Medicine From The Trenches

Experiences from undergradute, graduate school, medical school, residency and beyond.

Well, Spring is Here! Good Time to Make Some Changes.

DSCN1772    I live in the Midwest where Spring took a long time to arrive. I have been training for an upcoming Half-Marathon but the cold temperatures put a damper on my quest for chewing up a good mileage base for my upcoming race. Still, the warm temperatures arrive with rain (the bane of my existence on the asphalt) which forced me into more resolve to get my running done.

My solution has been to run very early in the morning (3:00AM) and late in the evening after dark. My mind figured that if I didn’t see the pouring rain, it wouldn’t bother me as much as watching the downpour by daylight. My strategy worked a bit but the warmer temperature did come and I have a decent base of training.

As I watched my resting heart rate drop into the 50s, I watched my body become extremely thin. I worried a bit about losing muscle mass but one of my colleagues in Sports Medicine encouraged upping my protein intake. Following her advice, I did up my dietary protein while cutting back on carbohydrate intake. I have also found that I just can eat large quantities of food thus my weight loss continues while my speed is increasing along with my endurance.

My mind is peaceful, organized and disciplined which serve me well in medicine/surgery. My early morning runs are a chance to let my thoughts go in any direction and I tread along the empty streets of my Midwestern suburban town. I don’t have to worry about dogs or kids in the very early morning. The police officers on duty are now on a first-name basis with me with one presenting me with a light-reflecting vest that can be seen for miles under the street lights.

I also take a run around my hospital grounds to lose tension when things seem to interfere with my rest. On those shorter hospital runs, I plan lectures and work out pesky problems. I meditate and pray a prayer of thanks on many of my runs as I am grateful for good joints and a healthy body. As I seem, my patients who are often sick from years of smoking, unhealthy eating, and diabetes, I know that every step keeps me healthy and serene.

I changed my eating habits; no more cafeteria food in the middle of the night replaced with fresh cut vegetables and fresh fruits. Though I love my black French Roast coffee, I limit myself to two cups freshly brewed and savored. I eat nuts, a few raisins for sweetness and drink plenty of water to keep hydrated. Keeping hydrated in the HVAC air of my university and hospital is a challenge for me.

I now live one day at a time because my training for my long-distance races has forced me to do this. I don’t make the excuse that I am too tired or too busy to cook a good healthy meal (chop vegetables on the weekend and keep them in the freezer). I try not to sit for hours on end reading journals and completing records but move or stand when I do these necessities of my profession. I park in the furthest parking space and enjoy the brisk walk into the building. I shop in the outer aisles of the grocery store where I can find fresh fruit and vegetables; limiting my access to processed foods.

My complexion is glowing; my mind is aware and quicker these days based on a few changes to my diet and exercise. I used the changing weather to change how I take care of myself. I felt that I couldn’t counsel my patients in terms of a healthy lifestyle if I wasn’t living healthy myself. I also enjoy shopping (get many of my dresses from Costco) and love that I now wear Size Small scrubs (cuter than the Large ones).

I told myself that I would change one day at a time. If I could do one day, I could stretch my one day to two. Making the changes was difficult at first but now they are my normal routine. I sleep better, move better and get my work done better. There are times when I run the 14 floors of my hospital just because I know that I can do this now. What a difference making a change even at my advanced age can do and mean.

Take the time to make some small changes that will lead to a healthier mind and body. It’s very difficult for me to be depressed and angry when I am running in the wind (and occasional rain) with the world moving by me. I find that I smile more and enjoy greeting the world in the darkness as I head out at 3:00AM. I also find that the phone doesn’t ring at that hour either.

Spend some time taking care of yourself and appreciating what your body can do and how it can change. Be good to yourself and appreciate how powerful self-love and appreciation can become infectious to all around you. Wear brighter colors or change the color of your lipstick. Do anything that makes you feel good about this amazing world where you will help others and allow them to help you.

Spring is here soon to be followed by summer with warm days, beautiful flowers and trees. The smell of freshly cut grass or charcoal burning on the evening grills is a sheer pleasure. The early morning fog, quiet as the sun comes up and hearing an occasional alarm sounding as my neighbors start their days is great too. It’s a bit of a spiritual experience but it’s a good one!

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5 May, 2018 Posted by | medical school, medicine, relaxation | , | Leave a comment

Flu to You too!

2018-01-06 12.58.52-1

This year’s flu season is in full swing! Here in the Midwest where I live, there have been deaths from this strain of influenza, affecting people who are younger and apparently healthy before acquiring the virus. Along with this deadly strain comes the news media reports that the flu vaccine isn’t as effective as in previous years; related to me by my patients who complain that the vaccine “makes them sick” or that they don’t want to get the immunization.

My reply is that while the vaccine isn’t 100% effective, it does make any bouts with the flu, milder. I also remind them that along with the flu vaccine, good hand-washing is paramount. Wash hands often, don’t touch face and try to avoid those who are already sick with viral upper respiratory infections. Smokers are at increased risk for having a rough time this year because conventional cigarette/pipe/cigar smoke defeats the cilia in one’s respiratory tract allowing increased susceptibility to pathogens. In short, if you have folks who are smokers, this is a good time to either quit or move to nicotine patches, e-cigarettes/vapers or other smoking cessation-devices.

Grumbling that one does not want to be forced to receive the flu immunization or that one is going the “die from something” isn’t sound thinking for long-term health preservation in order to continue risky behavior. Along with getting proper rest, proper exercise and stress-reduction, one needs to eat properly. “I don’t have time to breathe, let alone work out”, is not going to help keep one healthy during these times when most of us are surrounded by patient’s suffering from viral illnesses.

My final thoughts center around those who become ill. Please stay home, get some rest and don’t bring your viral illnesses to the hospital/clinic/school for sharing with others. Keep your children home even if you must stay with them. Rest and self-care are more important than ever with this year’s influenza strain. H3N2, the predominant strain (it’s a strain of Influenza A) is not trivial. I would rather err on the side of caution and care than put more at risk. This is not the time to “soldier through” or “tough it out” because many who consider themselves young and invincible are ending up with serious complications.

Your first step in taking good care of your patients is to take good care of yourself in this new year. Don’t start 2018 off  by adding to the patient population because you want to be a trooper. Yes, I have excused any of my students or trainees who have picked up the flu! Get that flu shot too!

13 January, 2018 Posted by | medical school, medicine | | Leave a comment

Teach Your Eye to See

Clip-1adj

In becoming a physician, one of the adjustments that must be made in medical training, is teaching your eye to “see” what needs to be seen. There is no medical test or radiographic imaging study that can replace what the human eye powered by the human brain can see and process by looking at a patient who comes into your care. It’s important to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

One of my favorite exercises this time of year, is to find a point of observation in a crowded shopping mall and observe the shoppers. I look for musculoskeletal pathology in terms of gait abnormalities. I look at who uses those shopping scooters, usually young morbidly obese or elderly people. I look at how parents, children, friends and others interact as they hurry about their shopping. I allow my brain to observe as much as I can in the short period of time that people move past me.

I look at the complete environment of the mall such as the location of security cameras, the noise level, the composition of the floor as well as how many people can pass my observation point. I note the location and characteristics of security guards who are likely observing me as I observe shoppers.

The point of learning to observe is to allow your brain and eyes to focus in order to hone your observational skills. If you set the f number high on the lens of your camera, everything comes into focus. If you set the f number lower, the object in the center of your photo comes into focus but the background is blurred for emphasis on the intended object. This is often how one’s attention can be directed but as a physician, I have to look at everything, much like the higher f number.

Take everything into the context and get a complete picture first but then focus on what needs the most care. Learn to use all of your senses especially your vision and hearing as you put your patient’s story into context. Learn to see posture, gait, and overall affect as you interact with your patients. If family members are present, look at their interactions as well. In short, learn to see the whole picture, evaluate it and see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

In photographing the ordinary document clip on my desk, I see aspects of it that I don’t usually evaluate. I see the shadows along with the background as the clip rests upon it. Today, I never saw the small black dots as I think of my computer desk as only non-reflective gray. Today, as I look at my photo of one of many clips, I see something that I hadn’t noticed before. This is another exercise that I often engage in with my camera which is becoming an extension of my eye.

Along with visual observation, I attempt to hone my mental processing by using my daily morning distance runs to enhance my meditation skills. As I run along, generally after warm up, taking my attention from how my body moves, I allow my mind to go where it will. Thoughts enter and leave or stay with my like a song that I can’t get out of my head. This is a great reason to take 30 minutes each day to do something aerobic for your mind and body.

Along with training my eye to see beyond the ordinary, I strive to train my mind to consider all possibilities. The more possibilities I consider, the better my diagnosis. As my experience in medicine/surgery has increased, I want my mind to absorb as much of those experiences possible. Take some time over these holidays and observe, evaluate and enjoy the processing. Observation is a practiced and honed skill; good for any physician.

18 December, 2017 Posted by | medical school, medicine | | Leave a comment

Continuing Medical Education

During the summer, I attempt to ramp up my efforts to complete as much continuing medical education as possible. During the academic year, it seems as if time gets away from me and I find myself busier and busier. Continuing medical education (CME) is a great way to refresh one’s knowledge of basic science while learning new information that will be of benefit to the patient’s in my practice.

I strive to keep work on my internal medicine knowledge as well as my surgical knowledge because my patients often have complex medical problems that send them to my care as a result of complications. While I have no problem consulting my family medicine and internal medicine colleagues for assistance in patient management, I need to be a vigilant as possible in the total care of the patient.

CME is far from being a chore for me because I love the learning process. It was the constant quest to learn how medicine and surgery works, that drew me to medical study in the first place. One becomes familiar with the volume of information in medical school but comfortable with the constant upgrading of one’s basic knowledge base in practice. I have found that every time I read even familiar information, I gain new insight and strategy for providing better care.

Certainly, one hates to be forced to do anything which is why the Maintenance of Certification (MOC) requirements became an expensive burden especially for newer physicians who are already struggling with heavy debt from medical school and pressure to build a practice. Most physicians are employees of large health care groups which adds to the pressure of practice building and maintenance. There are only 24 hours in a day; time becomes a precious commodity.

Finding a schedule that will allow one to keep up with journal reading, CME and MOC can become an added burden to already long hours and stressful work. Again, finding a balance becomes more and more important in order to have a lifestyle that can be enjoyed. Additionally, one does need precious “down-time” for mental sanity these days.

I don’t use my vacation time for CME or MOC as I need the vacation time for taking time away from academics and medicine. As I am older now, I appreciate my vacation time as valuable to my practice and teaching. There are few points for suffering in medicine on the part of physicians. This suffering can lead to “burn out” which isn’t good for anyone physically or mentally.

In closing, my recommendations are to find some manner of CME/MOC that works within and compliments one’s schedule. Take some time and try many methods of obtaining the hours that are needed for licensure. The worst stress comes with putting of CME until the last hours which like anything last-minute, becomes more stressful. Embrace the reinforcement of learning and find something that’s enjoyable, just like exercise, something that one can incorporate into one’s life on a regular basis.

28 July, 2017 Posted by | medical school, medicine, practice of medicine | | 6 Comments

Hospital Haiku

“hospital moonlight

cacophony of machines

teardrops cascading”

As we come to the end of National Physician’s Week and today, National Physician’s Day, I related this haiku from one of my most gifted and amazing friends. Some years back, he suffered a  critical and life-threatening illness that resulted in profound changes in his life with some time in the intensive care unit. This illness changed a man who is talented beyond belief, a brilliant creative genius and professor in ways that few of us can relate or even imagine. Still today, he’s affected by his illness and the events that surrounded it.

I share this haiku because it brings to mind, something that we as physicians must always remember about our patients. They place their health, their trust and many of the most intimate aspects of their lives in our hands. With our hands, we have to care for them; relate to them, in many ways hold them, and be mindful of the honor and privilege of having them place their lives in our care.

As such, we also have to be mindful that illness changes their reality and in many cases their lives profoundly especially when they are critically ill. We have to reach out and extend more comfort over the “cacophony of machines” that becomes the background of their intensive care and sometimes hospital care experience. We have to block that “cacophony” whenever and wherever we can.

I remember watching a tear roll down the side of the face of one of my ICU patients who appeared comatose. The nurses were bathing him and chatting with each other as they turned him. I saw the tear; asked them to speak with him over the ICU noise background. I asked them to play music in his room and I always held his hand when I entered the room to examine him. I am sure that my soul could feel his soul even though he didn’t ever speak to me. I never saw that tear again, after we began speaking and focusing on him, holding his hand, touching his face, and playing his favorite music even though he did not recover from his illness.

I seek to connect with my patients without exception as that is my honor as a physician/surgeon. I spent years learning the science and techniques of medicine and surgery but in these, the later years of my clinical practice, my focus is on the art of medical practice. Within that art is my chance to give some of my heart to those who have placed their trust in me (and my training). I strive to be more human and more comforting. To do less of the science and more of the art is great joy for me. My joy is in the connections; kind of strange for a surgeon.

On this National Doctor’s Day, I am honored to be a physician and grateful for all that this profession has given me. This profession has given me far more than I can give back but I will spend as much time as possible giving as much as I can to those who are in my care.

30 March, 2017 Posted by | medical school, medicine, practice of medicine | , , | 2 Comments

If I could change one thing in the lives of those around me…

I would ask them to stop comparing themselves to others. Don’t compare your grades, your scores, your running times or anything else to anyone except you. Strive to be the best you that you can be looking at the past for experience and to the future for achieving goals. In these days of social media, when everyone is busy scanning what others are doing on sites such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, look only into the mirror and be content with the miraculous person that you see staring back at you.

Your wiles and abilities have enabled you to navigate your life so far. Your experiences can allow you to toss what doesn’t work and hold onto what does work. Your goals can give you a reason not to hit the “Snooze” button in the morning but they also give you a heading for progress. If you express gratitude for what you have learned/mastered and keep you eyes on your goals, there is little time for envy, jealousy and other negatives that can hinder your progress.

I always know that there will be others who are faster, richer, thinner, smarter and more beautiful that me. I applaud them, celebrate them but I am so grateful for being able to breathe air, run my race and figure out my “stuff” these days. I am healthy, happy and blissfully loving life as I touch my students and patients lives. In short, I connect with humanity and love every second of those connections as they come.

A great and free gift to all of us is the ability to look around and lend a helping hand to anyone in need. The greatest joys come from helping others without the expectation of receiving something in return. On any day and at any time, one can choose to change one’s thinking about any situation; reach out and just connect with those in need. In today’s world, the needs are great and dire.

So in the early days of this new year, look at yourself and be thankful/grateful while looking around to see who you might help at any moment. Wear a smile (cheap accessory) and savor every moment of life as they move by. These are free gifts!

3 January, 2017 Posted by | medical school, medicine | | 1 Comment

In Today’s Climate…

Over the past couple of weeks, I have listened to the speeches at both political conventions along with the news reports of law enforcement officer killings/GSW injuries and civilian killings/injuries. Watching and reading new media reports have to be taken within the context of one’s experiences. My experiences have been as the daughter of immigrants, a biracial woman, a physician and a theological student. My heart breaks for those who are suffering and those who suffer. My oath, the Hippocratic Oath, that I swore many times as a medical student and now physician compels me to alleviate suffering wherever I find it.

The suffering may be physical or mental as many seek out our help in getting and keep them healthy. We, by our training, have to find, by any means necessary, a method of navigating the health care systems under which we practice as well as the political/social climate that we encounter. Sometimes that navigation can be as simple as a touch, a connection and sometimes that navigation involves working with every resource at our disposal to give the best care that we can achieve. My hope, my prayers, my experiences and my training have giving me insight.

I want to recount an experience that happened to me as a fourth-year medical student. I was returning home, driving a small red Mazda hatchback automobile, from a shift at one of the large city hospitals of my medical school affiliations. It was late at night, I was exhausted, ran out to my car in scrubs throwing my short white consultation jacket with hospital identification card and my stethoscope on the front seat along with my purse and overnight bag. As I drove through the rain-soaked city streets of this depressed neighborhood, I saw the reflection of police lights in my rearview mirror. I immediately pulled over to the side (I wasn’t speeding because of the weather) and stopped as required by law.

The police car pulled in behind me with two young officers getting out of the car quickly with their weapons drawn. For a split second, it took me in my exhaustion fog, I couldn’t believe that the weapons were aimed at me. I sat very still, keeping both of my hands on the steering wheel as one of the officers shined a flashlight on me; the other pointing his gun through the open window on the passenger side. “Get out of the car and put your hands on the roof.” one of them shouted.

I slowly opened the door, tears beginning to form in my eyes and shaking quickly overtaking me. I complied with his request stating the my identification and automobile registration were in my purse on the passenger side. I said that I was a medical student on my way home but the officer kept yelling at me to spread my legs and “shut up”. I couldn’t stop shaking (I even shake now as I remember how frightened I was). “This car is reported stolen,” he kept shouting in my ear. He began to pat me down. “This is a huge mistake,” I said in a shaky voice. “Please check my identification and look at my hospital cards,”I said.

It seemed like hours but in a few minutes, another police car pulled up with another older officer getting out. “What are you doing?” he asked. “We have the car and suspect in custody”. I was crying from fear and exhaustion. The officers immediately put their weapons back into their holsters as the other policeman said that I was free to go. I was so petrified that I couldn’t put the car in gear for a couple of seconds. I finally drove off slowly weeping uncontrollably.

What would have happened if one of those guns had discharged by accident? I would be dead by mistake. What would have happened if the other police car had not arrived? I would have been arrested most likely. It was a mistake but the first two policemen didn’t show any indication that they would check my identification. It was my first experience of being stopped by the police and not given the benefit of just being treated as a fellow human being.

As I read and hear of stories of any persons being stopped by the police, I still feel that fear from so long ago. I haven’t been stopped since then and I interact with police on a daily basis as I perform my job in surgery. Those interactions are always professional and quite polite but when I see their service weapons, I always remember that stop. I react to police officers through the lens of my experiences as I suspect all people do.

I have infinite respect for police officers as they have very difficult jobs under very dangerous circumstances. I have spent many hours with two detectives in the gang-violence division of my local police precinct learning about gang symbols and gang culture, rampant in the city that I practice in. I want to understand and stem this violence, treat its victims as they frequently end up in the trauma bay. Largely the street gangs in my city are involved in turf wars and drugs. The motorcycle gangs run in the suburbs dealing in drugs and human trafficking, another scourge of city and suburban living.

So today, I end up on the roof of my hospital, being thankful for my life and all I encounter in my practice of medicine/surgery. I always pray for insight, guidance and the ability to give the best to every patient/family member/loved one that I can give. I meditate during my distance runs, post-call in the bright sunshine of the early afternoons, as we are living in a climate of increased polarization by community leaders and populations today. I pray that I continue to live in the “gray areas” and not become jaded or polarized to the violence. I pray to continue to seek insight and solutions to the troubles of those I serve and treat; always remembering that the practice of medicine is my greatest privilege.

Yes, I swore that Hippocratic Oath as a medical student, as a graduate physician and I keep remembering it. I didn’t know back as a medical student, what I was swearing to but I know now, how difficult this profession can be. There are times of despair, depression for me as the hours tick past 30 and hope in humanity as I move thorough my theological studies. As the years have gone by, I am more of a “believer” and more spiritual than when I began this journey. I learn each day and I am grateful for the learning. When I look back, I would not change a single experience, even those that have frightened me.

 

29 July, 2016 Posted by | medical school, medicine, practice of medicine | | 2 Comments

One Week to Go to My First Marathon

What have I learned about myself? With every mile that I have run in my training runs, I have learned that I have a mental toughness that I found quite elusive a couple of weeks ago. Now, I have learned to face my mental “demons” with calm reserve, much the same as I approach a difficult case or patient.

I had found myself sinking, for lack of a better word, into a spiral of self-doubt and mental vulnerability. My mental shenanigans cost me a wonderful friend but I now move forward with every step and pick up the pace without fear. I can’t reason why I spiraled a bit over my academic work but I did and it’s done. From here on out, I deal from a position of strength rather than questioning myself and my motives.

This past week, I have had the pleasure of thinking long and hard about my medical and academic career. After many years of practice, I believe that self-examination is not an entirely bad exercise but I have also learned that I cannot ask anyone else to “walk in my shoes” or “understand” the things that can send me into self-doubt. My questions were not about my training or my ability but about how I handle adversity in matters that I didn’t fully understand.

Yes, I have plenty of regrets that I lost the friendship of a gifted colleague but I discovered new insight into myself and new support from unexpected colleagues and friends. I took the time today on my last long run, to think of each of my friends and thank them as I ran. I am very grateful for their friendship and I know that I will continue to move forward professionally and personally.

I thought about setting goals and achieving those goals. Certainly, there is no guarantee that I will finish my first (and only) marathon race next week but I feel calm and physically prepared. Mentally, I am in a state of surprise in that I have been able to train for this race and that I will have the toughness to make the needed adjustments to my pace and form that will allow me to complete the distance.

This training has make me something of a philosopher in terms of what I see and hear around me. I have taken great pleasure in simple things like a wonderful warm shower or that drink of water when I have pushed myself to the brink of dehydration. I have tended to avoid the “sports” drinks because I haven’t felt the need for sugar/salt loading. Plain water, not too hot or too cold, has been my best friend.

My training has increased my need for rest and sleep. For most of my career, I have had a love/hate relationship with the number of hours of sleep that I require. Most days, I cannot sleep more than 5 hours but with my increased running mileage, I have moved into the six to seven hour range. More sleep has allowed my body to rest and heal for the pounding that the increased mileage required.

With the end of the school year, I am looking forward to taking a week or so off and heading to California for some much-needed relaxation. I love being near the Pacific Ocean, smelling the salt in the air and just watching the fog cover the Golden Gate Bridge from the deck of where I stay in the Bay area. I have also completed my longest and best runs up and down the hills of San Francisco, a place of unrivaled beauty and wonder.

Finally, I know that I cannot be “all things to all people” and I just need to let things fall as they will. For a surgeon who is quite used to affecting something definitive in most cases, letting go is a new feeling for me. Most of the time, things just work themselves out and I am the instrument. This has been the best part of my marathon training; seeing how I am an instrument of my training and experience.

This training for a marathon has been something of a metaphor for life for me. I set this goal and I have made some progress toward it in some manner over the past year. Though I didn’t reach the distances that one typically associates with distance running, I am very grateful for every step as I have moved along. Yes, I know I am a very secure middle-distance runner but stretching the distance has been good experience for me. With the stretch has come great self-knowledge.

 

8 May, 2016 Posted by | medical school, medicine, practice of medicine, relaxation, stress reduction | , | Leave a comment

New Beginnings!

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) presentation for young women (ages 7-9) from the inner city. I watched wide-eyed young people explore experiments with wonder and discovery. For many of these children, this was the first exposure to science at this level. Each young woman more excited to see the next and the next station. I found myself just enjoying their pure joy and excitement in learning new materials; with much encouragement from the professors (male and female) in attendance. I brought some of my surgical instruments with me combined with photos of them in use in the operating room. The whole experience was joyful and wonderful for me. I found myself back in primary school, excited at the prospect of all of the new knowledge that was in front of me. It made my heart glad once again.

This past week, I was notified by one of my colleagues who works in the Information Technology field, that she has been accepted into Physician Assistant school, the culmination of several years of careful preparation to change into a completely different field. The sheer joy that she expresses with the prospect of entering medicine is visceral. Once again, I saw and felt the same joy as seeing those young woman who dream of something far beyond their everyday worlds. It’s a great feeling. I was taken back to the time when I received that first medical school acceptance, something that I didn’t anticipate was possible yet was in my hand.

Many folks are in the residency application process, the medical school acceptance process, the university acceptance process and other changes from their present state. I would invite you to dream big but enjoy the process, even the uncertainty. From my vantage point after years of practicing medicine I can say that there is nothing better than solving problems for my patients and their families. I can say that to have the privilege of the practice of medicine, in spite of the flaws in our health care systems, is still quite magical.

I can also say that the privilege of teaching those who seek to first prepare themselves to enter this profession is one of the greatest gifts for me. Just recently, a colleague, one of the greatest academics that I will ever know, said that the hours I spend in office are a sign of a “true academic”. These words from him touched my heart like no others. My response is that at this point, as I am teaching physical exam skills, my students need my presence and my guidance at this critical time. In short, I remember wanting as many “skill-checks” from my physical exam professors in medical school as I could find. I always thought I was worrying them but now I know that as true professors of medicine, they welcomed my presence.

As I watch young women daring to dream, my IT colleague about to enter Physician Assistant school and my wonderful students, some struggling but all “testing ” themselves with new horizons, I find myself grateful, no thankful for being here to witness these new beginnings.

6 March, 2016 Posted by | medical school, medical school admissions, medicine, physician assistant school | , , | Leave a comment

Square Pegs in Round Holes

Introduction

At a luncheon, I listened to one of my primary care colleagues explain the realities of the 20-minute office visit. She happens to be very knowledgeable in treating developmentally challenged pediatric patients but her problems apply to any patient with developmental, physical or intellectual challenges. Like most physicians who are employed by health systems, she has productivity quotas and goals that are set by people who are outside the realities of medicine, usually administrators/business managers.

Medicine is not a Business, even a Home Business

The reality of being the primary care physician who treats patients with cognitive, physical or some combination of both types of challenges is that these patients have needs that will affect every aspect of their office visit. Many times, their transport to the health care location will involve public transportation or some other means adapted for them. Sometimes just getting to the transportation source requires hours of planning by the patient/caregiver only to find that their transportation left early or did not show up at all.

Imagine if it takes 20 minutes for you to dress your special needs daughter, it’s going to take 20-minutes to get that same child undressed for vital sign measurement and evaluation in the physician’s office. Keep in mind, that many special needs patients have behavioral and cognitive issues that prevent them from understanding the vital nature of complete and comprehensive health care assessment. For them, they are out of their secure and familiar environment; in a place where there may be excess and unfamiliar stimulation that will affect their behavior for the rest of the day.

The other reality for the intellectually or physically disabled is that they may have very complex health problems that they may not be able to address or their caregivers may not be able to relate to the physician. Couple this with unfamiliarity of the physician in terms of the diverse needs of this population, just because that physician may not have more than one or two challenged patient sin their practice and the business of medicine has created a situation where problems may not be properly addressed. My solution in terms of wound care for these often fragile patients has been to go to their facility/home but my primary care colleagues do not have the luxury of leaving their clinic to do home visits with any regularity.

Why we entered medicine in the first place

Most of us were trained to solve patient problems by identification of those problems and application of extensive medical knowledge. With the emphasis on getting patients in and out of clinic as rapidly as possible, many problems are never addressed or solved. Imagine if you are not cognitively or physically challenged but are the appointment following or concurrent with the patient who has these issues. Not only will your visit be abbreviated or affected, much of the office staff will be spending time and resources on the patient who needs more help. As a result or dealing with possible frustrations on the part of the needy patient, the physician may not be able to focus on your needs or the needs of other patients in the office because they have been frustrated as they are attempting to give the best care possible to their impaired patients.

At this time, we are better in terms of identifying those with physical and intellectual challenges as opposed to addressing their medical needs. We know that great rewards come with treating these populations especially when we are able to prevent or slow any discovered disease processes. Providing the highest level of care is always paramount in the mind of the primary care physician. To this end, my primary care colleague said the the primary care visit should be longer, because it’s often more comprehensive and the specialist visit should be shorter, because it’s more focused. Regardless  of specialist or primary care, the office visit should reflect the needs of the patient and should not be limited by a “one size fits all” approach to office visit length. Rather than decrease the costs of health care by shunting more bodies through the door, the “numbers” approach likely ends of utilizing more health care dollars because of missed opportunities to address the comprehensive needs of patients.

Those Patients

On another occasion, I listened to a colleague speak about not wanting to treat any patient who would not fit in the chairs of her waiting room. This was her way of stating that she would not treat obese patients. “They bring down my productivity,” she said emphatically. I can’t afford to lose money on treating these types of patients so I made sure that they don’t fit in the chairs in the waiting room if they weigh more than 200 lbs. Imagine if you are a patient who is morbidly obese, more than 100 lbs overweight, who enters a physicians office and can’t find a chair that will accommodate you so that you can attend your office visit.

Imagine the embarrassment if you have to ask for a properly sized chair so that you can sit and even fill out the paperwork to prepare for that visit. Imagine how welcome you would feel if you receive less than respectful and comprehensive care.  The morbidly obese, the developmentally challenged and the mentally challenged individuals in society all have medical issues that need to be addressed. By its nature, morbid obesity is a chronic metabolic problem yet my colleague who makes sure the chairs in her waiting room discriminate against morbidly obese individuals, would treat them differently from the Type I diabetic or the patient with chronic obstructive lung disease. Is is ethically sound to discriminate against a population of patients who are simply seeking, and paying for your services by not accommodating them in your office?

Taking Back Medicine

Imaging a situation where patients get the care that they need without exception. In this situation, the physician determines the patient’s needs and has the time to address those needs. Rather than being pushed by time constraints, the physician (and office staff) would have plenty of time and resources to treat patients with special needs. In truth, patients do not come to physician offices to socialize but come because they need care. It is up to the physician to take back the delivery of that care and set the parameters in which that care is rendered. When a patient receives less than optimal care because of the time constraints placed on the physician, the physician bears the brunt of the criticism. “Those money-grubbing doctors didn’t take time to talk to me”.

As physicians, we need to set the standards of patient care, much the same as we set the standards of practice of medicine. One of those standards needs to be ensuring that the limited resources of primary care physicians are addressed. A good primary care physician can be the resource that decreases health care costs if giving the tools to address all problems in a comprehensive manner that reflects the individual needs of the patients. As specialists, we are often given an advantage at the expense of our primary care colleagues and their vital work. This leads to burn-out and frustration on their part but also leads to increases in health care costs because patient needs are not addressed.

These problems are not solved by increasing the number of mid-level practitioners who often lack the medical knowledge/training to lead the comprehensive care team. While mid-levels can assist with comprehensive patient care, they are not the solution to effective or efficient delivery of comprehensive care. It is the primary care physician who should and does leads the best comprehensive care team and who can provide the most cost-effective care if given the tools and resources for their work. The greatest and most needed resource right now is time to deliver care. The public enjoys greater satisfaction and those of us who are in specialties, are able to obtain the best information to perform our services when the primary care physician can expedite a sound referral. In short, we as physicians need to take back the management of health care and deliver the best health care on our terms as the patient needs not according to a general plan that is even frustrating for relatively healthy people let alone those who have multiple chronic problems.

15 January, 2016 Posted by | medicine, practice of medicine | 4 Comments