Two weeks had passed before I learned what happened. I hadn’t seen him in several months. At our last meeting, the trees were full of red and orange leaves. He, as usual, was not interested in talking to me. He was sitting in front of a closed shop. “Hi. How are you?” “Fine.” People in the neighborhood took care of him. Surrounding him were several plastic bags holding neatly stacked styrofoam containers filled with soup. ...

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Editor's note: Please read Dr. Yang's entire Red Herring series for background prior to reading this post. *** The patient really is fine. She returned to the gastroenterology clinic several times for treatments to widen her esophagus. (It’s a neat procedure: The GI doctors insert a small balloon into the esophagus. They gently inflate the balloon to stretch the stricture a few millimeters. With repeated stretching, the esophagus will remain open.) The patient ate ...

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During my time at PPOH, I spent one day a week working at a geriatric adult home. An adult home is a residence that generally houses people with psychiatric conditions. They can be run by either public or private agencies. At best, they provide services and supports for the residents so they can live independently. At worst, they provide very little other than shelter; they just take people’s money. (The latter ...

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In New York, I worked for an organization called Project for Psychiatric Outreach to the Homeless (PPOH). It has a humble history: Over 20 years ago, a group of psychiatrists were sitting around and discussing the need for psychiatric services for the homeless. They decided to volunteer their time and skills to this population. The organization grew and, for both administrative and financial reasons, eventually became part of another social ...

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I recently spoke with some people about medical systems—the actual processes involved in providing health care to patients. Story ideas involving systems sparked in my head: What about the guy who makes your sandwich at the deli? What if he had to grow the tomatoes? and cure the meats? and chop down trees to fashion the cutting boards? and weld the freezer parts together? etc. All the ideas looked much better ...

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"Psychiatry consult, returning a page,” she said, cradling the phone between her left ear and left shoulder. Digging around in her pockets, she eventually pulled out a half-sheet of paper that wasn’t already covered in barely legible writing and boxes marked with Xs. Her right hand clicked the pen and prepared to write.

“Hi, this is Cardiology,” the male voice on the phone said. Doctors tend to lose their names when they ...

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Kevin Pho, at KevinMD.com, posted a commentary about encounters with "difficult patients."  He correctly notes that physicians themselves contribute to these interactions. To reduce the likelihood of these encounters, he suggests that physicians would benefit from more training in "psychosocial skills." Kudos to Kevin for adjusting his own language by the second sentence of his post: He makes the distinction between difficult patient and difficult encounter. A vital step in decreasing ...

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Dr. Erdoc happened to look up when the internist walked into the emergency department. “Oh no,” he murmured under his breath. The consulting psychiatrist was sitting next to him, typing a note. She looked at him and raised an eyebrow. “I hoped it wouldn’t be him. Unlike his colleagues, Dr. Internist seems to have a deep loathing for us emergency docs,” Dr. Erdoc explained as he stood up. Dr. Internist was frowning ...

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