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1209717_19610439The focus of this web site is medicine. In this blog, you’ll read about patient stories. The situations have been changed to be HIPAA compliant. Factual statements may or may not be true. I may change ages, gender or presenting complaints about patients. I may even entirely make up complete patient encounters from my fertile imagination. Trust me, if you think I’m writing about you, I’m not. There are billions of people in this world and readers send me stories about patients all the time. It isn’t you.
You’ll also read a lot about health care policy. I may throw in posts about life lessons, computers, and will even throw in family stories once in a while. If you’re looking for articles about politics, sports, or celebrities, you’re in the wrong place – unless the topics have some relationship to medicine.
If you want to add a guest post or to cross-post something from your blog, or if you have a patient story you want me to write about, e-mail me. See more information in the “About Me” page.

Got A Light?

Lightbulb

By Birdstrike MD I walk into the ED for the 7:00am shift.  I’m 24 hours post-night shift so my body thinks it’s 3:00am and my brain feels like it’s been embalmed for 3 days.  I take my last swig of triple dark-roast Starbucks and sign up for my first patient. Chief complaint: “Lost light” Is that a misprint?  Maybe it’ll be a quick and easy one to start the day, I think to myself.  That’s just what I need, so my coffee will have some time to kick in.  I’ll just send this guy off the Lowe’s or Home Depot, I laugh to myself, so he can get a new light.  I walk into room 13 and there’s a man laying in a fetal position on a stretcher, with the bed sheet over his head.  I walk up to the side of the bed and say, “Hello sir, I’m Dr. Bird, what can I help you with today?” “Well, doc, I’m in a bad spot.  I was holding on to a light bulb, and it just popped right in,” he says with a whimper, avoiding eye contact.  Looking at his face, I notice he is as white as the bed sheet.  He’s pale and looks like death. “What are you talking about?” I ask him. “Lift up the bed sheet,” he says, looking behind himself. I lift the bed sheet and he is lying in a pool of blood.  The back of his gown is soaked.  I glance up at the blood pressure monitor and the automatic cuff had just rechecked his blood pressure: 88/58.  “Sir, are you having rectal bleeding?” I ask. “I guess you could say that.  The light bulb just popped right in,” he says again. “What?  Oh…I get it.  You mean…you, put it up your rectum?” I ask, now knowing exactly what happened.  For an ER doctor, things like this are not shocking.  In fact, they are part of the portrait painted for us every day; the bell curve of the ER doctor’s experience. “And it popped!” Ouch, I think to myself.  O U C H !  “It broke?” “It exploded in there,” he cries.   2 IVs, bang! Fluid bags hang. Time to call the OR gang. KUB ordered, Let’s see the x-ray. “Am I dying, Doc? Is this my last day?”   There it is on the x-ray: one homicidal light bulb clearly visible inside one rectum cut to ribbons, with its countless shattered glass shards, doing their best to bleed the life out of a man. “Am I gonna make it doc?” he asks me again. “You’re going to make it,” I answer.  “You got yourself here quickly.  If you had waited any longer, you might not have.” “Doc, can you please tell my wife…” “Wife?” I interrupt, surprised. “And my kids…” “Kids?” I ask. “Yes, doc, we’re here on vacation.  It’s our first family trip to Disneyland.  You wouldn’t understand,” he says, as he pulls the bed sheet over his head, as if to crawl under a rock to hide and never come out. Just then the OR team barges in the room commanding, “We’re ready for him.  Let’s go!” “What do you want me to tell your wife?” I ask him. “Doc, please, a hemorrhoid.  Just tell her it’s a little hemorrhoid.”   ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. This author does not divulge protected patient information or information from real life court cases. Any post that appears to resemble a real patient, real person, real co-workers or trial can only be by coincidence. This author does not post, has not posted and will not post factual identifying information ...

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Why Patient “Satisfaction” Could Be Making You Sick

Ratings - Poor

By  Birdstrike MD All patients should be treated with professionalism and respect.  We all want our patients leaving our care happy, healthy and satisfied, if at all possible.  However, sometimes patients don’t leave an Emergency Department very happy or satisfied.  Sometimes the doctor could have prevented it, but many if not most times, such dissatisfaction has little if anything to do with what the treating physician did, or didn’t do.  The reasons for a patient being dissatisfied with a particular healthcare encounter can be very complex.  It’s not so simple as to just include a line in a survey such as, “Were you satisfied with your doctor?”  Who should be held responsible for the results of these surveys, is where the crux of this debate lies. So why are Hospitals obsessed with “patient satisfaction”? It’s the same reason Walmart puts greeters at the front door (the ED), not the back door (in-patient floors) and the same reason the Government collects taxes and not sea shells: Money.  The question we really need to be asking is: Why is the obsession with patient satisfaction in the ED so soul-crushing to those that work there?  1-Lack of Control A patient pulls into the ED parking lot.  The lot is full.  He doesn’t feel well, he’s in a hurry and having to search for a parking spot irritates him.  The wait to see a doctor is long, too long.  Once finally in his room, he sees a drop of blood on the floor from the previous patient.  He’s disgusted.  Despite great care by the doctor, it biases his overall view of the experience.  As much as he tries to remain objective, the patient satisfaction score suffers.  The patient gives a “1 star out of 5” review after discharge, but writes in the comments, “Doctor and nurse were great, though!”  The tabulated score remains 1/5, or “FAIL.”  The doctor gets pulled aside at her next group meeting and is told she’s on watch due to low scores.  She’s never been fired from a job in her life, but now her job is in jeopardy, over something which she has no control. A patient leaves an ED satisfied.  He gets a patient satisfaction survey and throws it aside.  He has no need for it.  The visit went great.  It’s his preferred hospital for anytime he gets in a bar fight and needs to be sewed up.  He got in, got his knuckles stitched, and got a free Sierra mist and a meal tray.  On his way out the door, he tweets, “#CityGeneralERrocks!” on his smart phone to the world’s prospective ER “customers.”  Six weeks later, all has healed well, and there’s barely a scar.  Then, the bill comes.  “!&@!?#€!!!,” he thinks.  “$920?  Screw that place!”  He grabs the survey and nukes the hospital, doctor and nurse all with the lowest score possible.  He writes in the comments, “I would have rated you a ‘negative infinity’ if the scale went that low!” You can save a life, walk out of the trauma bay drained but proud, and be pulled aside and told that on last months survey, you didn’t get a patient a coffee “like they do at the car dealership.”  You are told, “Get those scores up.  Administration is watching.”  It translates into, “You suck.”  It’s not that big of a deal, right?  Maybe you should brush it off, but you are human.  You haven’t “evolved” to the “new way” yet.  You’ve heard of ER doctors losing their group contracts and therefore their jobs over things like this.  It bothers you. There’s a complete and utter ...

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Memorable Patients

Geyser 2

In my medical career, there have been a handful of patients that I remember well. Like frames on a storyboard, when I think back upon the tens of thousands of patients I have treated, these patients always seem to come to mind. Perhaps as a precursor of things to come, I even wrote stories about some of them early in my career when I saw them. I remember the first time that I drew blood on an elderly patient and how it seemed like her room was a prison cell. I’m sure she passed away a long time ago, but I can still remember looking into her eyes and wondering what this poor woman had been through in her life. I remember one of the first surgeries that I was asked to scrub in on during my Ob/Gyn rotation. They called it a “TOP”. I was excited to be a part of it. Then I learned that “TOP” stood for “Termination of Pregnancy.” I remember feeling uneasy as the resident showed me how to use the currette. I remember almost passing out when I looked through the speculum and saw a tiny white hand laying across the red surface of the patient’s cervix. I remember almost vomiting as a resident as a nurse told me that an intoxicated patient with dizziness just needed to “sleep it off” … right before he vomited a liter of blood all over her and over the curtain a couple of feet behind her. And of course there was the lollipop lady. I wrote a post about her already. Recently another patient was added to the storyboard of my medical career. I’m not sure if there was anything so memorable about her, but perhaps it was her blase demeanor in the face of a rather messy problem. Well … you can decide. The patient was in her mid- to late-60s, was well spoken, pleasant, and well-kempt. She had changed into a gown and her clothes lay neatly folded on the chair across the room. Her problem was a regulation of her bowels. First, she had diarrhea for a couple of days. She took some Imodium and Pepto Bismol and the diarrhea stopped. But then she had no bowel movement for two days. That was to be expected since after diarrhea stops it often takes the body a day or two to create more stool. The patient became concerned after having no bowel movement on the second day and she took a laxative, thinking that she may have a bowel obstruction. Then she had black colored diarrhea. Her stool was hemoccult negative, meaning the black color was likely from the bismuth in the Pepto Bismol. Bismuth combines with small amounts of sulfur in your GI tract and can turn your tongue and your stool black. Examining her closer showed that there was dried black crust all of the way down the inside of both her legs. She had passed enough diarrhea that her buttocks had become inflamed and it hurt when she sat down, so she preferred to lay on her side. She got a liter of fluid, we got a CBC, chemistries, and a stool sample just to make sure there wasn’t an infectious etiology for her symptoms and that she didn’t have a metabolic acidosis. Everything was normal. Then the strangeness began. I went back into the room to see how the patient was feeling. I could hear the lid on the infectious waste container slamming shut as I entered the room. Then I got hit head-on by a foul smell. I pulled the curtain ...

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Healthcare Update 11-04-2013

HC Update 9

See more medical news from around the web on my other blog at EP Monthly.com Like a Nazi article touting the benefits of gas chambers. Press Ganey CMO Thomas Lee writes article about current “surge” in “patient experience” published in Health Affairs. Dr. Lee’s definition of “professionalism” that he and his organization apparently expect us to latch onto includes willingness of physicians to work together to “meet[] patients’ needs,” not wasting resources, and being very concerned about data on your performance – even if that data is statistically insignificant and wholly inappropriate to use. So if we don’t “meet a patient’s needs” for large doses of narcotics and if we perform testing that we believe is clinically appropriate but which is then retrospectively deemed to be a “waste of resources” and then we don’t bow down to Press Ganey’s little red, yellow, and green boxes, then according to Dr. Lee, we must now be labeled as “unprofessional.” Another out of touch “physician” who is writing surreptitious articles for his employer. How low will Press Ganey go to make a buck? Meh. Just a flesh wound … or maybe not. Chinese man walks into emergency department with fruit knife sticking out of his head. Occurred when some kind of a “game” got out of hand. Knife actually penetrated his skull and required three hours of surgery to repair. Then the doctors sent him home with the knife. I can just hear him when he gets home and starts playing the “game” again: THIS time I go first! The White House has a brigade of Twitter attack drones just waiting to use your tax dollars for their salaries while they blast anyone who portrays the government and/or the Unaffordable Insurance Act in an unflattering light … for example an elderly survivor of metastatic gallbladder cancer who is now unable to keep her insurance plan because of Obamacare regulations. Some commenters called White House staffer Dan Pfeiffer (@pfeiffer44) a “douchebag” for attacking the patient. I think that’s being degrading to women’s hygiene products. Is that ACEP newsbyte about emergency medicine accounting for only 2% of all healthcare spending really true? Politifact says that it is … mostly. Politifact did cite a 2013 study showing that the cost of emergency care was between 5% and 10% of the total amount of healthcare spending. “Zero tolerance” in some UK hospitals after multiple “high profile” attacks on emergency department staff. Consultants note that emergency department staff deal with violence on a daily basis, yet the only measures they take to curb the violence is to make sure cameras are in place so they can catch the perpetrators after the act. When hospitals refuse to provide adequate security for their employees and are aware of the high potential for violence, perhaps the hospital administrators should be civilly and criminally liable for any injuries sustained by their employees. Michigan House Bill No 4354 (.pdf) would make it much more difficult to sue physicians or hospitals for EMTALA-related care. Requires proof by “BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE THAT THE LICENSED HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL’S ACTIONS CONSTITUTED GROSS NEGLIGENCE.” This is a very high legal hurdle. Article notes that “the liability in such medical situations has many specialists declining to be on call.” A study performed by the Michigan College of Emergency Physicians showed that states such as Georgia and Texas that enacted similar reforms had an increase in physicians. Apparently the concept that we can’t “sue our way to better health care” is beginning to take hold. Notice how all the attorneys in the comment section argue against the legislation. Head of Veterans Affairs writes a letter to US Representative ...

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Otitis Externa and the Ear Wick

Ear Wick Package Front

This is the first in a series of posts to explain some common medical problems to patients in a hopefully easy-to-understand manner. Otitis Externa Otitis externa (or “swimmer’s ear”) is an inflammation of the outer portion of the ear canal. It is different from a middle ear infection (“otitis media” or the typical “ear infection” that typically afflicts children) because otitis externa affects only the ear canal (see the red area in the picture below) while otitis media is a collection of pus behind the eardrum (see the yellow area in the picture below) that does not affect the ear canal. Patients with otitis externa often have significant pain in the outer ear and may have swelling and/or drainage from their ear canal. One of the easiest ways to tell whether a patient has swimmer’s ear is the “tragal tug” — pulling outward on the cartilage of the ear (like your mother used to do when she was mad at you). Pulling on the ear will cause traction on the skin within the ear canal. When the skin inside of the ear canal is inflamed and is stretched, it will hurt. Therefore, patients with swimmer’s ear will usually have significant pain when their ears are pulled. The pain from inner ear infections usually doesn’t get much worse with the tragal tug — unless otitis externa is also present. Mild cases of otitis externa can sometimes be treated by putting Burow’s Solution into the ear canal a few times a day. When a patient is diagnosed with otitis externa, drops containing antibiotics and steroids are often prescribed. It is a good idea to check the ear drum for signs of perforation before putting medications into the ear. If some medications get into the inner ear (the yellow area above), they can cause dizziness, ringing in the ears or even hearing loss. For example, Cortisporin Otic and other aminoglycosides have the potential to damage the vestibula with prolonged use. Quinolone/steroid combinations are less likely to cause such damage. The Ear Wick If you put drops into the ear canal and then stand upright, then the drops all collect on the bottom of the ear canal. Eventually, they either get absorbed or they drain out of the ear canal. Additionally, if the ear canal is swollen shut or nearly swollen shut, the medications may not get to the affected areas in the ear. An ear wick solves both problems. An ear wick is a piece of sponge (or sometimes a piece of cotton) that is inserted into the ear canal. Topical medications are then put onto the ear wick and then capillary action pulls the medication further into the ear canal. The wick helps to keep the medications in the ear and helps to hold the medication along all surfaces of the ear canal. As the ear heals, the wick usually falls out on its own. If not, a medical professional can easily remove it.    

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The “Unnecessary” Test

Head Child Porcelain

Here’s a real case submitted by a reader. A two year old child is brought into the department by her father, her mother, her grandmother, and her greatgrandmother. All were very concerned. The child was walking on a curb using her dad’s hand for support when she lost her balance and fell. Her dad didn’t catch her quickly enough and the child struck the side of her head. The mother said she saw the child’s head “bounce off the concrete”. Both mother and child cried immediately after the accident. After about 10 minutes, they put the child into the car. She went to sleep immediately. The mother tried shaking her leg, but she wouldn’t wake up. The father then stopped the car and they took her from the car seat and shook her. She still didn’t wake up. They called grandmother who called great grandmother. All agreed to meet at the emergency department. When she got to the emergency department, she was alert. In fact, she was running around the room opening drawers and pressing buttons. Both parents had to restrain her just so she could be examined. Even then, she wouldn’t sit still. A thorough exam of her head showed absolutely no signs of injury. She did say “ouch” when the back of her head was palpated, though. Normal pupils. Normal TMs. Normal neck. No Battle Sign. No other evidence of inury. No vomiting. In other words, she met all of the criteria for a “low-risk” head injury (.pdf) except for the parents’ history of this prolonged unresponsive state. Three generations of family members want a CT scan of the brain. The explanation of injury doesn’t match the physical findings and you believe in your heart that the parent’s story of a 15 minute episode of unresponsiveness is inaccurate. You also know that there’s no way that the child will sit still for a CT scan. That means that you’ll have to do conscious sedation (including all the extra paperwork required by the Joint Commission) and observe the child for a couple of hours after the CT has been performed. If you do the test and it’s normal, then you will be accused of performing defensive medicine, the nurses will be pissed at you for the rest of the shift, your productivity will tank, you’ll get an e-mail from your department chair about all the complaints from patients for the long waits, you’ll get bad Press Ganey scores from the upset patients, and you may get a letter from hospital administration for “overutilization” of resources. If you don’t do the test, the family will be upset with you, will accuse you of providing poor medical care, and will give you bad Press Ganey scores (and you’re on the CEOs hit list for the two bad scores you had last quarter). Oh, and if you don’t do the test and the kid has a bleed, you’ll be sued, the chart will show that everyone in the family thought the CT should be done and you were just too dumb to perform it, and the State Medical Board will likely bring a licensure action against you … which could result in you not being able to practice medicine any longer. What do you do? ———————– This and all posts about patients may be fictional, may be my experiences, may be submitted by readers for publication here, or may be any combination of the above. Factual statements may or may not be accurate. If you would like to have a patient story published on Dr.WhiteCoat.com, please e-mail me. I’m making full blog posts available to ...

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