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Editorials

Last 50 Editorials

(Click on title to be directed to posting, most recent listed first)

A Labor Day Warning
Keep Your Politics Out of My Practice
The Highest Paid Clerk
The VA Mission Act: Funding to Fail?
What the Supreme Court Ruling on Binding Arbitration May Mean to
   Healthcare 
Kiss Up, Kick Down in Medicine 
What Does Shulkin’s Firing Mean for the VA? 
Guns, Suicide, COPD and Sleep
The Dangerous Airway: Reframing Airway Management in the Critically Ill 
Linking Performance Incentives to Ethical Practice 
Brenda Fitzgerald, Conflict of Interest and Physician Leadership 
Seven Words You Can Never Say at HHS
Equitable Peer Review and the National Practitioner Data Bank 
Fake News in Healthcare 
Beware the Obsequious Physician Executive (OPIE) but Embrace Dyad
   Leadership 
Disclosures for All 
Saving Lives or Saving Dollars: The Trump Administration Rescinds Plans to
Require Sleep Apnea Testing in Commercial Transportation Operators
The Unspoken Challenges to the Profession of Medicine
EMR Fines Test Trump Administration’s Opposition to Bureaucracy 
Breaking the Guidelines for Better Care 
Worst Places to Practice Medicine 
Pain Scales and the Opioid Crisis 
In Defense of Eminence-Based Medicine 
Screening for Obstructive Sleep Apnea in the Transportation Industry—
   The Time is Now 
Mitigating the “Life-Sucking” Power of the Electronic Health Record 
Has the VA Become a White Elephant? 
The Most Influential People in Healthcare 
Remembering the 100,000 Lives Campaign 
The Evil That Men Do-An Open Letter to President Obama 
Using the EMR for Better Patient Care 
State of the VA
Kaiser Plans to Open "New" Medical School 
CMS Penalizes 758 Hospitals For Safety Incidents 
Honoring Our Nation's Veterans 
Capture Market Share, Raise Prices 
Guns and Sleep 
Is It Time for a National Tort Reform? 
Time for the VA to Clean Up Its Act 
Eliminating Mistakes In Managing Coccidioidomycosis 
A Tale of Two News Reports 
The Hands of a Healer 
The Fabulous Fours! Annual Report from the Editor 
A Veterans Day Editorial: Change at the VA? 
A Failure of Oversight at the VA 
IOM Releases Report on Graduate Medical Education 
Mild Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Beyond the AHI 
Multidisciplinary Discussion (MDD) in Interstitial Lung Disease; Some
   Reflections 
VA Administrators Breathe a Sigh of Relief 
VA Scandal Widens
Don’t Fire Sharon Helman-At Least Not Yet 

 

For complete editorial listings click here.

The Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care welcomes submission of editorials on journal content or issues relevant to the pulmonary, critical care or sleep medicine.

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Tuesday
May162017

Worst Places to Practice Medicine 

Medscape periodically publishes a “Best” and “Worst” places to practice medicine (1). We were struck by this year’s list because three of the five worst places to practice medicine are in the Southwest (Table 1).

Table 1. Medscape’s “worst” places to practice medicine.

  1. New Orleans, Louisiana
  2. Phoenix, Arizona
  3. Las Vegas, Nevada
  4. Albuquerque, New Mexico
  5. Tulsa, Oklahoma

While Minneapolis rated the best place to practice, only 2 cities from the Southwest made the top 25 “Best” list-Salt Lake City at 13th and Colorado Springs at 24th. Most of the top 25 are from the Midwest or Northeast. None from California made the best places list and only the only Southern location was Virginia Beach, Virginia. 

Rankings resulted from the combination of twelve 50-state rankings: medical board actions per doctor; malpractice lawsuits per doctor; office-based primary care physicians per population; physician income; employer-based insurance rate per population; insurance coverage per population; reported rates of well-being of the general population; violent crime rates; participation in wildlife-related recreation; divorce rates; use of family-friendly amenities; and cost of living.

Phoenix, Las Vegas and Albuquerque were singled out for high rates of uninsured patients. Phoenix was also singled out for its moderately high malpractice suit rate.

Before everyone in the Southwest decides to move, these ratings may be meaningless, much like hospital rankings (2). Furthermore, there seems little that physicians can do to improve the situation based on the selected metrics. What can be done is to continue our efforts through our professional organizations to educate the public and their elected representatives that job satisfaction is necessary to recruit and retain physicians, as well as nurses and other health care professionals. A healthcare organization without these well-educated and caring people lacks quality and attempts to substitute substandard care is much like trying to substitute a Yugo for a Mercedes.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Page L. Best places to practice to avoid burnout. Medscape. May 10, 2017. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/879573 (accessed 5/16/17).
  2. Robbins RA, Gerkin RD. A comparison between hospital rankings and outcomes data. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2013;7(3):196-203. [CrossRef] 

Cite as: Robbins RA. Worst places to practice medicine. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;14(5):236-7. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc060-17 PDF 

Thursday
Mar162017

Pain Scales and the Opioid Crisis 

In the last year, physicians and nurses have increasingly voiced their dissatisfaction with pain as the fifth vital sign. In June 2016, the American Medical Association recommended that pain scales be removed in professional medical standards (1). In September 2016, the American Academy of Family Physicians did the same (2). A recent Medscape survey reported that over half of surveyed doctors and nurses supported removal of pain assessment as a routine vital sign (3).

In the 1990’s there was a widespread impression that pain was undertreated. Whether this was true or an impression created by a few practitioners and undertreated patients with the support of the pharmaceutical industry is unclear. Nevertheless, the prevailing thought became that identifying and quantifying pain would lead to more appropriate pain therapy. The American Society of Anesthesiologists and the American Pain Society issued practice guidelines for pain management (4,5). Subsequently, both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) mandated a pain scale as the fifth vital sign (6-9). Most commonly these scales ask patients to rate their pain on a scale of 1-10. The JCAHO mandated that "Pain is assessed in all patients” and would give hospitals "requirements for Improvement" if they failed to meet this standard (9). The JCAHO also published a book in 2000 for purchase as part of required continuing education seminars (9). The book cited studies that claimed "there is no evidence that addiction is a significant issue when persons are given opioids for pain control." It also called doctors' concerns about addiction side effects "inaccurate and exaggerated." The book was sponsored by Purdue Pharma makers of oxycodone.

Almost as soon as the standards were initiated, suggestions emerged that pain treatment was becoming overzealous. In 2003 a survey of 250 adults who had undergone surgical procedures reported that almost 90% were satisfied with their pain medications. Nevertheless, the authors concluded that “many patients continue to experience intense pain after surgery … additional efforts are required to improve patients’ postoperative pain experience” (8). Concerns about overaggressive treatment for pain increased after Vila et al. (10) reported in 2005 that the incidence of opioid oversedation increased from 11.0 to 24.5 per 100 000 inpatient hospital days after the hospitals implemented a numerical pain treatment algorithm. As early as 2002 the Institute for Safe Medication Practices linked overaggressive pain management to a substantial increase in oversedation and fatal respiratory depression events (11). Articles appeared questioning the wisdom of asking every patient to rate their pain noting that implementation of the scale did not appear to improve pain management (12). The JCAHO removed its standard to assess pain in all patients but not until 2009.

The US has seen a dramatic increase in the incidence of opioid deaths (13). It is unclear if adoption of the pain scale and its widespread application to all patients contributed to the increase although the time frame and the data from Vila et al. (10) suggest that this is likely.

There have been other factors that may have also contributed to the increase in opioid deaths. The Medscape survey mentioned above asked participants how often they feel pressure to prescribe pain medication in order to keep patient satisfaction levels high (3). Specifically mentioned was the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems or HCAHPS. HCAHPS is a patient satisfaction survey required for all hospitals in the US. About two thirds of doctors and nurses felt there was pressure (3). The survey also asked respondents about the influence of patient reviews on opioid prescribing. Forty-six percent of doctors said the reviews were more than slightly influential. The surveys seemed to carry more weight with nurses. Seventy-three percent said the reviews were influential. Others have blamed pharmaceutical company marketing opioids as a way of reducing pain and increasing patient satisfaction (14). Clearly, there has been a dramatic increase in narcotic prescriptions. Not surprisingly, pharmaceutical companies have done little to curb the use of their products.

Earlier this year, former CDC Director Tom Frieden said "The prescription overdose epidemic is doctor-driven…It can be reversed in part by doctors' actions” (15). Some physicians have taken this as blame for the entire opioid crisis, including deaths from heroin and illegal fentanyl. There may be some validity in this belief since abuse of illegal narcotics sometimes evolves out of abuse of prescribed narcotics. However, the actions of the health regulatory agencies that mandated pain scales and created guidelines for pain management were not mentioned by Dr. Frieden. Also, not mentioned are the patient satisfaction surveys. 

About a year ago the CDC issued guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain (15). These guidelines were developed in collaboration with a number of federal agencies including the Department of Veterans Affairs which was one of the first to mandate pain scales and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) which mandated HCAHPS. Pain is a subjective symptom and quantification and treatment are imprecise. The goal cannot be to deliver perfect pain management but to reduce the incidence of under- and overtreatment as much as possible. Someone needs to assess patients’ pain complaints and prescribe opioids appropriately. No one is better qualified and prepared than the clinician at the bedside.

No one condones the unethical practice of widespread prescription of opioids without sufficient medical oversight. However, meddling by unqualified bureaucrats, administrators and politicians emphasizes guidelines over appropriate care. As detailed above, the present opioid crisis may be an unattended consequence of the pain scale and opioid prescribing guidelines. Further intrusion by the same groups who created the crisis is unlikely to solve the problem but is likely to create additional problems such as the undertreatment of patients with severe pain. As I write this on the ides of March it may be appropriate to paraphrase a line from Julius Cesar, “The fault lies not in our doctors but in our regulators”.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Anson P. AMA drops pain as vital sign. Pain News Network. June 16, 2016. Available at: https://www.painnewsnetwork.org/stories/2016/6/16/ama-drops-pain-as-vital-sign (accessed 3/2/17).
  2. Lowes R. Drop pain as the fifth vital sign, AAFP says. Medscape Medical News. September 22, 2016. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/869169 (accessed 3/2/17).
  3. Ault A. Many physicians, nurses want pain removed as fifth vital sign. Medscape Medical News. Medscape Medical News. February 21, 2017. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/875980?nlid=113119_3464&src=WNL_mdplsfeat_170228_mscpedit_ccmd&uac=9273DT&spon=32&impID=1299168&faf=1 (accessed 3/2/17).
  4. Practice guidelines for acute pain management in the perioperative setting. A report by the American Society of Anesthesiologists Task Force on Pain Management, Acute Pain Section. Anesthesiology. 1995 Apr;82(4):1071-81. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  5. Gordon DB, Dahl JL, Miaskowski C, McCarberg B, Todd KH, Paice JA, Lipman AG, Bookbinder M, Sanders SH, Turk DC, Carr DB. American pain society recommendations for improving the quality of acute and cancer pain management: American Pain Society Quality of Care Task Force. Arch Intern Med. 2005 Jul 25;165(14):1574-80. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  6. National Pain Management Coordinating Committee. Pain as the 5Th vital sign toolkit. Department of Veterans Affairs. October 2000. Available at: https://www.va.gov/PAINMANAGEMENT/docs/Pain_As_the_5th_Vital_Sign_Toolkit.pdf (accessed 3/2/17).
  7. Baker DW. History of The Joint Commission's Pain Standards: Lessons for Today's Prescription Opioid Epidemic. JAMA. 2017 Mar 21;317(11):1117-8. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  8. Apfelbaum JL, Chen C, Mehta SS, Gan TJ. Postoperative pain experience: results from a national survey suggest postoperative pain continues to be undermanaged. Anesth Analg. 2003;97(2):534-540. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  9. Moghe S. Opioid history: From 'wonder drug' to abuse epidemic. CNN. October 14, 2016. Available at: http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/12/health/opioid-addiction-history/ (accessed 3/2/17).
  10. Vila H Jr, Smith RA, Augustyniak MJ, et al. The efficacy and safety of pain management before and after implementation of hospital-wide pain management standards: is patient safety compromised by treatment based solely on numerical pain ratings? Anesth Analg. 2005;101(2):474-480. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  11. Institute for Safe Medication Practices. Pain scales don’t weigh every risk. July 24, 2002. Available at: https://www.ismp.org/newsletters/acutecare/articles/20020724.asp (accessed 3/2/17).
  12. Mularski RA, White-Chu F, Overbay D, Miller L, Asch SM, Ganzini L. Measuring pain as the 5th vital sign does not improve quality of pain management. J Gen Intern Med. 2006 Jun;21(6):607-12. [CrossRef] [PubMed] 
  13. Rudd RA, Seth P, David F, Scholl L. Increases in drug and opioid-involved overdose deaths - United States, 2010-2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016 Dec 16;65. Published on-line. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  14. Cha AE. The drug industry’s answer to opioid addiction: More pills. Washington Post. October 16, 2016. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/the-drug-industrys-answer-to-opioid-addiction-more-pills/2016/10/15/181a529c-8ae4-11e6-bff0-d53f592f176e_story.html?utm_term=.36c5992fa62f (accessed 3/2/17).
  15. Lowes R. CDC issues opioid guidelines for 'doctor-driven' epidemic. Medscape. March 15, 2016. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/860452 (accessed 3/2/17).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Pain scales and the opioid crisis. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;14(3):119-22. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc033-17 PDF 

Monday
Feb132017

In Defense of Eminence-Based Medicine 

An internal memo to the members of the Society for Truculent Underappreciated Practitioners of Inpatient Doctoring

Brigham C. Willis, MD, MEd

Department of Medical Education and Division of Cardiovascular Intensive Care
Phoenix Children's Hospital
Phoenix, AZ USA

 

To arms, august compatriots! Our very way of life is threatened by the hordes of barbarians at our gates. Armed not with pitchforks and torches, but with Cochrane reviews, “multicenter randomized controlled trials”, the Interwebs, and “tablet computers”, they besiege our traditions and values, and threaten our place in the hierarchy of medicine. In no uncertain terms, they want to remove us from our place of reverence, from our position of respect, and replace us with guidelines, pathways, and protocols. To do nothing is to perish. We must stand together, and fight this tide, or be swept away in the tidal wave of journals and statistical analyses buffeting our land. Join or Die!

For generations, we have preserved our careers and medicine itself by strictly honoring a system based on “eminence-based medicine” or “EBM”. This is the practice of making the same sound decisions with increasing confidence over an impressive number of years (some of the barbarians have even mocked and disregarded this definition, co-opting “EBM” for their own purposes and replacing “sound decisions” in the true definition with “mistakes”. The nerve.) Upon what else does our hallowed practice rest than this? Imagine the disorder and chaos if students or lowly interns were allowed to question the decisions we, the wise practitioners, make. I have seen enough patents with pyemia or blood rot in my time to know how to treat them, thank you very much. I don’t need some unwashed whelp of a trainee waiving a New England Journal article in my face, saying I am giving too much or too little fluid to the patient. I once took care of a septic patient and gave them absolutely no fluid, and they survived. So much for the so-called “evidence”. There is no amount of evidence that can replace intuition and sound clinical acumen. As many of you likely can affirm, a true clinician can almost feel the right thing to do. A challenge to this as the basis of medicine is akin to advocating a change from the “art of medicine” to the “science of medicine”. Blasphemy!

I am sure each of you have experienced some form of this assault. In fact, the medical literature today is full of direct attacks on eminence (1-3). The threat is becoming more acute by the day, as even the lowliest trainee has access to the entire world’s archive of medical literature in their pocket. To survive, we must arm ourselves and fight back. We must have at the ready an armamentarium of weapons and tools to stem the tide, and turn back the latter-day Visigoths who fling their regression analyses, critical appraisal tools, and “levels of evidence” at our battlements. What follows is an attempt to codify some of those tools, and help all of our eminent practitioners to soldier on in the fight.

  1. “Harrumph and eye roll”. When confronted with what seems like sound evidence that counters the way you have treated something for many years, simply roll your eyes in a dramatic way, make a “harrumph”-ing sound quite loudly, and say something like “Well, balanced salt solutions may make physiologic sense, but normal saline has worked for me for many years.” The italics imply rhetorically stressing the avenue of attack chosen by the challenger, and throwing it back at them in a mocking, or sarcastic way, and then reminding them of how much more experience you have than they do. While seemingly basic and perhaps puerile, it is astounding how effective this technique can be. But the “harrumph” you throw in must be emphatic, and said with conviction. This technique rests entirely on how invested in it you can be.
  2. “My specific patient is different”. These evidence cultists always want to assume that their numbers and ratios always apply to everyone. It is relatively simple to find some minor clinical difference between the particular patient under discussion and the participants in whatever trial your foe is citing. For example, when challenged on your management of a ventilated patient, you can say, “Well, in that trial, they didn’t specifically analyze the subgroup of patients with influenza and CHF, did they?” or “the secretions of influenza in a patient with CHF are clearly unique”. Defenses like this usually put them on their heels, as they will either have to go back to the trial itself to check, or admit that they are not quite sure.
  3. “In my experience…” No matter how much evidence is presented, it is always possible to unearth the musty contents of your own shadowy past. Ill-defined and utterly unverifiable, your “experiences” with individual patients, if described colorfully and in detail, can easily counter dry references to impersonal literature reports. It can also refute arguments of physiology. If you have seen something before, your eye-witness account is much more reliable than some “deep understanding of physiologic principles”.
  4. Question the quality of the training of the evidence-hound. No matter what they say or how many “facts” they can cite, one can almost always cast aspersions on their training in some way. “When I was at Harvard...” is a near-perfect oratory introduction to asserting your proper place.
  5. Point out some minute problem in the design of the study being quoted. Although somewhat unsavory, as it may require stooping to the tactics employed by our attackers, it is always possible to take issue with some aspect of any given study. “I can’t believe they used a Kolmogorov–Smirnov test, when they clearly should have used Pitman’s permutation test. The results of this study are suspect to say the least.” This should require quite a bit of investigation by the whelp, by which time you should be safely ensconced in the doctor’s lounge.
  6. Cite a report that supports your viewpoint. Again somewhat unsavory, but even when someone states that 3 randomized control trials (RCTs) have shown that a certain treatment is “clearly” superior to how you have been doing things, you can almost always cite a trial that does support you (“while it is interesting that those investigations show that digitalis is not effective in heart failure in general, Jones et al. showed that it reduced readmission rates in the Congo when given to patients with CHF due to parasitic disease...”). Always remember to end the discussion with “so clearly the jury is still out on this subject.”
  7. Lean heavily on the axiom that “lack of evidence of efficacy is not evidence of lack of efficacy”. This is very powerful and can be carried quite far. No matter how many trials show that a treatment doesn’t work, this single sentence irrefutably ends discussion in most cases.
  8. Utilize physiologic smoke screens. Delve deeply into your medical school texts, and have at the ready in depth discussions of biochemical and physiologic pathways. Learn to describe how they interact in such detail that no one can really follow what you are getting at, but throw in enough polysyllabic words and pathway intermediates and you are untouchable, no matter how much evidence is tossed around. In today’s world, most trainees’ education in biochemistry, physiology, and anatomy has been short-shrifted to a stunning degree by the addition of silly classes on biostatistics, ethics, diversity, professionalism, and other such drivel, so you can be generally assured they will have no comeback for this defense.
  9. “Cookbook medicine”. Throw out derogatory terms such as “cookbook medicine” and wax nostalgic for the times when doctors truly “thought” about their patients and cared about them. This is particularly effective when you can question the humanity of your foe, asserting that “statistics and numbers can never substitute for the human being in the bed in front of you. You would do well to remember that.” Followed up with a moving patient story where your attention to detail and the history of that individual patient made all the difference, and where your diagnosis and treatment plan flew in the face of the naysayers, and you are safe.
  10. Parachutes. Go nuclear, and question evidence itself. This is obviously high-risk, but can be very effective. Building on the excellent article utilizing the example of the parachute as a preventative treatment for high-altitude falls that has never been verified in a RCT (despite the fact that there are case reports of parachute-less high-altitude falls resulting in subject survival) (4), make the point that medicine is more than evidence. Rub their nose in the fact that true doctors can see the value in treatments that are of “obvious” value, even without evidence.
  11. Question the work ethic or integrity of the evidence bearer. No matter what they say, find some fault with their daily routine, or pre-rounding attention to detail, or accuracy of information they provided about the patient. Proceed to vociferously point out their deficiencies, making sure that everyone in ear shot is aware of what is happening, and intimate that anything they say is suspect.
  12. Trump them. If all else fails, utilize the debate technique made so famous by the current president. Previously known as “vehemence-based medicine” (5), simply raising the volume of your opinion and employing an attitude that your opponent is a complete and utter moron will shut down any opposition. With this technique, if employed correctly, any amount of logic or number of facts will wilt in the glare of your intensity and scorn.
  13. Eloquence and elegance based argumentation. Much to the chagrin of the attackers, it is still well-accepted that “brilliant oratory,…a year round suntan, [and/or] a silk suit” (5) can overwhelm the senses of most of the sandal-wearing hippies who worship at the altar of evidence. Keep your style impressive and tighten your bowties!

Be strong, my brothers and sisters! While some furtive attempts have been made to fight back and harness the power of our eminence (6), we are clearly in danger. In the face of this growing threat, our ability to wield our eminence may falter. We hope that the techniques described herein will serve you well in our struggle. Let not these heathens question our place or sacred way of life. Stand tall, and continue to be the face of “EBM”.

References

  1. Bhandari M, Zlowodzki M, Cole PA. From eminence-based practice to evidence-based practice: a paradigm shift. Minn Med. 2004 Apr;87(4):51-4. [PubMed]
  2. Kros JM. Grading of gliomas: the road from eminence to evidence. J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2011 Feb;70(2):101-9. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  3. Pincus T, Tugwell P. Shouldn't standard rheumatology clinical care be evidence-based rather than eminence-based, eloquence-based, or elegance-based? J Rheumatol. 2007 Jan;34(1):1-4. [PubMed]
  4. Smith GC, Pell JP. Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge: systematic review of randomised controlled trials. BMJ. 2003 Dec 20;327(7429):1459-61. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  5. Isaacs D, Fitzgerald D. Seven alternatives to evidence based medicine. BMJ. 1999 Dec 18-25;319(7225):1618. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  6. Hay MC, Weisner TS, Subramanian S, Duan N, Niedzinski EJ, Kravitz RL.Harnessing experience: exploring the gap between evidence-based medicine and clinical practice. J Eval Clin Pract. 2008 Oct;14(5):707-13. [CrossRef] [PubMed]

Cite as: Willis BC. In defense of eminence-based medicine. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;14(2):69-72. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc019-17 PDF 

Friday
Dec022016

Screening for Obstructive Sleep Apnea in the Transportation Industry—The Time is Now 

Stuart F. Quan, M.D.

 

Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders

Brigham and Women’s Hospital

and

Division of Sleep Medicine

Harvard Medical School

Boston, MA USA

and

Asthma and Airway Disease Research Center

University of Arizona College of Medicine,

Tucson, AZ USA

 

On September 29, 2016, a New Jersey Transit train failed to slow down and stop at the station in Hoboken, New Jersey. The resulting crash injured a number of passengers and killed a young mother who happened to be near the crash site. Subsequently, it was learned that the train engineer who apparently had blacked out was diagnosed as having severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) (1). Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Over the past few years, there have been several other well-documented incidents of train, truck and bus crashes resulting from their operators falling asleep from OSA. In 2013, a Metro-North commuter train derailed outside of New York City because of excessive speed approaching a curve, the train engineer reported being “dazed” and was subsequently found to have OSA (2). Four passengers were killed and numerous others were injured. In another well-documented accident in 2013, the driver of a Greyhound bus fell asleep. The bus ran off the road, rolled on its side and injured 35 passengers. The driver had been told to get tested for OSA, but did not have the study done. A subsequent court-ordered polysomnogram showed OSA (3). In another incident in 2009, a truck-tractor semitrailer operator failed to notice slowing and stopped cars in front of him and collided with a passenger vehicle. This led to a series of rear end vehicle collisions resulting in 10 fatalities. The cause of the accident was operator fatigue related in part to OSA (4). These well-publicized incidents are only a few of the sleepiness/fatigue related accidents caused by unrecognized OSA in the transportation industry.

One of the most common symptoms attributed to OSA is daytime sleepiness which can be uncontrollable and unpredictable. Numerous studies have demonstrated that persons with OSA have an increased rate of motor vehicle accidents with up to a 4.9 fold higher risk (5). Accidents involving only a single vehicle are particularly frequent suggesting that the crashes are caused by the operators having fallen asleep. Truck drivers are at even greater risk, most likely because they are disproportionately male, middle aged and overweight, all of which are risk factors for OSA. Over a ten year span from 2004 to 2013, it has been estimated that 3,133 to 8,952 deaths and 77,000 and 220,000 serious injuries have resulted from sleepy operators of commercial motor vehicles, many of whom most likely had undiagnosed and untreated OSA (6).

Given the severe consequences of unrecognized OSA on public safety and the high prevalence of unrecognized OSA among operators of trains, buses and commercial trucks, the imperative to screen and treat these persons for OSA is high. The advisory boards to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have recommended that commercial truck drivers be screened for OSA if their body mass index is > 40 kg/m2, or >33 kg/m2 and have 3 or more conditions or findings associated with OSA, but adoption of these recommendations has not occurred (7). More recently, the Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration and the FMCSA have taken the first steps to mandate screening and treatment of rail and commercial motor vehicle operators for OSA by soliciting public comment (8). Airline pilots are already screened. However, there is substantial opposition from the trucking industry and drivers themselves, the latter because of potential job loss. However, such a screening program in one large trucking company has demonstrated a 5 fold reduction in accident rates in drivers who were adherent to CPAP treatment for OSA (5).

With the development of relatively simple to use ambulatory devices that can identify most persons with OSA, screening for OSA can be done easily and cost-effectively. In the vast majority of cases, referral to a sleep lab is not necessary. Persons diagnosed with OSA can be treated with several different modalities and are able to return to work. Employers may actually experience a reduction in their costs related to fewer accidents and improved employee health. Thus, there is no reason to delay requiring OSA screening programs for all persons working in occupations where public safety is at risk. For regulators, policy makers, and the various industries affected, the time is now. Failure to act places the responsibilities for the ensuing economic costs, injuries and deaths on your shoulders.

References

  1. Marsh R, Shortell D. NJ. Train Engineer in Crash had Undiagnosed Sleep Apnea. CNN. October 17, 2016. Available at: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/17/us/njt-engineer-sleep-apnea/ (accessed 12/2/16).
  2. National Transportation Safety Board. Metro-North Railroad Derailment. October 24, 2014. Available at: http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/accidentreports/pages/RAB1412.aspx (accessed 12/2/16).
  3. Five Passengers hurt in 2013 Greyhound Bus Crash Win $6 Million Settlement Attorneys Say. WCPO Cincinnati. http://www.wcpo.com/news/local-news/hamilton-county/cincinnati/five-passengers-hurt-in-2013-greyhound-bus-crash-win-6-million-settlement-attorneys-say (accessed 12/2/16).
  4. National Transportation Safety Board. Truck-Tractor Semitrailer Rear-End Collision Into Passenger Vehicles on Interstate 44. September 28, 2010. http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Pages/HAR1002.aspx (accessed 12/2/16).
  5. Tregear S, Reston J, Schoelles K, Phillips B. Obstructive sleep apnea and risk of motor vehicle crash: systematic review and meta-analysis. J Clin Sleep Med. 2009;5 (6):573–81.[PubMed]
  6. Burks SV, Anderson JE, Bombyk M, et al. Nonadherence with Employer-Mandated Sleep Apnea Treatment and Increased Risk of Serious Truck Crashes. Sleep. 2016 May 1;39(5):967-75. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  7. Miller E. FMCSA Medical Review Board Issues Sleep Apnea Guidelines. Transport Topics. August 24, 2016. Available at:  http://www.ttnews.com/articles/basetemplate.aspx?storyid=42963&page=1 (accessed 12/2/16).
  8. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. U.S. DOT Seeks Input on Screening and Treating Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers and Rail Workers with Obstructive Sleep Apnea. March 8, 2016. Available at: https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/newsroom/us-dot-seeks-input-screening-and-treating-commercial-motor-vehicle-drivers-and-rail-workers (accessed 12/2/16).

Cite as: Quan SF. Screening for obstructive sleep apnea in the transportation industry—the time is now. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2016;13(6):285-7. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc132-16 PDF

Monday
Nov282016

Mitigating the “Life-Sucking” Power of the Electronic Health Record 

An article in PulmCCM discussed “life-sucking” electronic health care records (EHR) (1). It is in turn based on an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine on the work time spent by physicians (2). The latter, funded by the American Medical Association, observed 57 physicians in internal medicine, family medicine, cardiology, and orthopedics over hundreds of hours. The study revealed that physicians spend almost two hours working on their electronic health record for every one hour of face-to-face patient time. Interestingly, physicians who used a documentation assistant or dictation spent more time with patients (31 and 44%) compared to those with no documentation support (23%).

The PulmCCM goes on to list some of the reasons that the EHR requires so much time:

  • The best and brightest minds in software design don't go to work for Epic, Cerner, Allscripts, and whoever the other ones are.
  • There's a high barrier to entry for competition now that most major health systems have implemented the big-name systems.
  • The vendors can't easily improve the front-end design's user-friendliness (like web pages and consumer software have) because it rests on clunky, proprietary frameworks built in the 1990s and which can't be substantially changed for stability reasons. Think Microsoft Office, but way worse.
  • Software designers are congenitally incapable of accepting the reality that a user would be better off the less they use the product, and designing it that way. They think their EHR is super cool, and can't fathom that it actually sucks to use.

Let me add another possibility. Those who demand implementation of the EHR see documentation as being most important because of the bottom line. It if comes at the price of physician efficiency so be it-as long as it does not hurt payment. Physicians are not paid for the required increased documentation much of which is unnecessary, redundant and, in some cases, downright silly (3). Furthermore, the concept that this improves patient outcomes largely seems to be a myth (4). Those manuscripts that report improved “quality” of care usually have examined meaningless surrogate metrics that often have little or even inverse relationships with patient outcomes (3). For example, high patient satisfaction seems to come at the price of increased mortality (5).

What is the solution-charge for the time. As it now stands, there is no downside to demanding pointless documentation. Third party payers can deny payment when something like the rarely beneficial family history is omitted. There should be a charge for seeing and caring for the patient and another “documentation fee” that is based on time. That would mean that a 20 minute office call would not be billed at 20 minutes but at the 1 hour of physician time the visit really consumes. Those physicians who use a documentation assistant or dictation can pay for these services by seeing more patients. Only in this way can the trend of wasting physicians’ most precious resource, their time, be mitigated.

Richard A. Robbins, MD*

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. PulmCCM. Life-sucking power of electronic health records measured, reported, lamented. November 25, 2016. Available at: http://pulmccm.org/main/2016/outpatient-pulmonology-review/life-sucking-power-electronic-health-records-measured-reported-lamented/ (accessed 11/28/16).
  2. Sinsky C, Colligan L, Li L, et al. Allocation of physician time in ambulatory practice: a time and motion study in 4 specialties. Ann Intern Med. 2016 Sep 6. [Epub ahead of print] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  3. Robbins RA. Brief review: dangers of the electronic medical record. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2015;10(4):184-9. [CrossRef]
  4. Yanamadala S, Morrison D, Curtin C, McDonald K, Hernandez-Boussard T. Electronic health records and quality of care: an observational study modeling impact on mortality, readmissions, and complications. Medicine (Baltimore). 2016 May;95(19):e3332. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  5. Fenton JJ, Jerant AF, Bertakis KD, Franks P. The cost of satisfaction: a national study of patient satisfaction, health care utilization, expenditures, and mortality. Arch Intern Med 2012;172:405-11. [CrossRef] [PubMed]

*The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado or California Thoracic Societies or the Mayo Clinic.

Cite as: Robbins RA. Mitigating the “life-sucking” power of the electronic health record. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2016;13(5):255-6. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc125-16 PDF

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