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Showing posts from 2016

Whistleblower Wishes Readers Merry Christmas!

A close acquaintance of mine voiced objection to the lighting of the National Christmas tree, which occurred on the first day of this month.  Red, white and blue LED lights were illuminated.  I find no offense in this practice, which for me is a secularized event, even though I acknowledge its connection to the Christmas season.   Kids who visited Santa, as I did decades ago, do so in the days and weeks before Christmas.  Neither Santa nor his elves visit us during Arbor Day, the Fourth of July or Veterans Day.  He is connected with Christmas, although like the tree, his purpose is far removed from the true religious meaning of December 25 th .  A Christmas tree is not quite the nativity scene.  Readers who have more knowledge of the New Testament than I can inform us if a Christmas tree with a star on top and wrapped gifts underneath is mentioned in the Gospels.  Perhaps, Santa truly is a religious figure, since like the three wise men, he comes bearing gifts. Religious i

Whistleblower Holiday Cheer 2016!

Jingle bells, jingle bells, Romney’s at the door, Standing there with cup in hand, “Please sir, may I have some more?” Who will be the chief at State? Mitt or Dave or Rudy? How ‘bout tough guy JR Bolton? Isn’t he a beauty? Kellyanne, she’s our man! Smiling like a shark, Oh what fun it is to see Her ever present snark. Hillary, gets shellacked! Trump has doused her flame, Except for Comey, racists, assorted haters, Fox News, deplorables, poor messaging, Russians and Wiki leaks, She freely accepts the blame. How did he win? How did she lose? Did she have disdain For forgotten heartland’s pleas, While he felt their pain? Will we ever see the wall? Mexico pays the bill? Or was that just campaign red meat. A huckster’s ‘sugar pill’? The game is done. We must move on And think of lessons learned. Demonizing couldn’t halt Millions who’ve been spurned.  I challenge you to reach inside And summon your good sense Is P

Hospital Consent Forms and Other Stories

Even though I am over 40 – by a long shot – I am familiar with the abbreviation TMI.  We are inundated with so much noise, chatter and static.  I feel that we are bombarded with information that we must sift through and ultimately delete.  The news cycle is 24 hours and hits us from so many electronic sources simultaneously.  I am deluged each day with so many unwanted and unsolicited e-mails from organizations that I have never heard of.  One of my favorite words on their e-mails can be found when I scroll to the end.  UNSUBSCRIBE! Another genre of information assault is the panoply of warnings and disclaimers that we confront.  Of course, we are all numb to them since we have been so supersaturated.  I’ll prove it to you.  The next time you are about to take off on an airplane, the flight attendant will review safety information in the event that a catastrophe occurs.  While one might think that folks would be attentive to information that might be useful if the plane loses alti

Why We Can't Control Medical Costs.

Most of us are skeptical that insurance companies are devoted to our health.  Answer the following question.  Do you think your insurance company is more interested in your health or in controlling costs?  Pretty tough question, huh? There is a tension between medical quality and medical costs.  If we had a system that offered perfect quality, it would be unaffordable.  If we imposed rigid cost controls, then medical quality would be compromised.  Where do we draw the line?  It is clear to most of us that the medical industrial complex is riddled with waste.  Keep in mind that one man’s medical waste is another man’s income.  For example, physicians define waste as excessive charges by hospitals.  Government officials define waste as excessively high drug prices.  Patients define waste as high co-pays and deductibles.  Drug companies define waste as outrageous legal expenses to get drugs to market and to defend against frivolous lawsuits.  Primary care doctors define waste as

Discussions at Thanksgiving Tables in 2016

While folks across the country were gathered around their holiday tables, I suspect that conversations were not focused on the First Thanksgiving when the Pilgrims broke bread with the Wampanoag native Americans over a 3 day feast in 1621.  There was no pumpkin pie or cranberry sauce served then, and it was more likely that venison was on the table than turkey.  Sometimes, myths are more fun than facts. The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth I surmise that the many of our Thanksgiving dinners were sites of spirited discussions regarding a recent political earthquake that convulsed this country.  Indeed, over the past 3 weeks, I have departed from this blog’s medical commentary, to offer some thoughts on what occurred and why. The nation is sorely divided, but I sense that there will be healing, depending upon everyone’s ability and willingness to listen deeply and absorb the views of reasonable folks whose opinions differs from ours.  Reasonable people are rarely all righ

Breaking News! Trump Chooses Conservative Advisors!

Let the whining begin!  Donald Trump, the president-elect, has chosen Mike Pompeo, Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions to serve as CIA director, National Security Advisor and Attorney General respectively.  Here’s the shocker.  They are all conservative!  Let me offer some guidance to the demoralized and deflated liberal, I mean ‘progressive’, political left.  When the nation elects a president who resides to the right of the political center (leaving aside that where Trump truly resides is an arguable question), he is going to choose personnel who share his philosophy.  Trump ran hard on immigration, trade, anti-terrorism policy and the Supreme Court.  Now elected, he should be expected to assemble a team that will further the objectives that he campaigned on.  Isn’t this what we expect when a candidate gets elected? I think that Trump’s appointments mentioned above – all of whom are qualified – cause the left to hyperventilate in an effort to distract their base from their horre

Trumped!

Many folks talked about the possibility of an October surprise prior to our recent presidential election.  Rumors swirled of an FBI bombshell, more WikiLeaks or a Russian hack attack.  The predictors were off by a month.  We received instead a November surprise that many view as apocalyptic.  The nation was shocked, as were the candidates, despite Trump’s minions’ confident public exhortations of victory.  How did the press and the punditocracy get it all wrong?   Even days prior to the election, many pollsters were placing Clinton’s chances of victory in the 75-90% range.  An Unexpected Guest We are beginning to understand how a man who has never held elective office, who by all accounts is a boorish and vulgar narcissist, could vanquish 17 Republican adversaries to gain the nomination and then handily trounce the Clinton political machine on November 8th.    The brash outsider prevailed over the consummate insider.   We are beginning to understand why his unending stream

Clinton and Trump Give the Nation Chest Pains

Oftentimes, physicians and patients face bad options.  I wish that the choices that patients faced were all good ones, or at least had one option that was likely to yield a favorable result.   This scenario is further complicated as medicine is an uncertain discipline with moving goal posts and changing facts.  We make decisions and recommendations based on the current state of facts and our medical knowledge and experience.  We may counsel a patient against surgery, only to discover days later in retrospect that an operation would have been the right choice.  An adverse outcome may result from an excellent decision.  There are many medical circumstances when the options are equally foreboding.   A man may be suffering frequent episodes of angina, chest pain caused by hardening of the coronary arteries.  He is on maximal medical treatment, but the symptom persists.  This is not only limiting his life activities and pleasure, but also significantly increases his risk of a heart att

Clinton vs Trump Agonizes Millions

Physicians and patients often face tough and agonizing choices.  Sometimes, there are no good options available.  On other occasions, there are two seemingly reasonable choices in front of you, but there may be a very different outcome from each pathway.  For example, a patient may be advised by a surgeon to submit to the scalpel while the gastroenterologist counsels to opt for another 48 hours hoping that the medical situation will improve.  Which physician is correct?  They both may be right.  If the patient were to deteriorate 24 hours later, then the operation that had been favored by the surgeon would have been the better choice.  If, however, the patient were to improve spontaneously a day or two later, then avoiding high risk surgery would be clearly favored. Physicians make decisions based on knowledge and experience.  Often, there is a conflict between knowledge and experience that physicians struggle to resolve.  For example, a doctor may have read in a medical study tha

Sign up for a No Frills Colonoscopy

Cleveland took a major economic hit a few years back when United Airlines cut most of its flights from our city.  An airport is the heart of a metropolis.  Lack of their direct flights means that business meetings, leisure travel, conventions and trade shows will likely opt for more convenient locales. This was a business decision for United which I am sure was rational.  Nevertheless, their gain was our loss. As a result, we have had several low cost carriers who have swooped in to gain market share.  We have Frontier, Spirit, JetBlue and now Allegiant.  Not a day goes by that I don’t receive an e-mail blast from one of them announcing fares so low that it seems simply not possible.  Many of the flights’ stated fares are less than it would cost me to drive to the destinations.  How do they do it? Of course, the fare price that is stated is not what you will pay.  The total cost of your flight has been fractionated resulting in an a la carte payment system where every additional se

The Importance of Medical Judgement - Part II

Last week, I offered up an argument on why medical judgement means more than medical knowledge.  In other words, being a really, really smart doctor is not the essential qualification for practicing excellent medicine.  I ended last week’s post with some examples of medical ads that are familiar to all of us.  Here are some ads and slogans that you won’t see on highway billboards or in press advertisements. ·        Bring your back pain to our orthopedists.  They probably won’t operate on you since most back pain is not effectively treated surgically.  You don’t want unnecessary surgery, do you? ·        Wanna lose weight?  Consult with our bariatric surgeons who will refer you to one of our certified dieticians so you can endure yet another diet.  Who wants a trigger happy surgeon anyway? ·        Come to our oncology center for a second opinion.  Don’t expect any new treatments, since ‘promising’ experimental treatments are exactly that – experiments.  We’re not roll

The Importance of Medical Judgement - Part I

Would you rather that your doctor have excellent medical knowledge or medical judgment?  Answer this question before reading on. Patients are drawn to doctors and medical facilities who boast ‘cutting edge’ medical knowledge and techniques.  Medical judgement, which is much more important in my view, is barely mentioned.  Good doctors have great knowledge, but great doctors have superb judgment.  Consider the following vignette that I hope illustrates why judgement means more than knowledge. A patient is comes to the emergency room with abdominal pain.  The physician refers him to two different physicians, Dr. Knowledge and Dr. Judgment.  Which of these physicians would you rather see? Is the gallbladder the culprit here? Dr. Knowledge:  I recommend that your gallbladder be removed.  I have trained in advanced robotic surgery which leaves only one very small scar.  My complication rate is extremely low.  Our operating room team is excellent.  I am the only surgeon

Is Your Doctor Out of Date?

Years ago, I was having dinner with 2 members of The Cleveland Orchestra, one of the finest orchestras in the world.  I asked them, with my kids present, how much time they devoted to their craft.  As many parents know, getting kids to commit to practicing a musical instrument is about as easy as splitting the atom in your garage.  The musicians told us how much time they practiced, which was mind boggling, as one would expect.  Any artist, athlete, Green Beret or similar professional, has to demonstrate extraordinary commitment to maintain a superlative level of excellence and preparedness. I asked one of the musicians, the violinist, how long he could refrain from playing his instrument before he noted some professional slippage.  Guess your answer.   At the end of this post, I will relate his reply. How many hours are enough? How long can you be away from your job before your performance ebbs?For most of us, we can take weeks or longer on holiday and return back to ou

Nursing Staffing Levels Threaten Patient Care

On the day that I penned this post, I rounded at our community hospital.   My first patient was in the step-down unit, which houses patients who are too ill for the regular hospital floor.   I spoke to the nurse in order to be briefed on my patient’s status.  I learned that this nurse was assigned 6 patients to care for – an absurd patient volume for a step-down unit.  “Why so many patients?” I asked.  She explained that some nurses called off work and the patients had to be spread around among the existing nurses. This occurs every day in every hospital in the country.  Nurses are routinely required to care for more patients than they should because there is a nursing shortage on a particular day.  Why do hospital administrators allow this to happen?  If any are reading this post, I invite your response.  Enlighten us.  When a nurse is overburdened, how do you think this affects quality of care and nursing morale? I suppose it saves a few bucks on payroll, but this strikes me

Why I'm Against Medical Marijuana

I have already opined on my disapproval of a medical marijuana law recently passed in Ohio.  Once of my points in that piece is that I did not want legislators making medical decisions for us.  They can’t even do their own jobs. I am not against medical marijuana; I am for science.  The currency of determining the safety and efficacy of a medicine should be medical evidence, not faith, hope or belief. Marijuana is a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Schedule 1 drug, alongside heroin, LSD and Ecstasy.  I realize this seems odd since most of us do not believe that marijuana has the health or addictive risks of the other agents on the list.  It doesn’t.  But, danger is not the only criteria used in determining which category a drug belongs in, a point often misunderstood or ignored by medical marijuana enthusiasts.  An important criterion of Schedule 1 drugs is that they are deemed to have no proven medical use. The federal government recently affirmed marijuana’s Schedule 1 status

Nursing Documentation vs Patient Care - Who's Leading?

I work with nurses every day.  Anyone who doesn’t realize how hard these professionals work, has never been in a hospital.  Their job descriptions have expanded along with their work load.  This is not your father’s hospital ward.  Hospitalized patients today are older and sicker than ever before.  It takes a seasoned nursing professional to manage the care of these complex patients.   Their work days are full simply managing the expected tasks of dispensing medications, coordinating diagnostic tests and assessing their patients.  There is no time scheduled for unexpected events, which are expected as sick people’s conditions may change at any moment.  In other words, if a nurse must attend immediately to a patient with chest pain, then his or her other more mundane tasks are delayed or shifted over to another busy nurse. I believe that the most potent barrier that is separating nurses from their patients today is the ferocious documentation mandates that nurses are required to p

Labor Day 2016

Honoring work.

Mylan Defends EpiPen Price Hike

Why do smart people often do dumb things?  Would you plagiarize a speech that you know is going to be carefully scrutinized?   Would you respond to a robocall that congratulates you on winning a free cruise?  Would you keep eating sushi that didn’t smell right?  I’m certainly not judging anyone here.  I’ve had plenty of my own misadventures and I periodically add to the list.  Our presidential candidates fall prey to human error and misjudgments surprisingly often.  Aren’t these folks supposed to be pros or at least managed by honed handlers?  Why would Donald Trump have insulted nearly every constituency and rival during the primary election process knowing that this might render him unelectable in the general election?  Why would Hillary Clinton demand unconscionable speaking fees from special interest groups when she knew that she would pursue the presidency and her payoffs would be publicized? I’ll leave it to readers to ponder their own responses to the above inquirie

Who is Responsible for Prescription Drug Abuse?

I have written about pain medicine previously on this blog, and it generated some spirited responses.  Let me be clear that I am completely against all forms of pain, whether foreign or domestic, physical, spiritual, psychic or even phantom.  The medical profession has superb tools to combat and relieve pain, and physicians should utilize them, within the boundaries of appropriate use.  We now have an actual specialty – pain management – who are physicians with special training on the science and treatment of all varieties of pain.  I utilize these specialists when necessary and I am grateful for the help they provide to my patients.  There are two forms of drug abuse in our society – legal and illegal.  The latter has become a health scourge that is shattering families across the country.  A few days before I wrote this, I read the stats of overdose deaths in my state of Ohio.  I was shocked to learn that in our state alone, we lose thousands of individuals every year to drug ov

Are Doctors Paid Too Much?

Years ago on Cape Cod, my kids and I stumbled across a man who had spent the day creating a sand sculpture of a mermaid.  It was an impressive piece of art.  “How long did it take you to make it? ” we asked.   While I can’t recall his precise words, the response was something like “25 years and 7 hours”.  I’m sure my astute readers will get his point. We are transfixed now watching Olympic athletes performing in Rio.  So much depends upon their brief routines which can last seconds to a few minutes.  While a diver’s acrobatic plunge may take 2 seconds, it would not be fair to leave aside the years of work and training that prepared the athlete for this moment. The same point can be made for anyone who has worked and trained hard to reach a point where the action performed seems easy to a spectator or a customer.   If an attorney prepares estate documents, we can assume that the fee for this reflects the prior training and research that the lawyer has done on this issue, as it

Overtreatment and Unnecessary Medical Testing? You Make the Call!

Ok, readers.  I know how many of you fantasize about being part of the high drama and glamor of the medical profession.  Believe me, it’s even more exciting than the medical TV shows that have been part of pop culture for generations.  Remember Ben Casey?  Marcus Welby?  Dr. Kildare?  Dr. Seuss?   Rescuing folks hovering over the Grim Reaper was just another day at work for these guys. The Grim Reaper Here’s your chance to play doctor for the duration of this post. A patient wants a colonoscopy, but it is not medically necessary.  Assuming he cannot be convinced to withdraw the request, should you perform it? A physician wants you to perform colonoscopy on his patient, but it is not medically necessary.  Assuming the physician cannot be convinced to withdraw the request, should you perform it? An elderly patient’s son wants a colonoscopy performed on his father, but it is not medically necessary.  The patient is ambivalent and delegates the decision to his son.

Should Doctors Lie for Patients

Even the most honest among us do not tell the truth all of the time.  We are flawed human beings.  We covet, we gossip, we steal, we lie and we stand idly by. You don’t think you steal?   Have you ever ‘borrowed’ someone else’s idea and represented it as your own? A few weeks before I penned this, I was presented with 2 opportunities to lie in order to save a patients a few bucks. The first patient wanted a refill for her heartburn medicine, which she takes once daily.  She asked if I would refill the medicine to take twice daily, so she could get double the supply for the same price.  The second patient asked me to write a note that he was at risk for Hepatitis B so that he could get the vaccine for free.   Writing the note would be easy, but claiming that he faced risk of Hepatitis B infection would require some prevarication.  I’ll assume that Whistleblower readers know how I responded to the above two issues.   However, many patients, and perhaps some physicians, who are

Is Medical Marijuana Safe and Effective? Who Decides?

Medical marijuana is a smokin’ hot issue in Ohio.  Marijuana enthusiasts targeted our state constitution again this year with another amendment attempt, which failed.  Instead, our legislature passed House Bill 523, which will legalize medical marijuana use.  As a physician, with some training and experience in prescribing medicines to patients, these marijuana machinations are medical madness.  Is this how we want to bring new medicines to market? I think it is absurd that a specific medical treatment – or any medical treatment - should become a constitutional issue.  Do we want to establish a constitutional right to a specific medicine? Why stop at marijuana?  Why not start circulating petitions for constitutional amendments for screening colonoscopies, mammographies and MRI’s for back pain?  Patients with chronic lumbar disk issues have rights too!  The Ohio bill specifies an array of medical conditions that could be treated with marijuana, including AIDS, hepatitis C, i