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Showing posts from September, 2013

Force-feeding Guantanamo Prisoners Tortures Medical Profession

Nearly every physician regards himself as an ethical practitioner.   Nearly none of us are, at least not fully.   There is no bright line that separates ethical from improper behavior.  Indeed, it is because the boundary is fuzzy that ethicists and the rest of us wrestle with contentious controversies.  It is, therefore, expected that ethicists are divided on many issues, much as the U.S. Supreme Court is often split in its decisions.  If the Court’s cases were easily decided, then most of its decisions would be unanimous. Finding the balance. While there are some bedrock ethical principles that should remain immutable, the field needs some breathing space to accommodate to societal changes and new research findings.  Analogously, the Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, but the definition of this evolves, so that today’s court may decide a punishment issue differently from its predecessors.  Similarly, it is possible that an issue deemed ethical today,

Syria Chemical Weapons Agreement: President Obama Declares Victory

Outcomes matter.  One will forget a tortuous path if it leads to a sanguine outcome.  This is true in medicine and in life.  Look at the recent path of American foreign policy and where it has led us. Can You Choose the Right Path? The president announces that Assad has to go. The president lays down a red line for Syria with regard to chemical weapon use. The Syrians detonate a few chemical weapons, testers which we ignore. 100,000 Syrians are killed.  We ignore this as this is not a ‘ red line ’ violation. A death by sarin gas is more objectionable than a death by a grenade. There is a chemical weapon massacre in Syria which shocks the world. The president and the administration give daily public briefings on our intended limited military response. The administration assures that this "will not be a pinprick".  The Syrian regime watches CNN and FOX News so they can be apprised of the date and hour of our response. The Secretary of State makes a persuasive c

CME Medical Course Draws Hundreds of Physicians

Some time ago, about 200 physicians met one evening for a conference. This is not newsworthy. Medical education is deeply engrained in our professional culture. Indeed, physicians are committed to lifelong learning and self-improvement. To stay current, we read several medical journals and professional communications, we attend lectures at our hospitals, we engage in on-line educational pursuits, we learn from colleagues and we travel to medical conferences. Conscientious physicians devote many hours to educational activities each week On this night, however, we were not learning about new treatments for heart disease or diabetes. We were not learning about emerging strategies to diagnose cancer at a curable stage. There was no talk about new techniques to reduce hospital infections or other preventable complications. We were not even learning about ‘soft’ subjects, such as medical ethics or doctor-patient communication issues. We were together at the strong urging of our medic

Medical Errors Earn Hospitals Money - Who Knew?

Though I have been accused by various commenters as protecting my own specialty when I point out excesses, flaws and conflicts of interest in the medical profession, this accusation would be handily dismantled after a fair reading of prior posts.  Indeed, my own specialty of gastroenterology and my own medical practice has felt the effects of the honed Whistleblower scalpel.   If an individual or an institution will not willingly engage in self-criticism, then it creates a credibility gap that may be impossible to bridge.  If you want a seat at the table, then arrive exposed and humble. My Preferred Instruments A study was published in the prestigious medical journal JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association in April 2013 publishing what we have known for decades: hospitals make more money when medical errors are committed.   As an aside, I have much more respect for JAMA than I do for the AMA , but I’ll resist the strong temptation to digress. Here’s how it

Unnecessary Colonoscopies: Confessions of a Gastroenterologist

We gastroenterologists are regularly summoned to bring light into dark places.   We are the enlightened ones who illuminate anatomical shadows.   Sure, we have ‘tunnel vision’, but we like to believe that we can think broadly and creatively as well.  We are the scope doctors. Am I Just a Tool? We are commonly consulted by primary care physicians and hospitalists to perform colonoscopies, upper endoscopies (EGDs) of the esophagus and stomach and other gastrointestinal delights.  We deliver a probing element to patient care.  We are called to serve as technicians – plumbers, if you will - although we actually have cognitive knowledge of our specialty.  Yes, we can think.  Often, we have tension over what we are asked to do and what we think we should do. Do I think that every procedure I am asked to do is medically necessary.  Of course, not.  Before you target me for investigation and professional censure, realize that every physician in America and beyond would