“I’m so sorry, but it looks like the cancer has spread.” As I heard these words come out of my mouth, I knew that in a split second, a new reality was created in the mind of the patient that I was talking to. I looked at his face and saw that he was trying to remain strong, but in his demeanor, it was apparent that dreams were crushed and that ...

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My home hospital is small. In a town of just over 20,000 people, this hospital has 25 beds and is designated "critical access" by Medicare because it is felt to be necessary to the health care of the community. Critical access is a designation which was introduced in 1997 when modernization of Medicare payment systems threatened to close a large proportion of hospitals in small communities which were unable to ...

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The stethoscope has been a symbol of the medical profession for two centuries. Dr. René Laennec probably had no idea how his idea would take off when he first invented the simple wooden tube in Paris back in 1816. After a few modifications over the course of the next several decades, it evolved into what we know today. A central part of the physical examination, the stethoscope currently gives doctors priceless information about the cardiac and ...

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I recently presented my diagnostic talk -- Learning to Think Like a Clinician -- at the Virginia ACP meeting.  Afterwards several physicians wanted to discuss the reasons for diagnostic challenges.  They convinced me that many regulations from CMS and other insurers have influenced policies that increase anchoring and diagnostic inertia. When the emergency department physicians admit to the hospital, they have to give an admission diagnosis.  At least in the United ...

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I hear providers groan when we talk about the patient experience and some even tell me that they have no impact on the patient experience, that’s an administration problem. Nothing is further from the truth. If you interact with patients, you influence the patient experience. Some providers think a full waiting room is a measure of patient satisfaction. Actually, it’s a measure of how long patients will tolerate a long waiting ...

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Recently, I attended what may have been my last quarterly medical staff meeting at my local hospital -- ever. (I am retiring from medicine in ten weeks.) I certainly wasn't there for the food, although the fare was much better than the daily servings in the doctors' lounge. Part of the night's agenda was a rousing talk by the hospital's new chief medical officer (CMO). A retired surgeon, the CMO ...

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Well over a year ago, I advised my 80-year-old patient and her children that due to progression of her Parkinson’s disease.  Because of her frail nature, she needed a higher level of assistance and care if she wished to remain in her home.  She was extremely unsteady walking and several courses of physical therapy had not improved the situation. The patient was feisty and would only allow help to come ...

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Frontline caregivers across the United States -- and in many other countries, no doubt -- are bombarded by multiple quality improvement (QI) projects. A clinical unit might simultaneously be engaged in efforts to reduce readmissions, eliminate hospital-acquired infections and other complications, increase hand-hygiene compliance, improve performance on core measures, and enhance the patient experience. The demands brought by participating in all of these efforts risk overwhelming health care professionals, who ...

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As health care rightly moves towards a model of rewarding quality over quantity, the issue of how best to reimburse physicians is also taking a front seat. If not fee-for-service, then how best to judge and reward quality? In this new value-based system of the future, some members of the medical community have been increasingly advocating for billing purely for time. In fact, over the years I’ve heard many doctors (usually ...

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A hospital is not the homiest of establishments. The bright neon lights, strange smells and piercing high-pitched beeps that radiate from the rooms of dormant patients fill the halls in a symphony of annoying sensory stimulation. But to someone recovering from a relationship that just ended, hospitals are heavenly. When the lonely silence of your one bedroom apartment is overwhelmingly loud, beeping IV lines and incoherent mumbles are surprisingly therapeutic. As ...

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