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Showing posts from 2009

Take a Nap

Do yourself a favor...get an hour extra sleep tonight.

Regional Variation in Total Knee Replacement

It has been proven than there is tremendous variation in the practice of medicine across the United States. The Dartmouth data (Wennberg et al) has documented the differences in how medical resources are used and how different physicians practice medicine, depending upon where they live. The Dartmouth studies are mainly focused on cost and outcomes and make the case that improved quality is often inversely related to the cost of care. More (expensive) care is not necessarily better care.

Now that I am recovering from a total joint replacement, I am amazed to see the differences in how physicians, doing the same surgery, treat the patient. Total knee replacement (TKA) is one of the most common orthopedic procedures done today. Despite this, the patient cannot expect the same post op care.

I am in contact with a patient in rural Minnesota who had the same surgery 8 days prior to me. Here are some differences in treatment for the same surgery (TKA):

San Francisco - Hospital Stay was 4 …

Abortion Rights and Health Care Bill

Now that the Senate and the House have each approved a health care bill, we can expect the debate to continue into 2010 as they try to merge the language and fight for their different language and approaches to providing coverage and paying for it. "The Republicans vow to make the process as difficult as possible in hopes of stopping the legislation", according to the Washington Post. Nothing will be more contentious than abortion.

The current Senate bill allows any state to bar the use of federal subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion. Only dollars from private premiums would be used to pay for abortions. This requires the States to divide subsidy money into separate accounts.

Since there is already a 30 year-old-rule that prohibits the use of federal money for elective abortions, I do not see why new language is needed that will hold up the process. Abortion opponents want new health care legislation to prevent women from buying plans that cover abortion, no…

Total Knee Replacement

When I took a hiatus from blogging I had no idea it would have lasted this long. My absence was a planned one...I got a new right knee. After years of watching my activity level decline because of severe osteoarthritis in my knees, I decided to join the millions of other baby boomers and get a total knee replacement. Extreme? Yes! But I believe it will be "life transforming" and there aren't too many times you can have those expectations with a medical decision so I went for it.

So here I am on Day 11 after the surgery. Experiencing life as a patient is a wonderful grounding experience and every day I learn new lessons. Here are a few:
Everyone has a different pain threshold. Doctors should not question or try to imagine some one's pain level. It is what it is!Even when the nurse gives good, clear discharge instructions...the patient will probably not remember any of it. (I have no idea when I am supposed to see the doctor again!)Pain is much worse at night. …

Blog Break

I will be taking a blog break for the next week or so. Please visit EverythingHealth in about a week and in the meantime, click on some of the blogs on the right for great medical reading and some funny ones too.

Women and Hormones

Just when you thought it was there is another article in the NewYorkTimes about the pharmaceutical industry pushing hormones for post menopausal women. It is a long and somewhat "shocking" article about how women have been sold a bill of goods regarding estrogen and progesterone after menopause and Wyeth Pharmaceutical paying multimillion dollar claims for women who took hormones and developed breast cancer.

Let me say...don't believe everything you read. As readers of EverythingHealth know, I am not a shill for big Pharma and have written critiques of their corporate tactics many times. But when it comes to Estrogen replacement it isn't just doctors and Pharma pushing drugs on unsuspecting women.

The link between breast cancer and endometrial cancer and estrogen (ERT) has been open dialog for decades. The pharmaceutical companies have had it listed in their marketing literature and good physicians make it part of the risk/benefit discussion. I have nev…

Who Likes Free Drug Samples?

Most doctors have a closet in their office filled with various pharmaceutical samples. The pharmaceutical industry has had "drug reps" or account reps or pharmaceutical sales staff making the rounds on doctors offices in every city and town across the United States for decades. The industry spent $33.5 billion promoting drugs and sending reps to doctors offices with samples in 2004. That is a lot of samples!

Most of us thought we were doing the right thing for our patients when we accepted drug samples. I was able to give patients a month (or more) free to make sure it worked and that they tolerated it. Other patients had no insurance and I supplied them with all of their medication for free from my sample closet. I had a good relationship with the rep and they kept my office stocked with the medication my patients needed. It seemed like a win-win for everyone.

But new information is coming out that makes me take pause. A 2008 study published in Medical Care said that…

Become a Vegetarian

Healthy diet, healthy body.

hat tip to Shadowfax

Concierge Poll

As of right now (9:21 PST) the EverythingHealth poll on concierge medicine shows:
59% of readers agree with the principle of concierge and would pay the retainer if they could. Twenty-one% think it is "elitist" and unfair and 18% don't have a clue what "concierge medicine" is. For that 18%....please scroll down and read yesterday's post. You can't vote a 2nd time but you can comment here, if you now have an opinion.

Concierge Medicine

A significant percent of people do not know what "concierge medicine" is. Also known as "retainer" practice, concierge is a growing type of medical practice where the patient pays the physician an up front fee (retainer) for services. The fee can range from $100/month to $20,000/year, depending upon the practice and the services offered. The fee usually covers all visits to the doctor, phone calls, more prompt service and email access. Labs, tests, Xrays, referrals to specialists, and hospitalization are not included.

More and more primary care physicians are forgoing the hassle of dealing with insurance companies and Medicare and are becoming concierge doctors. Because of the retainer, physicians can have a smaller practice and be more accessible to patients. The doctors that charge $20,000 a year have only 100 patients and provide "spa" service. (you do the math!) One of my colleagues has a long waiting list!!!

Patients who go to concierge docto…

Survivor Voices

Thanks to KM for alerting EverythingHealth to a great website called Voices of Survivors. The spoken word is a powerful medium and the internet gives us a chance to hear from people we would never encounter in all of our lives.

If you or a friend have a chronic disease or cancer or just need inspiration to face life problems, click away on this site and read how others cope with a raw deal.

Answer to Medical Challenge.

The answer to yesterdays Medical Challenge is
B: Staph impetigo. The patient spread the infection by shaving. He was treated with a topical antibiotic and an oral antibiotic to cover methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus. The rash resolved without a problem.

Thanks for your good guesses!

What's the Diagnosis?

This 28 year old young man is generally healthy but has had this rash on his chin for the last week. What is the diagnosis? (answer will be posted tomorrow...make your best guess)

A. Streptococcal impetigo.
B. Staphylococcal impetigo.
C. Candida folliculitis.
D. Acne.
E. Rosacea.
F. Contact dermatitis.

(from consultantlive)

Should Santa Get a Flu Shot?

When you think about occupational hazards, it seems that Santa might be at a big disadvantage during holiday season. He is in constant contact with kids and babies crawling on his lap, whispering close to his face and coughing and sneezing. Santa better have a rock solid immune system or make sure he got both seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccine this year!

I wonder what the rate of illness is for shopping mall Santa?

Healthy Giving

It is always great to find out the New York Times has learned from EverythingHealth. Today's article by Tara Parker Pope on 29 Days of Giving follows my Thanksgiving post. Taking the 29 days of giving pledge does keep you in the conscious giving mode. Give it a try. It's good for your health and immune system.

Too Much Treatment Can be Harmful

Hopefully by now people are realizing that more is not necessarily better. A new study reported at the American Heart Association 2009 Scientific Sessions showed that patients with acute myocardial infarction (AMI) receive large doses of ionizing radiation per hospital admission.

They looked at patients treated at 55 academic hospitals and found, on average, each patient received seven studies per AMI admission. The studies included chest X-rays, chest CT, head CT, nuclear perfusion testing and cardiac catheterization, which added up to about 17.31 mSV of ionizing radiation. The average American receives 3mSV annual radiation from natural sources and 50 is the max exposure allowed in the workplace.

Ionizing radiation has the ability to affect the large chemical molecules of which all living things are made and cause changes which are biologically important.

The researchers did not say that the tests were not indicated. But they pointed out that physicia…

Movie Popcorn a Health Horror

After a holiday weekend of movie-going and eating that popcorn that smells so good in the theater, it was a shock to read the report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest that shows just how bad theater popcorn is. The researchers studied medium size popcorn from three large movie chains; Regal Entertainment Group, AMC and Cinemark.

The analysis showed that a Regal medium popcorn contains 1,200 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat. AMC popcorn was a "smaller" medium and contained 590 calories and 33 grams of saturated fat. This was before adding the butter topping. Cinemark wasn't much better at 760 calories but it only had 3 grams of saturated fat.

Kudos to Cinemark for popping their corn in canola oil with less saturated fat. The other chains use heart unhealthy coconut oil, which is about 90% saturated fat. Lard is 40% saturated!

The study showed that a $12 medium popcorn and soda combination at a Regal movie would be the equivalent of three McDo…

Giving for Thanksgiving

Here is an idea of how to kick off the Holiday and Thanksgiving season. Take the 29 Day Giving Challenge! The idea comes from Cami Walker, the young woman who founded 29 Gifts. The principle is easy. Commit to giving 29 gifts in 29 days. The gifts can be time, money, objects, advice, kindness, something you think you can't live without. There are no rules.

Can giving to others change your life and health? Can we make a shift in our thinking by changing our behavior? Cami Walker says it is a powerful way to change ourselves as we change the world, one gift at a time. It makes sense that just staying in a conscious mode of "giving" and deciding what to give each day could make a real difference in how one views the world.

I'm going to do it. If you start on Thanksgiving is 29 days until Christmas Eve. Lovely.

Is it Risky for a Doctor to Say, "I'm sorry"?

The movement for physicians to say "I'm sorry" when things go wrong in patient care has been under debate for the past few years. In the past, physicians were advised to never admit to a problem or to apologize for clinical errors with the thought that it would lead to more lawsuits. Saying "I'm sorry" might be taken by a lawyer as an admission of guilt and malpractice. Attorneys advised, "Say nothing" but that left patients with unanswered questions and often the feeling that the doctor just didn't care.

Numerous studies have shown that patients want physicians to disclose harmful errors and they want information about what happened, why it happened and if something has been done to keep it from happening again. There has been a gap between what patients want and what actually occurs.

Physicians are not trained to disclose mistakes and being stoic is rewarded more than empathy in medical training. Many lawsuits are filed against doctors be…

Health Care for a Turkey

Thanks to KM for alerting me to the Massachusetts woman who wants help to pay for eye surgery for her pet turkey named Jerry. It seems Jerry has cataracts and he can't see his food to eat independently or fly with his girlfriend turkey, Penelope.

The cataract surgery for Jerry could cost up to $2,600, according to his owner. Medicare pays $2,338 total (including surgeon, facility fee and anesthesia) for a cataract extraction.

Jerry is one lucky turkey, especially this close to Thanksgiving.

Get Grandma a Computer

One of the best things you can do for your aging granny or grandpa is get them online. Ninety two percent of American ages 18-29 use the internet and email. But for folks older than 65, the rate falls to 42%.

Why is it important to get seniors on line? A recent study by the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies (they need a better name), a non-profit Washington think tank, shows that seniors who are on the computer cut the incidence of depression by 20%.

Another recent study from UCLA showed that first time use of the internet by older people enhanced brain function and cognition. Even performing internet searches changed brain activity patterns and enhanced neuro function. They performed brain scans on participants after they were on line and found enhancement in the areas known to be important in working memory and decision-making.

So if you are wondering about that perfect gift for your grandparents...think about a computer with internet access. So…

Should Doctors Wear Neckties?

Neckties worn by physicians may be contaminated with dangerous bacteria and viruses that are transported from patient to patient. The British Medical Association made a decision in 2006 that doctors should forgo wearing neckties because they carry germs and bacteria. The American Medical Association is looking at the same issue.

Stethoscopes are draped across ties, patients sneeze on them and neckties are worn repeatedly without being washed. A study from 2004 at New York Hospital Medical Center at Queens showed half of the neckties worn by the study doctors harbored bacteria, including MRSA.

If an article of clothing has no function and may be contaminated, I say why wear it? I doubt that given the choice of a dressed up doctor vs a clean doctor, patients would choose the necktie.

Personally, I think we should all be wearing scrubs in the hospital and in the office. They are comfortable, professional and clean. I would welcome saving $$ on clothes and dry cleaning. Or what about …

Premature Ejaculation Spray

We have been talking about women's health for the past week. Now it is time to discuss men's health. The Sexual Medicine Society of North America met in San Diego and heard reports on a new spray to prevent premature ejaculation in men.

The drug maker Sciele Pharma, Inc, a division of Japan's Shinogi has been testing the new spray that contains the numbing agents lidocaine and prilocaine. The researchers from San Francisco tested 300 men who used the spray on their penis five minutes before intercourse. The men were able to last 2.6 minutes. (compared to less than a minute without the spray).

They did not address what happened to the woman, who probably experienced some of the topical spray anesthetic herself via contact! I don't mean to sound glib, but the new spray strikes me as a biochemical fail! It is hard for me to see how this would be considered a success.

Sciele Pharma plans to file for U.S. approval next year.

New Guidelines on Pap Smears for Women

Right in the middle of the national firestorm about Mammogram recommendations, the American College of Gynecologists (ACOG) has issued new guidelines for screening of cervical cancer. After 40 years of successfully convincing women to get pap smears annually, the new recommendations say women should not get their first pap test until age 21 and the intervals for testing can then be stretched out.

The new recommendations say that women should start pap screening at age 21 (not teens who are sexually active as previously recommended) and then every two years through age 29. Women age 30 and over with three negative pap smears can stretch it out for three years. Women over age 65 can stop getting pap tests if their previous tests have been negative. Women who have had a hysterectomy for non-cancer reasons never need a pap smear.

The study experts looked at pooled data from around the world. We now know that cervical cancer is caused by certain strains of Human Papillomavirus (HPV), h…

Answer to the Medical Challenge

OK, you got it. The drug of abuse was cocaine which can cause perforation of the nasal septum and palate in serious abusers. Enough said!

My 2¢ on Mammogram Screening

As I predicted, the controversy and backlash against the recommendation to change mammogram screening to women over age 50 is huge. Special interest groups are coming out of the woodwork and every woman who found a breast cancer by mammogram has been interviewed by CNN and Fox news. Here is my 2¢.

We have thousands of tests we can perform on people. Why not perform these tests on everyone? Lung cancer is more prevalent than breast cancer and it shows up in young women with no risk factors. Why don't we get Chest X Rays on everyone every year? Why don't we get EKGs or thyroid scans on everyone every year to find silent heart attacks or thyroid nodules? Why not get CT scans annually? That way we could find early adrenal, kidney, brain or pancreatic cancer.

The decisions about screening exams for the population are made by scientific groups like the USPSTF. There is often confusion because other groups like the American Cancer Society and other specialty medical groups (R…

Medical Challenge

This weeks medical challenge should be pretty easy for readers of EverythingHealth. Which one of the following drugs of abuse causes the abnormality in the photo? (click on image for a better view). Show us how smart you are!

1. Ketamine
2. Heroin
3. Cocaine
4. PCP
5. Mescaline

The answer will be posted tomorrow.

Guidelines for Mammograms Changed

For years women have been advised to have an annual mammogram starting at age 40. The advice and insurance coverage for mammograms has been so effective that nearly 2/3 of women over age 40 had mammograms. Scratch that advice. The new guidelines, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine will spark a wave of controversy. Women are now advised NOT to have screening mammograms until age 50 and then to space them every other year. The United States Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of experts, says the new guidelines were based on new data and analysis and were aimed at reducing the harm of overscreening.

Why the switch? The report says the risk/benefit of mammogram just doesn't pan out for women age 40-49. The task force said that once cancer death is prevented for every 1,904 women who are screened for 10 years in the 40-49 age range. As a woman ages, her risk of cancer increases so one death is prevented for every 377 women screened at age 60-69.


Insurance Poll

It was interesting to read the results of my little poll, "Do You Have Health Insurance". The readers of EverythingHealth that chose to participate don't exactly match the population at large.
40% have insurance through their employer
10% buy their own insurance coverage and another 10% have a high deductible so that means they most likely pay the full cost of claims too.
12% are covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the VA. (In the normal population it is about 50%).
22% have no coverage. That is about average for the U.S.
4% of readers have government coverage (probably foreign).

So, 42% of readers are paying their own health costs through buying insurance or paying out of pocket for medical costs. 52% of readers have government or employer based insurance. It doesn't quite add up to 100% but you get the drift.

Fertility Doc Uses Wrong Sperm

When patients see a medical license framed on a doctor's wall, they assume his credentials have been checked and that the state has done due diligence about his practice behavior. That wasn't the case for patients who saw Dr. Ben D. Ramaley in Greenwich, Conn. In 2002 he performed insemination on a woman patient, but he did not use the husbands sperm. Twins were born but the husband was black and the mom was white and the twins did not look bi-racial. The couple did a paternity test that proved the husband was not the father. The couple filed a lawsuit months later and charged the doctor with using HIS OWN SPERM. The lawsuit was settled in 2005 without the doctor ever undergoing a DNA test. He did admit to using "the wrong sperm" for the insemination.

In 2006, the Dept of Public Health launched an investigation into his care practices. They found numerous problems including other instances where the standard of care had been seriously violated. His record ke…

New Treatment for Dupuytrens

The FDA's Arthritis Advisory Committee has approved a new treatment for treating advanced Dupuytren's disease. If approved, this would be the first nonsurgical therapy for the disorder.

Dupuytren's disease (named for Guillaume Dupuytren, 1778, of course) is a formation of scar tissue under the skin of the palm of the hand. This scar tissue pulls the flexor tendon of the fingers and causes the fingers to slowly be pulled into a grip. Over time, the contracture progresses and the skin is pulled in a fixed flexed position. Dupuytren's disease is inherited and it occurs mainly in males.

When the Dupuytren contracture was bad enough, the only treatment previously was surgical release of the scar tissue. (see image above...yikes) Even after surgery, the disease can recur. The new treatment is an injectable biologic treatment that breaks down collagen. The bacterium Clostridium histolyticum, is injected into the cord at 4 week intervals for three injections. In double …

Answer to Medical Challenge.

The readers of EverythingHealth are so darn smart! Most of you knew that the swollen finger joint with the yellowish white material under the skin was gout. Gout is a disease with elevated levels of uric acid in the bloodstream. The crystals of urate are deposited in joint cartilage and cause painful attacks of acute arthritis. Any joint can be affected but the large toe is the most common. Approximately 75% of first attacks are in the large toe.

Gout occurs more often in men than in women. There are probably some genetic causes of gout as well as excessive alcohol use and untreated hypertension, hyperlipidemia and certain medications.

I have blogged before about the association of high fructose corn syrup and gout attacks. There is also evidence that Vitamin C supplements can prevent gout.

New Medical Challenge

This weeks image challenge is a good one. Click on the photo for a better view. This 52 year old man has a painful index finger. What is the diagnosis?

1. Cellulitis
2. Gout
3. Osteoarthritis
4. Rheumatoid Arthritis
5. Septic Arthritis

Be brave and make your best diagnostic comment. Check back tomorrow for the answer.

Shameless Corporation of the Week Award

This weeks Shameless Health Care Corporation is United Healthcare. (For prior winners, scroll down the blog). I have many examples of the shameless and egregious behavior of United over the years, but this story sums up how they treat their policyholders. They treat their contracted physicians even worse.

Marlene is a single stepmom who is raising the two children of her deceased sister. They live in a cramped apartment and stretch a dollar as far as they can. She is extremely responsible about health care for herself and her stepkids. Since I don't contract with United Health Care, she pays me and sends the bill to United for them to reimburse her. Over the last two years, they have reimbursed her ZERO for health visits and illnesses for herself and the teenage kids.

Under the contract with United, they should pay a portion of "out of network" care. United has a pattern of delay and hassle that is repeated over and over. United sends me forms to fill out after ea…

U.S. Should Focus on Primary Care

A new study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund was published by Health Affairs and it showed that the U.S. lagged behind other nations in some very important ways that affect health and access to quality health care. The study surveryed over 10,000 primary care physicians in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The study found that:

The vast majority (69 percent) of U.S. respondents report that their practices have no provisions for after-hours care, leaving their patients no choice but the emergency room. The U.S. was behind every other country surveyed on this finding.

Fifty-eight percent of U.S. primary care physicians say their patients often have trouble paying for their medications and care, compared to 5- 37 percent in the other ten countries.

While 99 percent of doctors in the Netherlands and 97 percent of doctors in New Zealand and Norway use electronic medical records (EMRs), only 46…

It's Post Secret Day

Check it out every Sunday.

When to Take Tamiflu

With the H1N1 flu season hitting most communities, the question of when to give patients Tamiflu comes up for physicians. Tamiflu is the antiviral medication that can shorten the severity of flu symptoms day. To be effective it should be given within the first 48 hours of symptoms.

There are no medical guidelines for who should take Tamiflu. If patients have symptoms severe enough for hospitalization or have a chronic condition or asthma, Tamiflu should definitely be prescribed. Pregnant women and young children are at more risk for severe flu so they should be given Tamiflu when symptoms present, but what about everyone else?

Is shortening the illness by one day worth the $100 Tamiflu costs? Some doctors are concerned about creating resistant strains of influenza if Tamiflu is overused. And giving Tamiflu to "prevent" flu is not recommended because people who live in a household with a flu victim have only a 15-27% chance of catching flu anyway. Th…

Who Sues for Malpractice?

There are a lot of myths out there about which patients are most likely to sue a doctor for malpractice. Many doctors think it is "poor patients on welfare." They would be wrong. Evidence shows that low income patients on Medicaid are actually less likely to sue than others. But there are some patients and situations that should raise a red flag for physicians that they could bring a lawsuit.
Angry patients: A patient who is upset about the doctor-patient relationship, either because something didn't work out or they perceived a lack of caring, is more likely to sue the doctor. Plaintiff attorneys say that the majority of their calls come from patients who had poor rapport with their physicians. What works in a medical error? An explanation of what went wrong and, if appropriate, an apology!Money Issues: Now that more patients are paying out of pocket costs, if they feel overcharged they become less tolerant of errors. If patients know the approximate costs up front, they…

Big J&J Layoff

Johnson and Johnson has announced that they will lay off 7000 employees. That is about 7% of the employees at the company. How can the economy really be improving with such large job eliminations occurring?

J&J is one of the most admired and diversified health conglomerates with a consumer division, diagnostic/devise equipment, pharmaceutical drugs and R&D arm. Johnson and Johnson is present in 57 Countries around the world.

If a company like J&J is cutting back this much, it shows the economic recovery will be long and hard.

Unreal Health Care Costs

I took my son to the ER for a broken thumb. It was a minor injury but the thumb is the most important digit on the hand. The ER care was just fine...a quick look, an Xray and a small splint. We didn't have to wait long and everyone was courteous.

Imagine my surprise to receive the bill from the hospital. Yes, I have insurance. My out of pocket expense was minimal but here is what the insurance company was charged:
Hospital Misc.- $56.00 (could this be the splint?)Diagnostic Xray - $342.00Emergency Care- $952.00Surgery - $570.00
Total $1920.00Take a There was so surgery, no procedure. There was no break in the skin. The doctor component of the visit was about 7 minutes (mainly because I knew the doc and we chatted about politics)

This bill is unreal and is comprised of unreal health care costs. The insurance paid a component of the bill. They have a cap on what they will pay for each element.

I am an informed consumer so I…

A Weeks Worth of Food

Universoul Productions has compiled a fascinating look at what one family from different countries eats during one week. Take a good look at the family size and diet of each country. I found this amazing. Starting at the top:
#1 - Chad, cost $1.23 U.S.
#2- Bhutan, cost $5.03 U.S.
#3- Ecuador, cost $31.55 U.S.
#4- Egypt, cost $68.53 U.S.
#5- Poland, cost $151.27 U.S.
#6- Mexico, cost $189.09 U.S.
#7- United States $341.98 U.S.
#8- Germany, $500.07 U.S.
#9- Italy, $260.11 U.S.

I think the photos and the cost of food speak for themselves. Which country has the best diet?