Search Journal-type in search term and press enter
In Memoriam
Social Media-Follow Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care on Facebook and Twitter

Editorials

Last 50 Editorials

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

Not-For-Profit Price Gouging
Some Clinics Are More Equal than Others
Blue Shield of California Announces Help for Independent Doctors-A
   Warning
Medicare for All-Good Idea or Political Death?
What Will Happen with the Generic Drug Companies’ Lawsuit: Lessons from
   the Tobacco Settlement
The Implications of Increasing Physician Hospital Employment
More Medical Science and Less Advertising
The Need for Improved ICU Severity Scoring
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? 

 

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.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Entries in guidelines (6)

Friday
Oct272017

Fake News in Healthcare 

An article in the National Review by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry points out that there is considerable waste in healthcare spending (1). He blames much of this on two entitlements-Medicare and employer-sponsored health insurance. He also lays much of the blame on doctors. “Doctors are the biggest villains in American health care. ... As with public-school teachers, we should be able to recognize that a profession as a whole can be pathological even as many individual members are perfectly good actors, and even if many of them are heroes. And just like public-school teachers, the medical profession as a whole puts its own interests ahead of those of the citizens it claims to be dedicated to serve.”

Who is Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry and how could he say something so nasty about teachers and my profession? A quick internet search revealed that Mr. Gobry is a fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, a conservative Washington, D.C.-based think tank and advocacy group (2). According to his biography, Gobry writes about religion, culture, politics, economics, business, and technology, but not health care. He is a columnist at The Week, a contributor at Forbes, a blogger at the Patheos Catholic and his writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and The Daily Beast amongst others. He holds a Master of Science in management from HEC Paris (Hautes études commerciales de Paris, a quite prestigious business school) and lives in Paris.

To make his point on waste, Mr. Gobry comments on Atul Gawande’s 2007 New Yorker “exposé on the Herculean efforts by a handful of scientists to get intensive-care physicians to implement a basic hygiene measures checklist so as to stop hospital-borne diseases” (3). He goes on to quote the Centers for Disease Control that hospital-borne diseases kill about 100,000 people per year, that the checklist was of no cost to the doctors, and its scientific rationale was unquestionable. “Doctors still resisted it with all their might because they found it mildly inconvenient; perhaps they found it even less acceptable that anybody might tell them how to do their jobs”. I showed this article to one of my former pulmonary/critical care fellows who has been in practice about 10 years. He commented, “Another guy who doesn’t practice medicine or know what he’s talking about.”

Gobry is referring to the Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) central line associated blood stream infection (CLABSI) guidelines. These include hand washing, sterile gloves, sterile gown, wearing of a cap, full body drape, chlorhexidine, and not using femoral sites for insertion. In our intensive care units only chlorhexidine usage was associated with a decline in CLABSI (4). Every ICU I have practiced in has emphasized handwashing and demanded use of sterile gloves, gowns and drapes. The remaining guidelines are not supported by good evidence.

Gobry also claims that a computer is better at diagnosis than most physicians. He claims that the evidence is “pretty robust at this point, and the profession resists it tooth and nail. In a few years, we’ll be able to know how many unnecessary deaths this led to, but the number will have lots of zeroes”. However, in the only direct comparison of diagnostic accuracy, physicians vastly outperformed computer algorithms (84.3% vs. 51.2%) (5).

Journalists like Gobry are writing melodramatic articles about medicine and often getting it wrong. In this case he sensationalized Gawande’s article and misquoted the evidence for both the IHI guidelines and computer diagnosis.

There’s a TV commercial about an actor playing a doctor. Gobry is a business journalist attempting to play a doctor at the National Review. My former fellow is right. Gobry is a guy who does not know what he is talking about. Unfortunately, his writings can affect public policy and influence politicians who know even less. As President Trump said, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated” (6).

I am a doctor playing a journalist at the Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care. Our articles may not be as sensational as Gobry’s, but we stick to what we know-pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine. I think we usually get it right. President Trump has railed against “fake news”, most recently on Lou Dobbs Tonight (7). Journalists like Gobry contribute to fake news by being deliberately obtuse, appealing to emotions, name-calling, and omitting or distorting facts. As physicians, we have been denigrated by journalists like Gobry and others who make outrageous claims for their own purposes. It is the responsibility of physicians to challenge those like Gobry who get it wrong.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Gobry P-E. The most wasteful health spending is also the most popular. National Review. October 25, 2017. Available at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/453088/health-care-spending-wasteful-popular (accessed 10/25/17).
  2. Ethics & Public Policy Center. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry. https://eppc.org/author/pascal-emmanuel-gobry/ (accessed 10/25/17).
  3. Gawande A. The Checklist. The New Yorker. December 10, 2007. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/12/10/the-checklist (accessed 10/25/17).
  4. Hurley J, Garciaorr R, Luedy H, et al. Correlation of compliance with central line associated blood stream infection guidelines and outcomes: a review of the evidence. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2012;4:163-73. Available at: http://www.swjpcc.com/critical-care/2012/5/10/correlation-of-compliance-with-central-line-associated-blood.html
  5. Semigran HL, Levine DM, Nundy S, Mehrotra A. Comparison of Physician and Computer Diagnostic Accuracy. JAMA Intern Med. 2016 Dec 1;176(12):1860-1861. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  6. Howell T Jr. Trump: 'Nobody Knew That Health Care Could Be So Complicated'. Fox News. February 27, 2017. Available at: http://nation.foxnews.com/2017/02/27/trump-nobody-knew-health-care-could-be-so-complicated (accessed 10/25/17).
  7. Trump DJ. Lou Dobbs Tonight. October 25, 2017. Available at: http://video.foxbusiness.com/v/5624925494001/?#sp=show-clips (accessed 10/26/17).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Fake news in healthcare. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(4):171-3. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc132-17 PDF 

Saturday
Jun102017

Breaking the Guidelines for Better Care 

Two events happened this past week that inspired this editorial. First, on Wednesday morning I read the editorial titled “Breaking the Rules for Better Care” by Don Berwick et al. in JAMA (1). Berwick reports a survey of about 40 hospitals done by The Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI). The survey asked the question “If you could break or change any rule in service of a better care experience for patients or staff, what would it be?”. The answers were not surprising. Most centered on annoying hospital rules such as visiting hours, not waking patients, correct HIPPA interpretation, and eliminating the 3-day rule. Although these are correct, in the whole they have minimal effect on healthcare. Other suggestions more likely to improve patient care included improving access, reducing wait times and earlier patient mobility. From the suggestions, it seems likely that most were from administrators. In the editorial Berwick decried, “Habits embedded in organizational behaviors, based on misinterpretations and with little to no actual foundation in legal, regulatory, or administrative requirements”. He goes on to say, “Health care leaders may be well advised to ask their clinicians, staffs, and patients which habits and rules appear to be harming care without commensurate benefits and, with prudence and circumspection, to change them.” As a clinician, I thoroughly agree with both of Berwick’s points.

Later that afternoon, I listened to a lecture by Clement Singarajah on sepsis guidelines. He reviewed the severe sepsis bundles promoted by the Surviving Sepsis Campaign and IHI, the latter being Berwick’s organization who wrote the editorial noted above (Table 1) (2,3).

Table 1.  Severe Sepsis Bundles.

The Severe Sepsis 3-Hour Resuscitation Bundle contains the following elements, to be completed within 3 hours of the time of presentation with severe sepsis:

  • Measure Lactate Level
  • Obtain Blood Cultures Prior to Administration of Antibiotics
  • Administer Broad Spectrum Antibiotics
  • Administer 30 mL/kg Crystalloid for Hypotension or Lactate ≥4 mmol/L

The 6-Hour Septic Shock Bundle contains the following elements, to be completed within 6 hours of the time of presentation with severe sepsis:

  • Apply Vasopressors (for Hypotension That Does Not Respond to Initial Fluid Resuscitation to Maintain a Mean Arterial Pressure (MAP) ≥65 mm Hg)
  • In the Event of Persistent Arterial Hypotension Despite Volume Resuscitation (Septic Shock) or Initial Lactate ≥4 mmol/L (36 mg/dL):
    • Measure Central Venous Pressure (CVP)
    • Measure Central Venous Oxygen Saturation (ScvO2)
  • Remeasure Lactate If Initial Lactate Was Elevated

We carefully reviewed each of the metrics, and concluded most were non-evidence based, outdated, or contradicted by more recent and better trials. The only exception was early antibiotic administration. Most of us reaffirmed our belief in the germ theory and felt that early administration of the correct antibiotics was probably mostly evidence-based and reasonable (4).

Is it possible that most of the metrics in the bundle are merely a waste of time as we concluded or could some be harmful? First, a recent meta-analysis examined a conservative fluid strategy in sepsis compared with a liberal strategy (the goal-directed therapy as advocated by the sepsis bundles) (5). Although there was no change in mortality, a conservative strategy resulted in increased ventilator-free days and reduced length of ICU stay. The meta-analysis concluded that the studies were underpowered to show a mortality benefit. Second, most of us had experienced delays in initiating antibiotics, the only guideline that makes a difference, while waiting for blood cultures to be drawn. None of us knew data that drawing blood cultures makes a difference in patient outcomes.

Berwick recommended asking clinicians which rules may be harming care. Rather than chiding others to do something, a good place to start might be IHI’s sepsis guidelines. The issue of continued support for non-evidence based or outdated guidelines points out the rigid dichotomy between self-delusional beliefs and science. Many (some would say most) guidelines are based on opinions and not science (6). Healthcare would be better if groups such as the Surviving Sepsis Campaign, IHI and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would follow their own advice and not burden healthcare providers with non-evidence based guidelines. Instead, they should only issue guidelines after carefully conducted, randomized, controlled trials establish a guideline rather than mandating the self-delusional beliefs of a few.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Berwick DM, Loehrer S, Gunther-Murphy C. Breaking the rules for better care. JAMA. 2017 Jun 6;317(21):2161-2. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  2. Surviving Sepsis Campaign. Updated bundles in response to new evidence. Available at: http://www.survivingsepsis.org/SiteCollectionDocuments/SSC_Bundle.pdf (accessed 6/9/17).
  3. Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Severe sepsis bundles. Available at: http://www.ihi.org/resources/Pages/Tools/SevereSepsisBundles.aspx (accessed 6/9/17).
  4. Seymour CW, Gesten F, Prescott HC, et al. Time to treatment and mortality during mandated emergency care for sepsis. N Engl J Med. 2017 Jun 8;376(23):2235-44. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  5. Silversides JA, Major E, Ferguson AJ, et al. Conservative fluid management or deresuscitation for patients with sepsis or acute respiratory distress syndrome following the resuscitation phase of critical illness: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Intensive Care Med. 2017 Feb;43(2):155-170. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  6. Lee DH, Vielemeyer O. Analysis of overall level of evidence behind Infectious Diseases Society of America practice guidelines. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171:18-22. [CrossRef] [PubMed]

Cite as: Robbins RA. Breaking the guidelines for better care. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;14(6):285-7. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc072-17 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 

Monday
Feb242014

Qualitygate: The Quality Movement's First Scandal 

Charles R. Denham is probably not a name familiar to most of our readers. Denham's name popped into the news when the Justice Department alleged that CareFusion, then a division of Cardinal Healthcare, paid Denham $11.6 million to influence the Safe Practices Committee at the National Quality Forum (NQF).

Dr. Charles R. Denham

Even though Denham may not be well known, readers might recognize the names of some of the organizations and individuals with whom Denham worked (2,3). Besides the NQF, these include the Institute of Medicine, Leapfrog Group, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Clinton Global Health Initiative, Discovery Channel, General Electric, Cleveland Clinic, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Catholic Healthcare Partners, and Seton Medical Center. Prominent individuals associated with Denham include actor Dennis Quaid (whose newborn twins were nearly killed by a medication mistake) and Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, famous for safely landing a crippled jetliner in the Hudson River. Lesser known, but prominent in the patient safety movement, are Dr. Kenneth Kizer (former Under Secretary for Health in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and founding president and former CEO of the NQF) and Dr. Donald Berwick (founder and former President of the Institute of Healthcare Improvement and former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services).

Denham is a member of the President's Circle of the National Academies of Science of the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. He has been a Senior Fellow in the Advanced Leadership Initiative at Harvard University and instructor at the Harvard School of Public Health. He teaches leadership and innovation on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and was an adjunct Professor at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine. He played a leadership role in the development of a computerized prescriber order entry (CPOE) simulator that measures performance improvement of hospital medication management systems, driving patient safety through healthcare information technologies. He founded CareMoms, CareKids, and CareUniversity, which are programs that are focused on helping families survive healthcare harm and waste. He was until very recently the editor of the Journal of Patient Safety (4).

Many groups have benefitted by recommending best practices, but an endorsement by the NQF can mean riches for companies and individuals (4). Created in 1999 at the behest of a Presidential commission, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit takes private donations and collects fees from members, including consumer groups, health plans and medical providers. Five years ago, Health and Human Services hired the NQF to endorse measures to show whether health care spending is achieving value for patients and taxpayers. The contract has since grown substantially and by 2012 made up nearly three-fourths of the organization’s $26 million in revenue. The NQF’s standards are widely adopted. The report produced by the committee Denham co-chaired included recommendations for best practices in 34 areas of care.

The quality movement is distancing itself from Denham and denying any knowledge of Denham's conflicts of interest or alleged kickbacks (5). However, there were multiple clues. Although Denham was trained as a radiation oncologist, he was not a practicing physician (6). Known as an entrepreneur, Denham had formed and folded numerous for-profit and non-profit companies. Those listed by the Texas Secretary of State’s office include the Texas Institute of Medical Technology; Health Care Concepts; TD Enterprises Management; Spectrum Holdings International (also known as Austin Liberty, Inc.); Tetelestai, Inc. (Greek for “It is finished,” a New Testament reference); Aircare International, Inc. (Denham at one time worked in the aviation industry); CRD Health Ventures, Inc.; and Assisted Better Living Everywhere, Inc. Denham and his family live in a palatial waterfront home in Laguna Beach, California, whose value Zillow estimates at $10.5 million (6). The speaker’s bureau lists Denham’s minimum fee for U.S. engagements as an average of $50,000 to $75,000, far in excess of usual physician speaking fees (6). Denham even boasted his own webpage on Wikipedia and had a contract with Celebrity Talent International (2,4). Although Denham's biography in Wikipedia claims over 100 scientific publications a quick check of PubMed reveals only 25 with nearly all published in the last 5 years in the Journal of Patient Safety where Denham was editor.

In his article in Forbes, Michael Millenson quotes an accomplished patient safety advocate who left her first meeting with Denham convinced she had met with one of the most brilliant individuals of her life (4). Those who know Denham suspect that he would agree (6). The tendency of very smart and successful individuals to boss others is well known because in their own minds they are smarter and better, even when the evidence says otherwise. Some can even blur the boundaries between what they have done, what they are doing and what they hope to do-convincing themselves that it is in the patients' best interests. Like Watergate did to the Nixon White House, Denham has tainted many in the quality movement. Hence the title of this editorial-"Qualitygate". A lot of money is involved in patient safety and there are undoubtedly some willing to sacrifice principles for personal gain. This will probably not be the last scandal in the quality movement. As we have noted previously, there are probably too many guidelines based on expert opinion and some are wrong (7). Physicians need to exercise their own best judgment in deciding which guidelines need to be implemented.

Richard A. Robbins, MD*

Editor

Southwest Journal of Pulmonary and Critical Care

References

  1. Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs. CareFusion to pay the government $40.1 million to resolve allegations that include more than $11 million in kickbacks to one doctor". Available at: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2014/January/14-civ-021.html (accessed 2/21/14).
  2. Wikipedia. Charles Denham. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Denham (accessed 2/21/14). 
  3. Newswise. Dr. Charles Denham named editor of Journal of Patient Safety. Available at: http://www.newswise.com/articles/dr-charles-denham-named-editor-of-journal-of-patient-safety (accessed 2/21/14).
  4. Allen M. Hidden financial ties rattle top health quality group. Propublica. Available at: http://www.propublica.org/article/hidden-financial-ties-rattle-top-health-quality-group (accessed 2/21/14).
  5. Carlson J. Groups cut ties to Denham. Modern Healthcare. Available at: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20140201/MAGAZINE/302019962 (accessed 2/21/14). 
  6. Millenson M. The money, the MD and a $12 million patient safety scandal. Forbes. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelmillenson/2014/02/14/the-money-the-md-and-a-12-million-patient-safety-scandal/ (accessed 2/21/14).
  7. Robbins RA. What's wrong with expert opinion? Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2014;8(1):71-3. [CrossRef]

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

Reference as: Robbins RA. Qualitygate: the quality movement's first scandal. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2014;8(2):132-4. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc022-14 PDF

Tuesday
Sep252012

Getting the Best Care at the Lowest Price 

“Computers make it easier to do a lot of things, but most of the things they make it easier to do don't need to be done.”- Andy Rooney

A recent report from the IOM Institute of Medicine (IOM) claims that $750 billion, or about 30% of healthcare expenditures is wasted each year (1). This attention-grabbing statistic is reminiscent of the oft-quoted figure of 44,000-98,000 deaths attributable to medical errors annually from the 2000 IOM report titled “To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System” (2). The IOM estimate of deaths was based on two studies that used the Harvard Medical Practice Study methodology (3-6). Nurses reviewed charts and using preset criteria cases referred charts to physicians who had undergone a short training course. The physicians judged whether the adverse event was due to a medical error and whether the error contributed to the patient’s death. The incidence of deaths from medical errors was double in New York compared to Utah and Colorado resulting in the IOM’s high and low estimate. I remember reading the studies and thinking that both had problems. The physician reviewers were often outside the specialty area involved (e.g., nonsurgeons reviewing surgical cases); the criteria for error and whether it contributed to death were not clearly defined; and the results were inconsistent (were physicians from New York really twice as negligent as those from Utah and Colorado?). My impression was that no one would believe these flawed studies. I was very wrong. The IOM report helped spark an ongoing campaign for patient safety resulting in a number of interventions. Most were focused on physicians, some were expensive, and to date, it is unclear whether they have improved outcomes or wasted resources.

Now the IOM has published that an inefficient, extraordinarily complex, and slow-to-change US healthcare system wastes huge amounts of money (Table 1) (1).

Table 1. IOM estimates of wasted healthcare dollars.

Although the validity of the estimates is uncertain, most in healthcare would agree that a large portion of healthcare dollars are wasted. The report implies much of this inefficiency is due to clinicians because they are slow-to-change, inefficient and unable to keep up with the explosion in healthcare knowledge. Because of these limitations, physicians often mismanage the patient resulting in the waste of dollars noted above. In the healthcare system envisioned by the IOM, electronic health records (EHRs) would bring the research contained in more than 750,000 journal articles published each year to the point of care. Since it would be impossible for a clinician to read all 750,000 articles these would be communicated to the clinicians as guidelines.

Over the past decade, a remarkable number of laws, rules, regulations, and new ways of doing business have hit physicians (7). Each, when viewed alone, looks very reasonable, but, taken in aggregate, they are undermining the profession and medical care. Healthcare has become more expensive and physicians have shouldered this blame despite losing much of their autonomy. The IOM recommendations on computers may be another in the death by a thousand cuts that independently thinking physicians are receiving.

Although I’m resentful of the IOM report’s implications, bringing computers and EHRs to the clinic is a good idea. However, as a retired VA physician I have repeatedly heard how the “magic” of the computer can solve problems. The VA long ago installed an electronic health record with a set of guidelines that anyone could follow. Certainly improved efficiency and reduced costs would shortly follow. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. When the VA EHR was instituted the numbers of physicians and nurses within the VA declined although the numbers of total employees increased (8). At least part of the increase was due to installation and maintenance of an EHR. At the same time an ever increasing number of guidelines were placed on the computer. Costs to ensure compliance and bonuses paid to administrators for compliance further escalated expenses. Furthermore, the guidelines caused a marked consumption of clinician time. According to one estimate, compliance with the source of many of the VA guidelines, the US Preventative Services Task Force, would require 4-7 hours of additional clinician time per day (9). Clearly, this was unsustainable so further money was allocated to hire healthcare technicians to comply with many of the guidelines. Compliance improved but efficiency, costs, morbidity or mortality did not (10). Furthermore, an unexpected increase in healthcare expenditures occurred outside the VA as a consequence of EHRs. A recent report from the Office of Inspector General of Health and Human Services notes an increase in higher level billing codes in Medicare patients (11). Experts say EHR technology resulted in the increase because of its super-charting capabilities (12). Therefore, it seems unlikely that EHRs as currently utilized will improve efficiency or lower costs.

Much to their credit, the IOM seems to recognize these limitations when they say, "Given such real-world impediments, initiatives that focus merely on incremental improvements and add to a clinician's daily workload are unlikely to succeed” (1). The report goes on to say that instead, the entire infrastructure and culture of healthcare must be reconfigured for significant change to occur. I would agree. Previous changes to improve healthcare have done nothing more than shift monies away from clinical care which will not improve patient outcomes (13). This occurred at the VA and will occur again if left unchecked. A meaningful partnership between clinicians and payers achieving and rewarding high-value care is needed. To do this physicians need considerable input, and perhaps more importantly, control of any EHR. Second, physicians need to be rewarded for good care which is centered on improved patient outcomes and not endless checklists that do little more than consume time. Failure to do so will result in inefficient and more costly care and not in the improvements promised by the IOM.

Richard A. Robbins, MD*

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Smith M, Saunders R, Stuckhardt L, McGinnis JM. Best Care at Lower Cost: The Path to Continuously Learning Health Care in America. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. 2000. Available at: http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2012/Best-Care-at-Lower-Cost-The-Path-to-Continuously-Learning-Health-Care-in-America.aspx (accessed 9/8/12). 
  2. Kohn LT, Corrigan JM, Donaldson MS.  To Err Is Human: Building A Safer Health System.  Washington, DC: National Academy Press. 2000. Available at: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309068371 (accessed 9/8/12). 
  3. Hiatt HH, Barnes BA, Brennan TA, et al. A study of medical injury and medical malpractice. N Engl J Med 1989;321:480-4.
  4. Brennan TA, Leape LL, Laird NM, Hebert L, Localio AR, Lawthers AG, Newhouse JP, Weiler PC, Hiatt HH. Incidence of adverse events and negligence in hospitalized patients. Results of the Harvard Medical Practice Study I. N Engl J Med 1991;324:370-6.
  5. Leape LL, Brennan TA, Laird N, Lawthers AG, Localio AR, Barnes BA, Hebert L, Newhouse JP, Weiler PC, Hiatt H. The nature of adverse events in hospitalized patients. Results of the Harvard Medical Practice Study II. N Engl J Med 1991;324:377-84.
  6. Thomas EJ, Studdert DM, Burstin HR, Orav EJ, Zeena T, Williams EJ, Howard KM, Weiler PC, Brennan TA. Incidence and types of adverse events and negligent care in Utah and Colorado. Med Care 2000;38:261-71.
  7. Kellner KR. Physician killed by ducks. Chest 2005;127:695-6.
  8. Robbins RA. Profiles in medical courage: of mice, maggots and Steve Klotz. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2012;4:71-7.
  9. Yarnall KS, Pollak KI, Østbye T, Krause KM, Michener JL. Primary care: is there enough time for prevention? Am J Public Health 2003;93:635-41.
  10. Robbins RA, Gerkin R, Singarajah CU. Relationship between the Veterans Healthcare Administration hospital performance measures and outcomes. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2011;3:92-133.
  11. Office of Inspector General. Coding trends of Medicare evaluation and management services. Available at: http://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-04-10-00180.asp (accessed 9-8-12).
  12. Lowes R. Are Physicians Coding Too Many 99214s? Medscape Medical News. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/767732 (accessed 9-8-12).
  13. Robbins RA, Gerkin R, Singarajah CU. Correlation between patient outcomes and clinical costs in the VA healthcare system. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2012;4:94-100.

*The views expressed in this editorial are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Arizona or New Mexico Thoracic Societies.

Reference as: Robbins RA. Getting the best care at the lowest price. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care 2012;5:145-8. (Click here for a PDF version of the editorial)