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Showing posts from October, 2009

Where Have All the Bedside Manners Gone?

St. Anthony plagued by demons. 15th century work. I read a thoughtful post at See First entitled, What Really Matters. The blog’s name, See First, is taken from a quote from Sir William Osler, one of medicine’s greatest luminaries who emphasized the importance of learning medicine at the beside. The post is a plea for physicians to strive to achieve caring and compassionate bedside manners. It emphasizes the importance of attentiveness, communication and empathy with patients. Though it is not stated, the author clearly understands that the doctor-patient relationship is the essential element of the healing art. While every physician knows this, we still need to be reminded of this truth, from time to time. I commented on his blog that the piece was spot on. I agree unreservedly that patients deserve compassion and caring from their physicians. They deserve appointments without bleating pagers and phone calls. They deserve eye contact. They deserve an opportunity to say 3 or 4 sentenc

Tort Reform vs Defensive Medicine: Place Your Bets!

In my 20 years of medical practice, no issue provokes more physician angst than the unfair medical malpractice situation we physicians endure. It is the wound that will not heal. Physicians pursue one primary strategy to protect ourselves at the expense of our patients and society; we practice defensive medicine. Defensive medicine is omnipresent and burns up billions of health care dollars that we need so desperately. Defensive medicine, I strongly believe, is practiced by nearly every physician in the country. If you suspect that this is hyperbole, ask your own doctor, although you may find him defensive about the subject. It’s not actual lawsuits that are suffocating doctors; it’s the fear of of being sued. The aura of litigation hovers in your doctor’s office during your office visits. It's like carbon monoxide. You can't see it or smell it. But, it is real and it is potent. Attorneys and others reject our defensive posture. They argue that we should simply perform tests

Breaking News! Tort Reform Decreases Defensive Medicine.

Which doctors practice defensive medicine? Only those who are breathing. The president, however, wasn’t convinced of this reality when he spoke to the nation on September 9th at a joint session of Congress. “I don’t believe malpractice reform is a silver bullet, but I have talked to enough doctors to know that defensive medicine may be contributing to unnecessary costs.” May be contributing? Mr. President, if I may , in the gray and nebulous world of medicine, one truth is certain; defensive medicine cost billions of health care dollars every year. Physicians hold this truth to be self evident. One month after the president’s speech, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report that reversed it’s own prior conclusions on the value of tort reform. It now states that tort reform could reduce “the use of diagnostic tests and other health care services when providers recommend those services principally to reduce their potential exposure to lawsuits.” The report als

Is Health Care a Right?

The U.S. Supreme Court has opined that we cannot falsely scream Fire! in a crowded theater, despite our sacrosanct right of free speech. Even sacred rights have limits. When individual rights collide with societal rights, then each side’s arguments must be weighed to determine whose rights will prevail. This is not a clean or satisfying process as each claimant brings passion and legitimate arguments to the table. I have been involved in a cyber colloquy with Maggie Mahar at Health Beat discussing if health care is a right. Maggie is well known in health care circles and examines health care policy from a liberal perspective. She’s on the left and I’m not. I hesitate to define health care is an absolute right before considering some of the broader ethical ramifications. Is health care a human right? Is health care a constitutional right? Is health care a privilege? Is health care a commodity to be purchased at the discretion of the consumer? Is health care a responsibility? A laudabl

Government Won’t Pay for Medical ‘Never Events’. Sound Policy or Sound Bite?

A new term has been introduced into the medical lexion - Never Events. This refers to medical misadventures that should never occur, such as removing the wrong limb or leaving a pair of pliers in a patient’s abdomen. These terms can be confusing for ordinary folks who are not medical policy wonks. Words and terminology matter here. 'Never events' are not medical complications, which are blameless events that occur in a small percentage of cases. Complications, as purely defined, are not medical malpractice events as no negligence has occurred. Here’s a primer. Medical Complication : A patient denies medication allergies. A physician prescribes penicillin and a rash develops. There is no culpability. Medical Malpractice : A physician prescribes penicillin without inquiring about drug allergies. The patient has a known penicillin allergy. Penicillin is prescribed and a serious allergic drug reaction ensues. This is medical negligence. The physician messed up. Never Event : A phys