Friday, November 28, 2014

Work hours limits in Sweden: It's complicated

A physician in training from Sweden emailed me some questions, and the topic of work hours came up. To protect his identity, I have slightly altered a some of his responses, but I have not altered his message.

It´s quite interesting as physician work hours, or rather productivity, are debated a lot in Sweden right now.

The work hour restriction
[50 hours/week in Sweden] is not enforced at all. This summer I was working as a junior house officer in a surgical specialty at a county hospital, and I can´t say I noticed anyone trying to cap my work hours, on my first day I was encouraged to work as much as I could.

On the other hand I was not put on the on call schedule, as that involved covering the ED (outside of academia EM-physicians are scarce) and all surgical services. It is hard to get to work 50 hours a week covering only a 12-bed service, when the nurses do all the blood tests (except blood gases), urinary catheters, do all patient transporting, and such. I did get some OR time though.

I think there is no enforcement of the 50 hours/week restriction because doctors here don´t get paid as fee-for-service. There is zero difference if you do 5 or 10 cases during your shift. There is no incentive to work more than 50 hours/week, and doctors don´t.

A problem that is more particular for surgery is the limited capacity of operating theaters, in many hospitals productivity is low, case turnover time is long, and you can only do elective cases between 8:30-16:00 (and God forbid you operate past 16:00). In the hospital I worked, we were not allowed to start elective cases after 14:30, and we only had 2.5 days/week when we could operate.

If you want to make money, you take a leave, go to Norway, work 80-100 hours/week in some rural hospital there for a few months, and earn three times as much.
[I was also told about this by some Swedish surgical residents I met while attending a conference there last year.]

We do a lot of administration. A study published in a Swedish medical journal, in Swedish sadly, found that Swedish surgical residents spend 40% of their time on administration and 40% of their time taking care of patients. Their British counterparts did 15% admin and 66% patient care. An average work day was 8.2 hours in Sweden and 12.2 hours in England.

Because of this, few physician hours are "productive" and Swedish doctors see very few patients compared to most Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Queues build up and the hospitals don´t want that. So I guess they want us to work.

There was however a government crackdown on a rural hospital in northern Sweden where the county (which is the governmental body running hospitals in Sweden) was fined for imposing too long work hours. So there may be change, but rural northern hospitals are not in an ideal position to recruit more doctors.

Right now work hours are restricted formally but in practice it is hard to get that amount of meaningful work done. It has some perks however, as residents can pick up their children from day care.
[Emphasis added]

Is this where we are heading in the United States?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

That electric hand dryer study was bogus: Here's why

Just about everyone I follow on Twitter commented and/or linked to an article about a study claiming that electric hand dryers spew bacteria all over people using restrooms.

The paper, which appeared online in The Journal of Hospital Infection, said that airborne germ counts near jet air dryers were 27 times higher than counts near paper towel dispensers, and counts near warm air dryers were 4.5 times higher. The authors also coated subjects hands with black paint and measured spatter patterns on surrounding walls and persons dressed in disposable coveralls. And a photo from the study shows the dispersal pattern from a warm air dryer.

So case closed—paper towels are better, right?

I'm not so sure. Instead of reading an article about the paper or just the abstract, I obtained a copy of the whole paper. I also found some comments about it from a spokesperson for a hand dryer manufacturer.

What are the flaws in the study?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Should resident promotion decisions be based on a written exam?

A few days ago, some surgeons on Twitter discussed the role of the American Board of Surgery In-Training Examination, a test which is given every year in January.

The test was designed to assess residents' knowledge and give them an idea of where their studying should be focused. However, many general surgery program directors (PDs) use the test results in other ways. Some impose remediation programs on residents with low scores and even base resident promotion or retention on them. Some even demand that all residents in their programs maintain scores above the 50th percentile.

The Residency Review Committee (RRC) for Surgery frowns upon these practices and states in its program requirements (Section V.A.2.e) that residents' knowledge should be monitored "by use of a formal exam such as the American Board of Surgery In Training Examination (ABSITE) or other cognitive exams. Test results should not be the sole criterion of resident knowledge, and should not be used as the sole criterion for promotion to a subsequent PG [postgraduate year] level."

The problem for program directors is that the RRC also mandates (Section V.C.2.c) that "as one measure of evaluating program effectiveness" 65% of a residency program's graduates must pass both the American Board of Surgery's Qualifying Examination (written) and Certifying Examination (oral) on their first attempts. I have said before that the "65% on the first attempt rule" does not seem evidence-based.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Can cholecystectomies safely be done at night?

A new study from surgeons at UCLA found that laparoscopic cholecystectomies done at night for acute cholecystitis have a significantly higher rate of conversion to open than those done during daylight hours.

Nighttime cholecystectomies were converted 11% of the time vs. only 6% for daytime operations, p = 0.008, but there was no difference in the rates of complications or hospital lengths of stay.

The study, published online in the American Journal of Surgery, was a retrospective review of 1140 acute cholecystitis patients, 223 of whom underwent surgery at night.

The authors advocate delaying surgery until it can be done in the daytime, but this conclusion needs to be examined.

Although the percentage of gangrenous gallbladders was similar in both groups, it wasn't clear from the data how many patients were semi-elective and how many were true emergencies.

Operative procedure durations were 110.5 minutes for nighttime and 92.4 minutes for daytime cases, and 1.5 and 2.0 days elapsed respectively before the patients were taken to the operating room, both p < 0.0001. The hospital lengths of stay were similar at 3.7 days for the night group and 3.8 days for the day patients. The causes for these lengthy operations, delays in operating, and long hospital stays were not explained in the manuscript.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Proctoring, supervising, and coaching

Any surgeon who acts as a proctor for another surgeon or supervises residents or mid-level providers should be aware of the potential legal pitfalls.

An informative discussion of proctoring and supervision called "Is There a Proctor in the House?" appeared in 2012 on a website called Law Journal Newsletters.

Proctoring has always been an issue. For many years, surgeons have been assigned to proctor newly appointed staff in order to confirm that they were properly trained. Proctoring has been extended to those learning new techniques in minimally invasive and robotic surgery.

The usual scenario is that a proctor is assigned by a hospital's department chair or credentials committee with the expectation that the proctor will observe and report on the new individual's skills.

According to the article, "a surgical proctor who acts only as an observer should not have any medical malpractice liability if a procedure is performed below the standard of care." This holds true as long as the proctor has no physician-patient relationship and does not participate in any medical decision-making or scrub in on the procedure.