Sunday, November 15, 2015

 

ICD-10: the Imminent Cause of Disaster (part one)

On October 1, 2015, the government of the USA mandated the use of the International Classification of Diseases version 10 (known as ICD-10) for all diagnostic coding.


The promise is that the new codes, more than five fold longer than ICD-9, the prior version in use for over thirty years, will be more thorough and specific, allowing for greater “data-mining”, research, as well as improved patient care and outcomes.


The threat is that if physicians and medical institutions do not use the new codes, and use them correctly, there will be dire financial penalties.


I have been studying the old codes for over thirty years and the new codes for the past two years. I have been using the new codes for a month and a half. I can, without hesitation, state that ICD-9 was deeply flawed, but that ICD-10 has deeper and more abidingly dangerous flaws.


In a nutshell: ICD-10 is a failure of design. The diagnostic codes are capriciously variable in their inclusiveness and exclusivity, unpredictable in depth and breadth, and , at times, bizarre in the inventiveness.


Here are but a tiny sampling of the flaws and how they are just plain wrong:


Multiple sclerosis (MS), a common neurological illness, with protean manifestations, wide ranging severity, and multiple patterns of progression is all classified as G35. This is an uncorrected problem from ICD-9 which also had a solitary code for all of MS. Chronic stable, relapsing-remitting, and progressive MS are all G35. MS that causes a transient loss of vision and does not again manifest until there is a foot drop two years later is classified the same as MS that starts rapidly and marches relentlessly until the patient is paralyzed from head to toe are both G35.


A poor soul out water-skiing manages to, improbable as it seems, ignite the skis. He jumps from the burning water-skis, but tragically drowns. " Death by drowning and submersion due to falling or jumping from burning water-skis" has THREE codes: V90.27XA, V90.27XS, and V90.27XD. The first is for the initial visit (at which he is pronounced dead), the second is for the follow-up visits (at which he is still dead), and the third code is for visits to handle “late sequelae” of the initial visit (I assume that the patient is now dead and the late sequelae includes putrification). Really. And there are sets of three parallel codes for drowning after jumping or falling from all manner of water craft: commercial boats, passenger ships, canoes, inflatable craft, sailboats, etc. The “X” in the code is a “reserved digit” for “future additional specification". Perhaps it will be used for the color of the water-skis or craft. The lists, by the way, are repeated for crafts that overturn, crafts that sink, crushed crafts, and other accidents. There are over one hundred sixty codes in this section... with reserved digits for more.

A patient came to see me recently, after October first, having a soccer injury: he was cleated on his right great toe. Examination showed he had a minor, fracture of his right great toe and a painful subungual hematoma (blood under the nail). The coding starts out easy: W21.31XA: "struck by cleats, initial encounter". Then it proved more difficult: S92.424A: "Non-displaced fracture of right great toe, distal phalanx, initial encounter, closed". It was s much more difficult in that there are tens of thousands of fractures in the list. Sorting them is a Herculean task. The last code proved impossible. There is NO specific code for a subungual hematoma. None. Internet research showed that many toenail diagnoses are all listed under L60.8 - “Other nail disorders”:

Acquired nail displacement

Acquired nail discoloration
Congenital clubnail
Congenital koilonychia
Congenital malformation of nail
Hemorrhage of the nail (subungual) (HERE IT IS!)
Leukonychia (punctata)
Leukopathia unguium
Onychophosis
Onychoptosis (pitting)
Congenital flat nail - platonychia
Acquired remnant nail
Fngernail shedding
Spading nail  

These diagnoses have no biological, pathological, diagnostic, therapeutic, or any factor in common, other than they have to do with "nail". No mention is made of right or left, finger or toe, number of digit, or anything else that clarifies to a level parallel to that provided for fractures. They are all classed under one code. It is unfathomable how this clumping of unrelated diagnoses could ever serve research, teaching, patient care, or standardization of the medical record.


And yet we are mandated to use this system. Billions of dollars have already been spent. A divide in data-continuity has occurred: all the data prior to 11/1/15 is obsolete and does not map into ICD-10.  I may just set my water-skis on fire, jump off, and see what happens!




Saturday, January 24, 2015

 

My fantasy for the last State of the Union Address



(This is a first draft. If anyone cares to comment I will expand on the idea)


My fellow Americans.  I come before you today to delivery my State of the Union Address.  I have two versions of the speech with me. In my right pocket is the version prepared by my speech writers. It tells of the success of the Affordable Care Act, the success of our military, and our success at revitalizing the economy.  In my left pocket is the speech I wrote last night, late into the night.  I may look tired to you: I got little sleep. But I feel my heart is lighter and my eyes brighter, for I have resolved to tell you the truth and to shed the cloak of politician and to assume my robe of responsibility, for the position to which I was elected, as the leader of the greatest nation ever on this earth.

Before I describe the State of the Union and my intentions for the future, let me address the lessons I have learned.

The Affordable Care Act, known to all as “Obama-Care”, is a spectacular example of the failure of our government.  Intended to provide affordable health care for every American, it has already succeeded in raising the cost of health care by thirty five percent. Our federal budget will be increasingly difficult to balance without Draconian cuts in the number of hospitals and the services they provide. Experienced physicians are retiring ten or twenty years before they had intended, and medical school is no longer a goal for our best and brightest.

 Previously uninsured young people are now strapped with insurance policies that they will never use with no coverage for the health care they actually use: the average uninsured twenty eight year old, before Obama-care, would have less than $300 per year in health care expenses, and for the next decade, a total of under $3000.  Now at a cost of $4,000 per year and a deductible so high it will never be met, the ten year cost to the young adult for insurance they will unlikely use is $40,000: nothing is left for paying the bills.

The regulations generated by the Affordable Care Act now exceed the length of all other regulatory agencies rules.  Compliance is an impossible burden on the industry attempting to deliver quality health care.

Why did this happen?  The political process is corrupted by reliance on the wrong advisers.  I did not listen adequately to the American people or the true experts in health care, the doctors and the nurses.  I listened to the insurance companies, the only part of our culture that will profoundly benefit from the Affordable Care Act.  In my dream of protecting the American people I made government much bigger and the middle-man much profit. I now see that we have hurt the ancient science and art of medicine. I pray it is not irrevocable damage.

The Law of Unintended Consequences rightfully predicts that the more far-reaching and complex the changes made, the greater the number and impact of the unintended consequences.

How do I fix it?  I am not wise enough or informed enough to have that answer.  I know now I need to go outside government for advisers to guide me. 

Let’s turn to the economy and education.  Yes: my right-pocket speech correctly states that more Americans are working today than before the recession.  But it does not tell the whole truth.  Well educated Americans, with decades of experience in industries requiring highly technical training and experience, have lost their jobs and are now working at jobs for half or less of what they previously earned, with no need of their education or experience.  Fresh college graduates are having a hell of a time finding rewarding jobs. Advanced degrees are no long a promise for fulfilling employment in any field of expertise.

My right-pocket speech promotes higher education, but the reality is the time and expense for attaining advanced degrees does not provide good vocational training,  and, sadly, is decreasingly good education for broad knowledge or critical thinking.  We must seriously reevaluate our educational system and our priorities.

As the president, I must seriously consider the role our government has played and should play in the future of education.

The three hundred richest in the world have more money than the poorest three billion.  That is 0.00000004% of the world has more combined financial wealth than 40% combined.  We cannot fix the world: we are not empowered to even consider it. But the top 1% of all Americans control more wealth than the combined 99% .  Middle class Americans, the new “poor”, contribute 20% of their earnings to taxes.  The top earners pay nothing.  Maybe this is fair, but it surely does not seem so.  On the face of it, a flat tax rate of 5% on all the earnings of all Americans living above the poverty level would allow us to balance the budget and to carry on all our good work.  A family earning $65,000 per year would have $10,000 real dollars back in their pocket every year.  Halliburton’s CEO would still go home with over $30,000,000, but would contribute $1.5 million to the tax coffers!

It is not the government's job to equally distribute wealth, but it is our creed to be fair and equitable. Real tax reform, returning to simplicity and justice, seems imperative. 

In the past century, with our successes in the two World Wars and the establishment of the United Nations, we have taken on the job of being the policemen for the world.  With our might and our successes in all fields we have become the envy and the enemy of many.  September 11, 2001 brought the terrorists effectively and horribly to our great land.  Since that time there has been a steady increase in worldwide terrorist strength. Armies, no longer isolated terrorist cells, are rising and arming.

Above all else, the central government of this country is charged with  protection from foreign assault.  This must be a central goal.  I believe that our best effort will be to use our intelligence and resources to get to the root of the problem and work to regain the trust and respect of the world.

In the past century, the world population has gone from little over a billion human residents to over seven billion.  In the next fifty years, probably less, the number will exceed fifteen billion. The worldwide basic infrastructure of food, clean water, and energy will never sustain these numbers. We need to be in action now.  The consequences of failure will be famine, illness, and death.  And war.

Climate change is an inevitable reality.  Our best efforts to change human behavior may slow down but will not stop the inevitable.  We need to be in action now to be prepared for the inevitable.  If we do not begin to shift the direction of our attention to remediation and not delay, we will be caught underwater.... and worse.

My fellow Americans: I have learned a lot during my presidency, and my time in office is not yet over.  I hereby declare that I am no longer a politician. I will live and breathe every moment to be leader to the best of my ability.  I am sure I cannot fix the problems that I have outlined, but I will endeavor to change the culture of the office of president of the United States.  I will listen widely and seek out the informed dissenting views. I will work to make government smaller at every turn to avoid the unintended consequences of our over-reach.  I will work to inspire the confidence that has been the hallmark of the American people.  I will work to truly protect our shores, protect our people, most specifically the most needy, and I will work to set America as the shining beacon to all peoples of the world.

(Links:  The US Constitution
              The ACTUAL State of the Union Address )

Monday, January 27, 2014

 

Angelology


I.
 Two angels were traveling down the road, an old and experienced angel and a young novice. They came at the end of the day to the home of a wealthy man and knocked on the door. They asked for a bite to eat and a place to rest. The rich man, wiping the gravy from his chin, gruffly told them he had nothing to spare but a crust of bread and nowhere for them to sleep but with the sheep in the barn, The angels thanked him for the moldy crust and went to the barn to sleep for the night.

 When they got to the barn, the younger angel noticed a crack in the wall, and when the older angel noticed and walked by, he waved his hand over it and the crack was repaired. The younger angel, amazed, said nothing.

 They walked the next day until they came to the home of a poor farmer. They knocked on the door and humbly asked for food and shelter. The farmer and his wife warmly welcomed them in and sat them at their table, and fed them simple but delicious stew and freshly baked bread.  The younger angel noticed that the couple fed them and fed the children, but that the stew pot was empty and the bread gone before either the farmer or his wife had eaten.  The couple gave them their own bed for the night, and the couple happily curled up on a blanket in front of the fire.

 The angels were awakened in the early by the soft sounds of the wife crying. Her husband left off comforting his wife to explain that their only cow had suddenly died in the night.  The angels took their leave and walked down the road.  The old angel seemed unusually tired.

 After a few miles, the younger angel could no longer contain his confusion and asked his elder why he had repaired the wall for the selfish rich man, yet let the only cow of the generous farmer die.

 The older anger replied, "Things are not always as they seem.  As I passed the crack in the wall I noticed that hidden in the wall were great riches.  I sealed the wall so that the rich man would not find them.  Last night I was up all night arguing with the angel of death. He had come to take the farmer's wife and I bargained with him until he agreed to take the cow in her place."
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 II.
A number of years ago I fell off the top stair at the top of a three story staircase. I was uninjured except for a broken and dislocated finger.  It really hurt and I snapped it beck in place. To this day it is slightly deformed.  I was grateful to my guardian angel who caught me by that finger as I flew through the air, surely to break every bone in my body and to snap my neck. He lowered my gently to safety, but broke and dislocated my finger in the act.
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 III.
Several years ago I fell on the ice as I stepped into the road and broke a bone in my back. If my angel had not shoved me at the last moment, my head would have hit the curb in my fall and split open like a ripe melon on the curb.
 ___________________________________________________________________
IV.
One Monday, getting ready to open my office, Linda was opening the waiting room curtains. She was singing a song I recognized from my pre-k youth.  I Googled the song and printed the lyrics.  I gave the office staff a laugh and a smile as I sang it to them.

 That night I visited Walter in the hospital. He is a little younger than me and near the end in his fight with cancer.  His wife, mother, and cousin were still in his room at 9:30 PM. We were chatting about many things.  The nurse came in to give him some meds, but said she had to go and get an alcohol swab to give the IV medication. I told her not to run, I had one in my pocket. I reached in and took out my Swiss Army knife, some coins, a Phillips-head screw, some alcohol wipes, and a folded piece of paper. I gave her the wipes.  Walter asked, with a laugh, what was that stuff was in my pocket. I told him and unfolded the paper containing the song lyrics.  I told him about the morning's events leading to the paper being in my pocket.  He asked me to sing the song to him. I deferred because of the late hour at the hospital, but he persisted. I sang the first verse and everyone in the room wrinkled their eyebrows in partial recognition:

 Mommy told me something
 a little kid should know.
 It's all about the devil
 and I've learned to hate him so.
 She said he causes trouble
 when you let him in the room.
 He will never ever leave you
 if your heart is filled with gloom.

 When I sang the chorus everyone except the Filipino nurse smiled in recognition and quietly joined me.:

 So let the sun shine in
 face it with a grin.
 Smilers never lose
 and frowners never win.
 So let the sun shine in
 face it with a grin
 Open up your heart and let the sun shine in.

 I went on:

 When you are unhappy,
 the devil wears a grin
 But oh, he starts to running
 when the light comes pouring in
 I know he'll be unhappy
 'Cause I'll never wear a frown
 Maybe if we keep on smiling
 He'll get tired of hanging 'round.

 And then when I repeated the chorus everyone sang out loudly!  The nurse tentatively joined in.

 So let the sun shine in
 face it with a grin.
 Smilers never lose
 and frowners never win.
 So let the sun shine in
 face it with a grin
 Open up your heart and let the sun shine in.


 Then the last verse:

 If I forget to say my prayers
 the devil jumps with glee
 But he feels so awful awful
 when he sees me on my knees
 So if you're full of trouble
 and you never seem to win,
 Just open up your heart and let the sun shine in.


 When we sang the last chorus, everyone was smiling, singing loudly, and tears rolling down their faces.

 So let the sun shine in
 face it with a grin.
 Smilers never lose
 and frowners never win.
 So let the sun shine in
 face it with a grin
 Open up your heart and let the sun shine in.

 Walter's pain was, for a while, all gone.  He said he wished everyone would sing that song at his funeral.

 We spoke a bit longer and I left for the night.  I rejoiced that for a brief moment I was allowed to be the angel that he needed.

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 V. 
  •  I do not really care if I allow my mind to enjoy a self-created reality.
  •  I do not care if there are other explanations or truths. 
  •  I celebrate every opportunity to be fully me, but I also celebrate every opportunity for my ego to step aside and let some other joy shine through me.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

 

The Inalienable Right to Own A Sig Sauer

In horror I read of the three guns carried by the Connecticut mass murderer. One gun was not yet identified in the press. The other two were a Glock handgun and a Sig Sauer semiautomatic rifle, favorites of military and law enforcement and gun enthusiasts for their “stopping power” and reliability. I visited the link to a gun enthusiasts’ video on the Sig Sauer, capable of firing faster than ten shots in a second and firing a bullet that causes a half inch entry wound with an exit wound the size of a basketball.

 
I could not help but see in my heart and mind the bodies of schoolchildren dead with exit wounds the size of basketballs.
 
It is very hard not to die when shot at close range with a Sig Sauer or a Glock.
 
I then searched for “constitutional legal arguments against gun control” and read several long legal briefs published in a number of law journals and reviews. I was impressed with the erudition. I was surprised by the gist of the arguments: our right to bear arms is historically necessary.
 
When the Bill of Rights was written, we had just triumphed in a war for independence from the rule of a perceived tyrannical king of a vast empire. We the people had no established army: we were a rag-tag rebellion, primarily fighting as militias, armed with our own firearms. True, an army and even a navy were cobbled together, but the war was fought by citizen soldiers of local organized militias.
 
When the Bill of Rights was written, we feared tyranny and we feared that a clever tyrant would protect his reign by limiting our ability to defend ourselves. Lest we fall prey to homegrown or foreign tyranny, we insisted on the necessity of militias. We needed to be able to arm ourselves to protect ourselves. The second amendment to the constitution gives us the undeniable right to bear arms so that we can form militias to protect ourselves from such an eventuality.
 
And so that she could be part of a militia to protect we the people, the middle aged mother of her matricidal and innocent-murdering son owned three or more weapons of great firing speed and reliability and stopping power in order that she be at the ready to ward off tyranny and protect the American Way?
 
I do not think so.
 
 
We DO have the constitutional right to own guns so that we may form militias.
 
Militias may exist to protect us from the government if it were to become corrupt and threaten our liberties or our lives. Militias may exist to support the government if the formed military is inadequate to the task of protecting us from outside threats.
 
I, for one, cannot see that these beliefs are at all central to the belief or practice of the vast majority of gun owners.
 
I, for one, cannot see and that this precept is at all meaningful or at all viable in the United States of America of today.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

 

GIGO,part 2, Medical Records

GIGO

Part 2 of "The Medical Record"

"Garbage in, garbage out", GIGO, is a term that computer geeks have used since the early days of computer mainframes in the 1950's. Computers make impressive charts and graphs. Computers make impressive data displays. If the information entered is wrong, so is the output.

I am concerned about the methodologies used to enter data into the electronic medical record. While the old handwritten chart was prone to human error and illegibility, the new record seems to magnify the errors and present them legibly and authoritatively.

I currently have a patient in the hospital admitted (as most are) through the emergency department. The ER is the first department in the hospital to have doctors and nurses notes computerized. In the very first doctor entry in her chart, the ER doctor's note, in the very first paragraph, she is described as in "no distress and well hydrated", as well as being "grey, comatose, and with dry mucous membranes" (a cardinal sign of severe dehydration). How can she exhibit all these contradictory findings?

The answer is twofold: templates and checklists.

Of course, in the end, it is the responsibility of the physician to ensure that that notes are not only sensible, but truly reflect his observations and understanding.

The computerized record, however, allows and enables, if not encourages, GIGO.

There are far too many men who have medical records recording their pelvic exams and make note of their previous hysterectomy, as well as women who are recorded as having normal testicular exams. Why? Surely, not because of an epidemic of hermaphroditism, but, rather, a rash of checklists. GIGO.

Despite the epidemic of obesity, and the documentation of patient weights, the record nearly always describes the individual as "well nourished". Why? Surely not because of a hesitancy to label the 400 pound patient as obese, but, rather, templates. GIGO.

Templates push square patients into round descriptions.

Checklists enable clickety-click instead of thinkety-think.

I fear that we are becoming unthinking extensions of our technology. The nursing tech recording vital signs enters a temperature of 95.3 into the computer without a second thought, and without a gaze at the flushed red flesh or a touch of the feverish forehead. GIGO.

 

The Design of the Medical Record

The Design of the Medical Record
Part 1

The hospital medical record has existed since hospitals began. There are ancient Greek archives of Hippocrates' "Cult of Aesculapius" whose temples were the sites of the first recorded gathering places for care for the ill: primitive hospitals. Hospitals have evolved far in the past two millennia. The medical record evolved.

There was a revolution in hospital care that occurred in the sixth decade of the twentieth century, following WWII and the Korean War. Surgical care had progressed by leaps and in-patient medical care was progressing rapidly. The medical record evolved to serve as documentation and communication tool.

At the end of the sixties, the growth in hospital care was exponential. The entire scope of the medical record was carefully studied and intentionally designed. To a very great degree the medical record was standardized across America. The medical record as a tool of documentation and communication reached its pinnacle in the mid seventies.

The hospital medical record consisted of the following elements:
• Demographics
• Emergency room record
• History and Physical
• Physicians' progress notes
• Nursing notes
• Vital signs
• Consultation notes
• Procedure notes
• Laboratory reports
• Imaging reports
• Therapy reports
• Doctors' orders
• Discharge summary

A separate section of the chart held consent forms.

Each of the elements had its own tab in the binder. Other than the lab and imaging reports and the demographic face sheet the entire chart was hand-written. In some institutions, the doctors and nurses charted in the same progress note section. Sometimes the entire physician documentation, from emergency room, H&P, progress notes, and consultations were all in a single tab, written and stored chronologically sequentially.

What was most striking about the chart was the rigorous way that physicians and nurses documented their observations and their assessments. In particular, physicians delineated their diagnostic thought process and their therapeutic decision making. Everything was communicated and available in a well organized chart.

Granted, there was vast variation in compliance with this model. Physician poor handwriting was already a hackneyed joke. Some doctors just did not respect the value, beauty, and sanctity of the medical record.

The "problem oriented record", formulated by Dr. Weed, and adopted by the entire medical community in the late sixties was at the heart of the structure of the medical record. The chart contained a standardized PROBLEM LIST, with dates of onset and dates of resolution of each problem, with the problem described by the "highest degree of resolution". A problem initially listed as "abdominal pain" might later be resolved to "acute peritonitis" and later to "acute sigmoid diverticulitis with localized peri-colonic abscess". Each progress note referenced the problem list.

The progress notes were in the now famous SOAP format, summarizing the patient's subjective reporting, the doctors' (or nurses') objective observations as well as pertinent laboratory or imaging data, the professionals' assessment of each problem and a problem oriented plan.

The notes were sequential and clearly told the story of the hospitalization. The structure facilitated communication and decision making.

The initial "history and physical" had a structure that dates back to the early twentieth century. It was a careful record of the patients presenting complaint, a detailed history of the present problem, a summary of the past medical and surgical history, as well as family, and social data. A "review of systems" systematically reviewed the patients current reporting of any symptoms not clearly relevant to the presenting problem. Then came a structured comprehensive examination report, followed by a review of all the lab or ancillary data available at the time of admission. Next, the patient's condition was carefully analyzed in the assessment: the problem list was here generated. The preceding data was synthesized and a tentative series of diagnoses recorded. The thought process was delineated. The assessment was followed by the plan: how the doctor intended to proceed with treatment and diagnostics. The rationale was described.

Procedure notes and surgery notes had standardized structure and were included in the sequential flow of the chart.

At the conclusion of the hospitalization, a discharge summary was prepared, summarizing the entirety of the hospitalization.

In the design of a medical record for a new medium in a new millennium, the computerized medical records of the twenty-first century, it is incumbent on the creator to, at the least, maintain the working structures of the paper chart. Since no model has ever proven as valuable as the problem oriented record, it would seem obvious that the design of the electronic record should facilitate the production of an equally valuable record. Perhaps the high structure of database technology could even renew the values of the ideal record that have been lost, abandoned, or made sloppy by the past four decades of medical evolution. It is surely offensive and wrong for the system designer to impose models of data entry, recording, and retrieval that fit some model of program design, but that do not promote a medical record model that has been time honored by the medical profession.

Many forces in society, primarily government and financial institutions (third party payers) are placing tremendous pressure on the medical profession to conform to a model of medical practice that is foreign to our science and our traditions. It is fully acceptable for the medical record to serve as a tool for those forces if and only if the principles and values of the practice of medicine are not thereby compromised. Since the same forces are driving the institution of the electronic medical record, it is incumbent on the designers of that tool to honor our medical record.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

 

Health Care Reform Epiphony

When I was in medical school I had friends in law school. Late in our first years of training in our chosen fields, I had an epiphany. It was not at all about the information that we were learning, it was about the thought process. The medical students were being taught to think like doctors and the law students to think like lawyers. Both professions are, in most ways, about problem solving. There was a major difference in the problem solving processes taught.

In medicine we gather data, our history, physical exam, test results, and exploration. Along the way we are juggling the data and fitting to patterns. At some point we prescribe or perform a procedure to attempt to fix the problem. If the fix fails, we regroup and try again: gathering data, pattern fitting, trying to solve. All the human players are on the same team, the doctors, nurses, technicians, as well as the patient and the family: the enemy is disease or dysfunction afflicting the patient. Precision and speed are essential. Caring and compassion are essential as well.

In law the process has a different flavor. Although there is information gathering, the process is adversarial. There are winners and losers, and the battle goes to not necessarily to the best solution, but to the the best fighter. Perhaps justice is served, but all the combatants are bloodied. Surely there are "principles of law" that are based on millenia of sorting of human civilizations' wranglings with conflicts between people. But the lawyers thought process is taught about the minutia and techniques that win the battle, not for what is right, but how to win.

I watched as my law student friends became lawyers: arguing their points with ferocity and skill. I watched as my budding medical colleagues became expert in data analysis and complex human bio-psycho-social systems.

Tonight I had another epiphany.

It has been the in last forty-five years, and particularly the past thirty, that health care delivery has shifted and declined. I blame the decline on the shot-gun wedding of government/business with medicine. Under duress, medicine was forced to accept governmental intervention and control and subsequent business interference. The intrinsic thought process of physicians is incompatible with the legalisms of government and the imperatives of the marketplace. The medical model has been supplanted by a business model and legal process. I fear that the new generation of physicians will be taught to think like businessmen, lawyers, and politicians. I see it already.

My generation of physicians are retiring early, unable to practice as the physicians they were molded to be. Few physicians appreciate the interference and control of Medicare and the myriad insurers. The adversarial relationship is foreign to us: it just does not work for us. We are forced to argue with representatives over even the most trivial things.

This morning I was making rounds at the hospital. I needed to write orders, write a progress note, and obtain written consent from a patient for her blood transfusion. I had to search through racks of ninety-six (I counted) different forms to find these three sheets. Of course, half the chart information is not paper, but is in the computer. Despite the computerization there are over one hundred required forms. Thirty years ago there were less than half a dozen forms in the chart. Forms and paperwork are part of the legal mind-set, not the medical world.

I believe the ever-rising cost of health care and the ever-declining esteem and honor of my profession is a direct result of the spawn of that wrong-minded marriage.

 

Halloween Scary Medicare Letter

I received the thick envelope from Medicare today. They are demanding I repay them because they erroneously overpaid me. The letter details the rules and regulations regarding the necessary repayment. It details my rights for dispute (but makes it clear that such appeal is hopeless). It details the penalty of 10.875% interest on the amount due if not repaid within thirty days. (I assume this is an "annual percentage rate", but it never says that. By gosh! It could be a daily or monthly rate!) If I do not pay by December 3, 2011, they will withhold all my Medicare payments. I am allowed to make an extended payment plan, and I am allowed to certify that I am bankrupt or unable to pay because of other financial difficulty (three more pa ges to so certify).

And then there are the listings of the overpayments.

There are sixty-two incidences where they overpaid me, from February until June of 2010. The amounts of overpayment range from one cent (really! eighteen of the errors were less than a nickel!!) to whopping $1.04. The average amount is forty cents.'

So I am immediately sending them back the $24.63 they demand as soon as I am able (TODAY!) lest I incur the wrath of this bureaucracy!

Their rules. Their error. Their threats. Their ridiculous recouping of this pittance.

Monday, October 24, 2011

 

Santa

As she was leaving the office, she asked my advice:

"What should I tell my boys about Santa Claus?"

Spock-like (Mr. not Dr.) my left eyebrow rose and I asked for clarification. It was clear that her boys, eight, six and two, were asking if Santa is "real".

I took her back into the exam room and I carefully told her to tell them the truth, that of course, Santa is real. She was shocked that her Jewish doctor would make that claim.

I asked if she had read her boys "The Real Tooth Fairy". She never heard of it and I suggested she read it to the boys.

I know her to be a devout Christian so I asked her if she believed in God. And I asked, "Is God an old man with a long white beard who sits on a throne in heaven?"

That, I said, was "pediatric theology", a metaphorical description of an incomprehensible unknown. Yet we ascribe attributes and miracles to God.

Santa can be the joy of gifting, of sharing, of simple laughter, and of family: of caring and self-less joy. Santa can be a metaphor and symbol for so much good. Santa is real if we so choose.

She got the message.

I suggested that the older boys were old enough to begin to understand the difference between icons/symbols/metaphor and physical manifestations.

And then I shared my grief that a real Santa had recently died.

Bob was tall and round, with white hair, a long white beard, and a deep and resonant laugh. He had a gift of playfulness and joy and generosity. At this time of year he wore a red suit with jingling bells and personified the metaphor of Santa. He made everyone smile widely and filled hearts with warmth and joy. He died recently, and I miss that man. But Santa is still real.

After she reads them about "The Real Tooth Fairy" she can have a discussion about the REAL Santa. The eight-year-old may "get it" and the six-year-old will wonder. The two-year-old can wait for Santa to come and eat the Christmas cookies and milk.

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