Skip to main content


Showing posts from June, 2010

Community organizing for health care reform: what we have to do now

We had our 4th meeting of doctors and staff interested in improving access, cost and overall quality at our hospital. It was well attended, but mostly by staff and board members rather than physicians. I guess we doctors think we are too busy to talk about health care reform. We had me, an internist, a psychiatrist, a radiologist and and emergency doc. Thinking was clear and focused, and the meeting was productive, as much as talking can be. We came up with several items needing action, and discussed several items that are moving solidly in the right direction.

1. My Own Home: an organization is being born which provides all sorts of resources to older folks wanting to stay in their own houses rather than moving to retirement homes.  It will be supported by grants and will require membership payments. It will probably really start functioning in the next year. It is moving in the direction of getting up and running as fast as is practical.

2. Direct or prepaid medicine: there is quite…

CT scans--why not?

The New England Journal of Medicine this week published two articles on imaging technology.  The first was about the safety of CT scans and the second was about the indiscriminate use of radiological imaging of all kinds. Imaging of the human body is big business and important in the progress of diagnosis, but once a machine or technique is invented, its use is mostly unregulated and largely up to our discretion, without supporting scientific evidence of usefulness.

CT scans do cause cancer. This is because ionizing radiation causes cancer and CT scans carry lots of that. Every year 10% of Americans get a CT scan, and many people have multiples. Each CT scan carries 100 to 500 times the radiation dose of a standard chest x-ray if done properly.  If an error is made, much more radiation can be delivered. Sometimes a patient might find out about such an error, but most often there would be no symptoms and no recognition.

CT scans also do save lives.  They detect problems that would req…

The pseudoscience of medicine

The training that leads to becoming a physician is long, taxing and requires academic stamina and intelligence to complete. Nevertheless, most of what we eventually learn is practical: how to take care of patients in sickness and health. This is as it should be, since that is what we mostly do. Nevertheless, because we take many many hours of science related classes, most physicians consider themselves to be scientists. And that we, mostly, are not.

In my years of training I have learned how to construct a hypothesis, test it and use my data to make a conclusion. I know how to document my data, and I know how to perform simple statistical analyses.  I know how to interpret statistics I read in other peoples' work, for the most part. But because I am always looking for ways to use the science I read to help me in patient care, I often make inferences that are speculative and probably just plain wrong.  It works for me, though. I need to plug the science I read into the craft of med…

800 pound mooses and the American College of Physicians

The American College of Physicians has created an initiative to reduce costs and increase quality.  It is called the High-Value, Cost-Conscious Care Initiative, and was launched at the annual meeting in April.  They plan to focus on overuse and misuse of ineffective tests and treatments, of which there are many.  The congressional budget office estimates that 700 billion dollars yearly is spent on tests and treatments that do not improve health.  I suspect they underestimate that significantly. At the same meeting the college revealed plans to lobby for changes in health care policy not quite adequately addressed in the health care reform package, including prolonging salary bonus for primary care doctors treating patients on medicare and medicaid.

This is good! Even great. Why did this take so long?

I expect that part of the problem has been that it is difficult to find consensus in changing a system when there is considerable concern about loss of income and loss of respect.