If Doctors Ran Their Practice Like The Airlines

Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_itrace'>itrace / 123RF Stock Photo</a>Physicians could make so much more money if we could charge like the airline industry does.

Starting with appointments, there would be a surcharge for the most popular times. Last minute appointments are extra, on the theory that the patient would be willing to pay more if they are acutely ill. If we have a particularly light day, we might run a special and see patients at a discount. It goes without saying that when booking an appointment in advance, you’d would have to use your credit care to make a non-refundable deposit.

When you check in for your visit, it would cost $5 if you want to sit down while you wait. Magazines can be rented for $1 and there would be water bottles for sale if you’re thirsty. You can pay $7 for two hours of wi-fi to access the internet, or if you are sick or a hypochondriac and visit often, pay $10 per month for unlimited use.

If you’re one of those couples that book your appointments together, there will be a surcharge if you want to share the same room.

Just like it costs more for each piece of luggage you take on the plane, we would charge for each prescription we write. Medications that were more complicated to prescribe would have a surcharge. Want a form for work, to get out of jury duty or a parking permit? That will be extra.

When it comes time to undress for an exam, prepare to bring your own gown, or fork over $2.50 for the paper version. Don’t skimp paying 50 cents for the lubricant!

Do all these charges sound bad? Don’t worry. Hand washing is still complementary!

Posted in Business of Medicine, Medical Humor | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Up in Arms, Up in Smoke

20090715_japan_0671If you apply for health insurance, you may find you have to pay higher rates if you’re a smoker. Now federal regulators are trying to decide if insurers who participate in the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) exchanges can add a surcharge for those using e-cigarettes or vaporizers.  They already can for cigarettes in most states.

Some argue against this, in the name of harm reduction, the idea that if people are going to smoke, it’s better to smoke something safer. For example, Reynolds American Inc spokesman David Howard, said, “We don’t believe policies should be implemented that might deter current smokers from considering switching to smoke-free alternative products like e-cigarettes.”

Numerous studies have, shown, however,that the best way to get people to cut back on smoking, is to make it more expensive. E-cigarettes and vaporizers are cheaper than cigarettes, so paying more for insurance for all forms will encourage more people to stop smoking. No one is suggesting that those smoking alternative forms of tobacco be charged more than those who smoke cigarettes, so even if insurers charge extra for those who use e-cigarettes or vaporizers, they will not pay more than if they stuck with cigarettes, so really it won’t deter smokers from switching. People switch because it costs less, it’s more socially acceptable, or they perceive it to be safer.

In that last regard, vapor may be safer than cigarettes, but we really don’t know. Recent studies show they can definitely have known carcinogens, such as formaldehyde. Would you really want to inhale a chemical used to embalm corpses? I tell my patients that if they use e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking, which may or may not help, then I’m alright with that, but the goal should be to stop using tobacco products, and not just switch from one habit to another.

 

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Humor Down Under

Bathroom door at Kawarau Bridge, the first commercial bungee jump in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Bathroom door at Kawarau Bridge, the first commercial bungee jump in Queenstown, New Zealand.
Bathroom doors at Kawarau Bridge, the first commercial bungee jump in Queenstown, New Zealand.

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Posted in Medical Humor | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Who Are You Calling Old?

Moth on bricksA local family medicine residency program sends second year residents to rotate through my internal medicine clinic. Reviewing the note that one of them wrote, I saw that he described my 66-year-old patient as, “Elderly, ” though did note that she appeared younger than her age. I let that young whippersnapper know that age is relative, and that I doubted he would consider 66 as elderly once he reached his 50’s!

Posted in Medical Humor | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Pierce County Medical Society Website Launch

Pierce County Medical Society LogoI’m proud to announce that today the Pierce County Medical Society (PCMS) went live with a newly redone website. I’ve been working on it for over a year.

There is a lot to see on the site. I’ve created a video that gives a tour of the site. It’s aimed at members, who see a link after logging on, but most of the content is useful for the general public, including how to use the Physician Search section to find a doctor in Pierce County.

Posted in Community, Informatics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tort Reform and Forced Sterilization in North Carolina

Torte - Image credit: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_13722428_delicious-slice-of-home-made-sachertorte-cake.html'>digitalsun / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

In 2011 the North Carolina legislature made major changes to the law governing medical malpractice claims. This tort reform, among other things, capped non-economic damages at $500,000.

Such caps on damages do not restrict payments for financial losses, such as future income not earned due to no longer being able to work as a result of injury or death because of something a doctor did, or neglected to do. Rather it limits awards to compensate for such things as pain and suffering.

Physicians in Washington State, and elsewhere, have lobbied for tort reform. Although some physicians have been guilty of gross negligence, in many cases doctors are sued, and juries award large amounts of money, because a patient has suffered, but not necessarily because of something the physician did wrong. Because physicians worry about getting sued, they tend to practice defensive medicine, and order more tests and procedures than necessary as a result. Besides wasting money, it can cause harm. I’ve had patients who have had dozen of CT scans, because every time they go to the emergency room for abdominal pain, they get one to make sure they don’t have such things as appendicitis. The radiation from the CT scan increases the risk of developing cancer in the future. Although such scans are certainly warranted at times, I believe they are excessively ordered because of fear of getting sued.

Between 1929 and 1974, North Carolina forcibly sterilized 7600 people it deemed socially or mentally unfit. Recently the state agreed to set up a $10 million dollar fund to compensate living victims. So far they’ve identified 177, though as of 2010 the State Center for Health Statistics estimated that 2,944 victims may have still been alive. If they end up with 200 such people filing claims, they would each get $50,000. That’s only one tenth of the amount allowed in that state for non-economic damages, and one hundredth if 2000 filed claims, and infinitesimally less in a state that has no such cap. Physicians may be well off, but their pockets are not nearly as deep as a state.

If a physician inadvertently sterilized a patient while treating them for something else, they could be sued for large sums of money for depriving them the chance of procreating. If states can cap non-economic damages for doing the same, isn’t it only fair that limits be placed on non-economic damage for malpractice for physicians who were trying to do the right thing? Although that’s true in about 30 states, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled such caps unconstitutional in Sofie v. Fiberboard Corp., 112 Wn.2d 636 (1989). Although that was not a medical malpractice case, the reasoning goes against the decisions made by a majority of other states, and ignores the fact that resources are limited. No caps in theory means a jury could bankrupt an individual or company, no matter how large, and no matter how many hurt if that happened, all in the name of “justice” to benefit one person, and their legal team of course.

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Prostate Cancer – A Fish Tale

20090709_japan_0057

Have you heard that fish oil supplements cause prostate cancer? The news items come from an article published online July 11, 2013 by Brasky et al. in the Journal of the the National Cancer Institute, “Plasma Phospholipid Fatty Acids and Prostate Cancer Risk in the SELECT Trial.

This study looked at 834 men diagnosed with prostate cancer, and compared them with 1393 men, matched for age and race, that did not have prostate cancer. They then looked at the amount of omega-3 in their blood and compared the groups.

They found that those with the highest omega-3 levels had the highest risk of prostate cancer, 44% higher over all. This study followed up on one published earlier by the same group that suggested increased risk from fish consumption. The levels of omega-3 in the highest group were fairly modest, equivalent to eating an oily fish, such as salmon, twice a week.

Before jumping to the conclusion that men should not take fish oil or consume much fish, there are a number of things to consider. First of all, association does not imply causation. What does that mean? Just because two things occur together, it does not mean that one caused the other. If you look outside on a rainy day, you will see many people carrying umbrellas. But you would be wrong to conclude that carrying umbrellas caused it to rain.

It could be that it wasn’t the omega-3 in fish, or fish oil supplements, that caused prostate cancer, but rather something else in the products, such as mercury or other toxins in the fish. If you ate fish raised in places low in pollution, or consumed ultra-filtered fish oil, then perhaps it would not be a problem. This study does not answer that question.

Even if eating fish or taking supplements increases the risk of prostate cancer, studies have shown it decreases the risk of cardiovascular (heart) disease, which is far more common.

This study was not the preferred double-blind, placebo controlled study, and the conclusion may just be wrong. After all, other studies have shown that fish consumption decreases prostate cancer. For example, one in the Lancet showed decreased risk of prostate cancer in those who ate moderate or high amounts of fish. Also consider that Japanese men consume much more fish then American men, yet have far less prostate cancer.

So until I see more convincing evidence, I’ll continue to take my fish oil capsules, and enjoy eating salmon.

Posted in Clinical | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Medication Small Print

WhenSolu-Medrol_crop I give a cortisone injection, I have to document it in our electronic medical records. I’ve always included the dose, how administered (intramuscular), and the lot number. This week my company added the requirement that we include the NDC number, as insurance companies wanted the information.

It’s just one more administrative requirement, but what really makes it bad is trying to read the number off the bottle. As you can see from the photo, the font is very small! I suggested the policy was age discrimination, but that didn’t get far.

Posted in Pharmaceuticals | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A New Target for Food Companies

Image credit: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/photo_14942511_mature-satisfied-chef-smell-the-aroma-of-his-food-while-cooking-at-restaurant.html'>rido / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Food companies use sophisticated science and psychology to get people to buy their food. Using combinations of salt, sugar, and fat, among other things, they entice us and cause actual addiction. Although many people are rightfully concerned given the levels of obesity, diabetes, and other health problems, I think they’re missing out on a segment of the population that might actually benefit from their craft.

Not infrequently do I see patients, often elderly, who have a problem many of us could only wish for. They have a poor appetite. This may be due to many factors, including diminished smell and taste, poor vision, and dry mouth. What they need is food meant to appeal to them.

One of the tricks used to sell us more food is vanishing caloric density. Foods like Cheetos, that quickly melt in the mouth, fool the brain  to think there are less calories than there really are, so people eat more of them. If you’re malnourished, that might be a good thing. The food engineers should create foods that people with a poor appetite will actually want to eat. Throw in some vitamins and fiber, and just maybe they would get physicians to recommend them.

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Mystery Photo

mystery_photo

I’ve been slow to write because I recently returned from a vacation to France. Above is something I saw there. I’ll leave it to my readers to guess what this is, and where it came from.

Posted in Travel | Tagged | 5 Comments