Friday, January 23, 2015

Do surgeons still do postop care?

Here's an email I received the other day (edited and posted with the author's permission):

I am a recently retired internist. I have noticed some evolving trends over time and had an interesting experience that illustrates this issue.

A 77-year-old friend went for check up due to urinary incontinence. He was found to have a large prostate and a PSA of only 2 so was given Flomax . This helped somewhat.

At the time, an asymptomatic hernia was found. He was immediately scheduled for surgery which went well. His Foley was removed, and he was sent home.

At home he could not void, called the surgeon, and was told to go to the ER, There the Foley was replaced, and he was to see his urologist in 2 days. The urologist removed the Foley. Later he was in agony and walked the floor all night. He called the urologist and the service said that the office was closed. He was told to drive to the other office in the next town only 15 miles away. They replaced his Foley again.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


The following is based on an actual case that occurred a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

A 65-year-old man arrived in the emergency department by ambulance after being found unresponsive. His respiratory rate was 40/minute, heart rate was 170/minute, and temperature was 102.2°. He did not respond to Narcan or an ampule of 50% dextrose. Blood sugar was 600 mg/dL. The diagnosis of diabetic ketoacidosis was made. IV fluids and an insulin drip were given. After some hydration he became more alert and complained of abdominal pain. On examination, his abdomen was tender to palpation. Four hours after arrival, a surgical consultant was called and diagnosed an incarcerated inguinal hernia. Before the patient could be taken to surgery, he suffered a cardiac arrest and could not be resuscitated. Review of the case revealed that although blood cultures were drawn and were eventually positive, antibiotics had not been ordered.

What happened? The possibility that this patient was septic never occurred to the doctors managing the case. I am sure that if a scenario like this appeared on a test, those doctors would have immediately chosen the right antibiotics. Some doctors are "book smart" but can't deal with a real live patient.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Going to med school and becoming a surgeon when you are older

A 34-year-old lawyer is thinking about going to medical school and becoming a surgeon He asked me for advice. Here's a link to that post.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Which is better for training--an academic center or a community teaching hospital?

On Ask Skeptical Scalpel, a medical student wonders if it is better to match in a community teaching hospital or an academic center for her surgical training. Here's the link.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

How much money do journal publishers make? A lot

Many, including me, have written about who is making money in healthcare. Sure doctors do very well, but not as well as hospitals, hospital administrators, insurance companies and their corporate officers, drug companies, device manufacturers, and others.

Another lucrative area is medical journal publication, especially if you are the publisher. A researcher gets an idea, plans and carries out a study, writes a manuscript, and submits it to a journal. The research may have been funded by the government, i.e., you and me.

An associate editor or a member of the journal's editorial board looks at the manuscript, and if it is deemed worthy, it is sent out to two or more people in the same field for peer review. This process may be repeated for papers that require revision.

All of the players in the above scenario—the researchers, most of the editorial board members except maybe the editor, and the peer reviewers—are paid nothing for their work. Factor in that the cost of producing a journal has plummeted in the computer era.

How much money do journal publishers make? Here are some impressive numbers from an article that appeared on a French website called "Rue89." The figures are for the year 2011 and are in euros. They include revenue from all science publishing, not just medicine.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Can you define "professionalism"?

A while ago, I wrote about a medical student whose school tried to dismiss him just prior to graduation for unprofessional behavior.

A judge ruled that the school could not do so because it had tolerated some similar behavior earlier in his medical school career and had not considered it important enough to mention in his letters of recommendation.

In that post, I said, "'Professionalism' is difficult to define, especially when trying to do so in a courtroom."

In the comments section, a medical student wrote that he had been given a two-week suspension for unprofessional behavior for silencing his phone during an exam.

Another commenter told of several students who were caught colluding on a take-home final exam in statistics. Their punishment was that they had to agree to do their residencies at the medical school. [Digression: What does that say about the school?]

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education defines professionalism, one of its six core competencies, as follows:

"Professionalism—Demonstrate a commitment to carrying out professional responsibilities and an adherence to ethical principles."

I'm always a bit confused when the definition of a term contains the term itself, and this is no exception.

Three internal medicine foundations combined to publish a somewhat clearer definition that is two pages long, but does not mention specific behaviors like cheating on a test, falsifying a medical record, or being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

The American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation produced this "Word Cloud," which is supposed to help one better understand what professionalism is. But all it did was remind me why I hate word clouds.

It is said to depict "words physicians most associate with medical professionalism."

If you are having trouble reading some of them, I can help. Here are a few: "empathize, compassion, respect, responsibility, ethics, integrity, caring, honor."

Those sound pretty good, but here are some more: "tougher, smoker, diet, sick, job, prevent, financial, good insurance, disease, death." What do those words have to do with medical professionalism?

Since we have trouble defining professionalism, we can hardly blame the judge in the case I wrote about before for ruling in the student's favor.

He said, "Although courts should give almost complete deference to university judgments regarding academic issues, the same deference does not follow university character judgments, especially on character judgments only distantly related to medical education."

I disagree with the last part of his statement. I think character judgments are strongly related to medical education, but how are medical schools and residency programs supposed to teach professionalism and assess whether their trainees possess it, if it is so ill-defined?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Facebook and unprofessional behavior among surgical residents

Have you ever wondered about the behavior of surgical residents on Facebook? I have. A study from the Journal of Surgical Education posted online in June 2014 looked at the issue.

The paper, "An Assessment of Unprofessional Behavior among Surgical Residents on Facebook: A Warning of the Dangers of Social Media," identified 996 surgical residents from 57 surgical residency programs in the Midwest and found that 319 (32%) had Facebook profiles.

Most (73.7%) displayed no unprofessional content, but 45 (14.1%) exhibited possibly unprofessional material. Clearly unprofessional behaviors were noted in 39 (12.2%) resident profiles. The paper said, "binge drinking, sexually suggestive photos, and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations were the most commonly found variables."

There were no differences in the rates of unprofessional behavior between male and female residents or by postgraduate year.

I have blogged previously about the ill-defined nature of professionalism, and the papers' authors acknowledged that it can be subjective. Some of the behaviors they felt were potentially unprofessional such as photos of residents holding an alcoholic drink, holding a gun while hunting, or making political or religious comments are debatable.

They referenced another paper that found similar rates of unprofessional behavior (16%) on Facebook among applicants to an orthopedic surgery residency program.

A 2005 New England Journal of Medicine case-control study found that practicing physicians disciplined by state medical boards were significantly more likely to have had documentation of unprofessional behavior in medical school as well as lower Medical College Admission Test scores and poorer grades in the first two years of medical school.

Unprofessional behaviors listed in the New England Journal paper were irresponsibility, diminished capacity for self-improvement, immaturity, poor initiative, impaired relationships with students, residents, nurses, or faculty, impaired relationships with patients and families, and unprofessional behavior associated with anxiety, insecurity, or nervousness.

Some of those \ seem a bit vague. Are diminished capacity for self-improvement and poor initiative really unprofessional behaviors?

Facebook unprofessional behavior and the unprofessional behavior documented in the NEJM paper which pre-dated the widespread use of Facebook may not be comparable.

But I suppose one could say that some of the Facebook behaviors could be categorized as immature or irresponsible.

Until stories about residents being rejected for jobs after training start emerging, there probably won't be a change in the way they use Facebook or other social media.

Or maybe society will change.

In 1987, politician Gary Hart had to withdraw as a candidate for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination because he had an extramarital affair, and just a few years later, the president himself had a dalliance with an intern in the White House and survived.

Who thought marijuana use would ever be legalized?