Last year the New York Times reported that the aviation industry had become so safe that one could fly every day for 123,000 years before dying in an aviation crash. I wish we could say the same for the U.S. health care system. Nationally, problems with health care quality (doing too much, doing the wrong things, and doing too little when indicated) are pretty clear. The bigger problem is that the progress has ...

Read more...

Oncologists have one of the lowest burnout rates. Why? The alarm clock’s blast brings hours of work, running from task to task, always pushing toward the next turn.  In moments of failure, the waves of complexity and anxiety batter and you question each stroke. Then you fly downhill, easy breeze in your face, as success urges you on.  After the finish, the parking lot empties, the lights go out, and ...

Read more...

At the national conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), I got to hear Hillary Clinton talk about the AAP's partnership with her Too Small to Fail campaign. It made me happy -- and sad. The partnership is a great idea. It's all about improving early childhood literacy, which is way more crucial than most people realize. It's not just about an income gap when we talk about the ...

Read more...

Physician suicide 101: Secrets, lies and solutions This article adapted from a lecture presented by Pamela Wible, MD, at the 2014 American Academy of Family Physicians Scientific Assembly in Washington DC. Why did you go to medical school? I’m a family physician born into a family of physicians. My parents warned me not to pursue medicine. So I went to medical school. Ten years later, I’m unhappy with the direction ...

Read more...

Why do drugs cost so much? Drug prices are a difficult issue to write about because real data about the workings of pharmaceutical companies is very difficult to uncover. Still, I came face to face with something that seemed extremely not right and so I feel I should at least make some comment. It started when I prescribed a patient sumatriptan for her recently more frequent migraines. ...

Read more...

Anesthesiology used to be a job that was attractive for people who don’t like patients very much.  The drill was: Meet patient 5 minutes before surgery, do case in OR without interruption, drop off in PACU, done.  Minimal need for personal interaction with patient, no need to listen to complaints about back pain and demands for antibiotics for a cold, no risk of getting called in the middle of the ...

Read more...

When patients seek a second opinion: Its not about you I remember when I first started in oncology; I had joined the faculty at Brown three years after fellowship and was seeing a patient* with newly diagnosed breast cancer. She was in her 40s, an advertising executive, married, with two small kids. The diagnosis was unexpected (as it usually is), with a lump found while showering. She had come ...

Read more...

As we learn of new suspected cases of Ebola infection in the United States, causing worries among the population and renewed efforts by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to contain the epidemic. A student in the postgraduate course in research ethics that I teach at Albert Einstein College of Medicine recently asked whether we could discuss the Ebola epidemic in class. Because I had prepared the syllabus for the course months ago, I hadn’t ...

Read more...

In my administrative role, I have the great pleasure of signing thank you letters to patients and family members who have acknowledged the great care they have received by one of our physicians or other caregivers. It is a nice way to tell the patient “we got your note” and to simultaneously recognize the provider by copying her or him. The best part is that I get to read the ...

Read more...

When a doctor cries The calls came simultaneously.  One from the hospital and the other from a nursing home.  Two deaths separated by fractions of a second.  My heart swelled.  For a moment.  The pile of papers on the desk softly whispered.  My mobile howled jealously vying for my fragile attention.   I could feel the emotion drain as I turned back to the task ...

Read more...

The most valuable lesson about teaching that I ever learned occurred in high school. I took my first algebra test. The questions were easy, and I wrote down the answers. All my answers were correct, but I got a B. After each answer, she wrote “show your work.” She explained that while algebra questions start out easy, they become more complex over time. Only through careful understanding of ones thought ...

Read more...

Every time there is a terrorist act or a mass murder, reporters start calling with questions on the psychiatric diagnosis of the perp. The default position seems to be that every religious extremist or political fanatic or mass murderer must be crazy. How else to account for their weird behavior? Naming a diagnosis somehow satisfies a deep human need to explain what otherwise seems an unexplainable act. But names can only ...

Read more...

Its time to tell fast medicine to slow down Americans tend to like fast things: instant coffee, sports cars, and speed dating. Many share a fascination with record holders, such as the world’s fastest runner or texter. And increasingly, the same goes for medicine. The number of minute clinics is exploding. Some emergency rooms now post their current wait times on roadside billboards. And increasingly, physicians and other health professionals ...

Read more...

Money has always been and will always be a big part of medicine Medicine is not about money, except when it is. When I was in my residency training, pharmaceutical reps still roamed the land. Vast herds of gorgeous young women in tight skirts and stilettos traveled through doctor's offices, clinics, hospitals and residencies all over creation. Their appearance was always a thing of joy, especially for sleepy, hungry physicians-in-training. Someone would run to the ...

Read more...

I just recently attended a meeting where there was a panel discussion on caring for Holocaust survivors. The person who opened the meeting spoke about how she felt inadequate when dealing with this population because she had no personal place of reference -- she had no family members who died during the Holocaust, and so she couldn’t truly understand what the survivors went through. I have a different thought. Although every experience ...

Read more...

Fall in love with medicine againFall in love with medicine again An excerpt from Remedy for Burnout: 7 Prescriptions Doctors Use to Find Meaning in Medicine. A doctor’s self-worth can be tied up with a lot of issues. How well can we make a diagnosis? How elegantly can we perform the surgery? How happy are our patients? Our staffs? Our families? How many articles ...

Read more...

The documentation I get from everyone is terrible.  Seldom does it tell me what I actually want to know, and if there is useful information it is buried in an avalanche of yada yada.  The main reason for this is that documentation is driven by our ridiculous payment system, which requires us to follow arcane rules to generate notes that justify the obscure codes we submit for money from the ...

Read more...

I am currently a pharmacy student, and although I have not yet dispensed a medication, I had my first experience concerning the cost of care a few months ago. My ear hurt very badly when I woke up in the morning, and being that I had to go to work later that evening, I decided to go to the local clinic in order to get my ear treated. The physician was ...

Read more...

While studying for my recertification exam as required by the American Board of Pediatrics, I came across this question:

 A 7-year-old girl is having difficulty establishing relationships with other children despite repeated opportunities to do so. The girl prefers to stay near her mother or her teacher and will avoid other children. She sometimes cries and can be difficult to calm down after being dropped off at school, so her mother frequently remains ...

Read more...

Another day, another pacemaker, at least so it seemed at first. The usual greeting the patient, answering the last questions, consent signing, placement of the IV, EKG leads, prepping of the surgical site and initiation of the preoperative antibiotics were all recent memories.  He laid there, smiling, knowing he'd made the right decision after years of struggling with his arrhythmia in other ways.  His heart was showing signs of slight weakening and ...

Read more...