about their experiences, and was a mature and robust defense of the importance of developing auscultatory skills. Metkus alludes to Osler’s model of physical diagnosis, the first four maneuvers of which are inspection, percussion, palpation and auscultation. The fifth – and arguably most important – is cognition, the intellectual exercise of putting it all together.
Continue reading Listen More
There were several news stories last week that reported that Pfizer had abandoned its efforts to have its Lipitor brand of atorvastatin made available over the counter, without a prescription. I was never a big fan of OTC statins (more on that later) but I was struck by the reason that Pfizer put out:
The study did not meet its primary objectives of demonstrating patient compliance with the direction to check their low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) level and, after checking their LDL-C level, take appropriate action based on their test results.
Left unstated (and unclear) in this is exactly what the appropriate action was supposed to be. I guess they were implying that patients were supposed to check how they responded to the drug and then figure out if they should keep taking it, change the dose or seek professional advice about next steps.
Continue reading Right Call; Wrong Reason
A few recent experiences have me thinking about death.
The first was hearing a story on the radio about how physicians “manage” their deaths. The gist of it was that physicians are more likely to die at home without aggressive life-extending interventions than the general public. The implication was that more people would have a “better” death, more in accord with their own wishes, if frank discussions about end of life care were more common.
I didn’t think too much about the story, which registered only a “no kidding” in my mind when I heard it, until I thought about it in the context of two deaths that touched me this past week.
Continue reading Talking About Death