In retrospect -- always in retrospect -- it should have been obvious that, when it came to Dr. Charles Denham, something was not quite right. In a remarkable number of cases of medical errors, it’s clear -- again, in retrospect -- that there were signs that something was amiss, but they were ignored. The reasons are manifold: I was just too busy, things are always glitchy around here, I didn’t want ...

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As my Division of Hospital Medicine has grown -- now to about 60 faculty -- I spend part of my time figuring out what direction we should go in. At times, the path is obvious. It didn’t take Wayne Gretzky to recognize that we needed expertise in healthcare IT a decade ago, or in cost reduction more recently. The story of how we became the nation’s leading program for “global health hospitalists” is ...

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About eight years ago I was desperate to improve my golf game. I just couldn’t straighten out my drives or hit my irons crisply. (Yes, I’m fully aware that this is a first world problem). I decided to try golf camp in Palm Springs for a few days. My sensei, a crusty ex-touring pro named Artie McNickle, watched me hit several dozen balls on the driving range, video recorder running. “So, ...

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In 2008, I gave the keynote address at the first “Diagnostic Errors in Medicine” conference, sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The meeting was filled with people from a wide variety of disciplines, including clinical medicine, education, risk management, cognitive science, and informatics, all passionate about making diagnosis safer. The atmosphere was electric. My lecture was entitled, “Why diagnostic errors don’t get any respect” (I wrote up the ...

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A few weeks ago, a middle-aged man decided to tweet about his mother’s illness from her bedside. The tweets went viral and became the subject of a national conversation. The man, of course, was NPR anchorman Scott Simon, and his reflections about his mother’s illness and ultimate death are poignant, insightful, and well worth your time. Those same days, and unaware of Simon’s real-time reports, I also found myself caring for ...

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There are tens of thousands of policies in Medicare’s policy manual, which makes for stiff competition for the “Most Maddening” award. But my vote goes to the policy around “observation status,” which is crazy-making for patients, administrators, and physicians. “Obs status” began life as Medicare’s way of characterizing those patients who needed a little more time after their ED stay to sort out whether they truly needed admission. In many hospitals, ...

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I recently completed my last day as chair of the ABIM, and ended my eight-year tenure on the Board. In this blog – a bookend to the one I wrote at the start of the year, which went near-viral – I’ll describe some of our accomplishments this year and a few of the challenges that I leave my talented successors to grapple with. I had two very tangible tasks ...

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I sometimes explain to medical students that they are entering a profession being transformed, like coal to diamonds, under the pressure of a new mandate. “The world is going to push us, relentlessly and without mercy, to deliver the highest quality, safest, most satisfying care at the lowest cost,” I’ll say gravely, trying to get their attention. “What exactly were you trying to do before?” some have asked, in that wonderful way ...

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Everybody hates curbside consults – the informal, “Hey, Joe, how would you treat asymptomatic pyuria in my 80-year-old nursing home patient?”-type questions that dominate those Doctor’s Lounge conversations that aren’t about sports, Wall Street, or ObamaCare. Consultants hate being asked clinical questions out of context; they know that they may give incorrect advice if the underlying facts and assumptions aren’t right (the old garbage in, garbage out ...

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In the past, neither hospitals nor practicing physicians were accustomed to being measured and judged. Aside from periodic inspections by the Joint Commission (for which they had years of notice and on which failures were rare), hospitals did not publicly report their quality data, and payment was based on volume, not performance. Physicians endured an orgy of judgment during their formative years – in high school, college, medical school, and in ...

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