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
I have written previously about the potential impact of mobile apps and ubiquitous computing on health and healthcare delivery, but I admit I did not see this one coming. The current issue of The New England Journal of Medicine has a report from a research group in Sweden that developed a system – and tested it in a randomized controlled trial – to use smartphones to alert CPR-trained bystanders when there was a nearby cardiac arrest. This figure from the paper describes how it works:
Continue reading Crowdsourcing CPR
I was disturbed by a recent article in the New York Times about the Texas Medical Board. The piece described the decision by the Board to sharply curtail the use of telemedicine in the state. Specifically, the Board mandated that telemedicine services could only be provided in the context of a pre-existing patient/physician relationship, and that such a relationship must be established face-to-face, and not via electronic means. According to the Times, the restrictions were strongly supported by the Texas Medical Association.
This seems to me to be a wrongheaded, backward looking and overall pretty lame attempt to stem the inexorable tide of patients and physicians connecting in new ways. I really wish I could believe the Board member who said he voted for the new restriction because he was “terribly, terribly worried about the absence of responsibility and accountability” in electronic encounters. It sounded to me, instead, that he was “terribly, terribly worried” about a new business model for medical care that provides greater convenience and lower cost to patients than traditional office visits.
Continue reading Patient Advocates? Really?
A recent piece in the New York Times profiled a young man with a remarkable medical history, and an equally remarkable approach to sharing it. I think it raises some profound issues regarding the self-monitoring movement and the “ownership” of patients’ health information, both of which have the potential to change our traditional practices in a big way.
The guy – Steven Keating – is not your average Joe. He is a graduate student at MIT who trained as a mechanical engineer and is working in the cutting-edge MIT Media Lab. He also had a brain tumor the size of a tennis ball. His website hosts all of his medical records, including his pre- and post-op brain scans and, believe it or not, a video of his tumor resection surgery.
Continue reading Whose Record Is It?
I had the good fortune last week to see a screening of excerpts from an extraordinary documentary film that will be shown on PBS television stations in April. The film is called Rx: the quiet revolution and highlights four case studies. Each is an inspiring example of new models of health care delivery that are advancing the “triple aim” of better care for individuals, better health outcomes for communities, and lower costs. Our own remarkable Dr. Jennifer Mieres is the film’s executive producer.
The screening left me inspired and in awe of the great work being done by front line professionals all across the country. It also introduced me to a fabulous metaphor for the importance of engaging patients in their own care.
Continue reading There is Good News Out There
I wrote recently about the need to take into account patient characteristics when using patient outcomes to compare the quality of care provided by different physicians. That is a well-accepted principle, and the need for so-called “risk-adjustment” applies not only to evaluating physicians, but also to evaluating hospitals and larger care delivery systems. There has been a smoldering controversy, however, about which patient characteristics to consider and, in particular, the implications of including socioeconomic factors in such comparisons. This controversy played out again in a recent issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Here is the core of the issue.
Continue reading Adjusting Outcomes
I took advantage of the holiday slow-down in routine meetings to visit our Health System’s new serious transmittable disease unit – the “Ebola Unit” – at Glen Cove Hospital. Wow!
I had the good fortune to have Darlene Parmentier, the nurse manager of the unit, tour me around and explain how patients will be cared for. Darlene is an experienced clinician and had a ready answer for every one of my questions. In fact, she had answers for lots of questions I never thought to ask! Despite the fact that the physical space had been transformed from an unoccupied “regular” hospital inpatient unit into a highly specialized containment and care facility in just days, I was amazed at the thoughtfulness of the design. Here are just a few of the salient features:
- A dedicated pathway (including a dedicated elevator) from an external ambulance bay directly into the patient care area
- Ample living space for care givers who may choose to stay on the unit between shifts, complete with thoughtful touches like a ping pong table and an X-box
- Designated training areas, recognizing that continuous simulation and drilling are integral to the effectiveness of the unit
- Well marked “zones” that correspond with the risk of contact or exposure to infectious agents, and dictate the different the levels of personal protective equipment that must be worn
- The pervasive evidence of planning, not just for the range of clinical challenges that may arise, but also for the needs of patients’ families, the impact on caregivers and the reaction of the community and news media
Overall, I came away incredibly impressed. Once again, our Health System has stepped up to do the right thing for our patients and our staff, and I am confident that any patient who needs treatment there will get great care.
Let’s hope it never happens. Continue reading System Readiness
There are plenty of good reasons why thoughtful physicians are often unhappy with the current approach to measuring the quality of care they provide. Some, of course, object to the whole notion of quality measurement, but I believe they are in a shrinking minority clinging to an anachronistic mental model in which each physician defines for himself what constitutes high quality care. I have addressed this previously. But even those, who like me, believe it is essential (and possible) to measure quality, can point to legitimate shortcomings in the way it is done.
Among these shortcomings is the imperfect process by which individual physicians’ “results” are “adjusted” to account for differences in the patients they care for. In the simplest case, when the quality of care is judged by looking at patient outcomes, this risk-adjustment is meant to reflect the fact that clinical outcomes reflect both the baseline characteristics of the patients being treated and the treatment they get. For example, if one were to use in-hospital mortality rates to assess the quality of care for acute myocardial infarction, it would be essential to know “how sick” the patients, on average, were on presentation. A 50 year-old man with a small inferior wall MI is likely to live even in the absence of good care (or any care for that matter), whereas a 90 year-old woman with cardiogenic shock from an anterior wall MI is likely to die even with state-of-the art care. Any attempt to assess the quality of care for a population of MI patients must take this into consideration.
Continue reading Shared Accountability
In my administrative role, I have the great pleasure of signing thank you letters to patients and family members who have acknowledged the great care they have received by one of our physicians or other caregivers. It is a nice way to tell the patient “we got your note” and to simultaneously recognize the provider by copying her or him. The best part is that I get to read the patients’ letters, which are filled with gratitude, and remind me of the great privilege we have to make a positive difference in the lives of our patients.
Sadly, I also have to deal with the occasional patient complaint. Although these are clearly a lot less fun to address, they also point out the impact that we have on the lives of the patients and families that we serve.
Continue reading Sometimes “Sorry” is all it Takes
About a year ago, I shared details of my own out of pocket medical expenses and concluded that we have to have to be more transparent with our patients (and potential patients) about the costs they will face for our services. The urgency of price transparency as a business imperative and a professional responsibility has only increased since then.
Consider that we are now a year in to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Everything that I have read suggests that consumers were intensely price sensitive when it came to choosing which plans they elected. Well, duh! The benefits are defined by “metal” levels (e.g., Bronze, Silver, etc.), and there is almost no way for people to compare the quality of competing narrow networks or individual providers, so price differences drove decision-making. Likewise, the healthy people who bought insurance because they were compelled to by the individual mandate generally chose high deductible plans to minimize their monthly payments. This, in turn, makes them much more price sensitive at the point of care. That means that patients may resist recommended treatment. It also means that physician offices will face more challenges in collecting fees from patients who have not yet met their deductible for the year. At the very least, patients will be more interested in learning what costs they will be exposed to.
Continue reading Price Transparency