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Editorials

Last 50 Editorials

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

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? 
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

 

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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Entries in politics (7)

Friday
Jul272018

Keep Your Politics Out of My Practice

“Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits. Fanatics will never learn that, though it be written in letters of gold across the sky.”

-Mark Twain

Politicians have repeatedly inserted themselves into exam rooms and under hospital gowns, telling doctors what they can and cannot discuss with patients; forcing providers to recite scripted medical advice they know to be factually inaccurate; and even instructing physicians to prioritize the financial interests of private companies over the health of their patients (1,2).

In 2011 Florida passed a sweeping law barring doctors from routinely asking patients whether they had guns in their homes, counseling them on common-sense firearm storage measures or recording any information about gun ownership in their medical files. Four states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, and Texas) have passed legislation relating to disclosure of information about exposure to chemicals used in the process of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). Some new laws require physicians to discuss specific practices that may not be necessary or appropriate at the time of a specific encounter with a patient. For example, New York enacted legislation in 2010 that requires physicians and other health care practitioners to offer terminally ill patients “information and counseling regarding palliative care and end-of-life options appropriate to the patient, including . . . prognosis, risks and benefits of the various options; and the patient's legal rights to comprehensive pain and symptom management.” Still other laws would require physicians to provide — and patients to receive — diagnostic tests or medical interventions whose use is not supported by evidence, including tests or interventions that are invasive and required to be performed even without the patient's consent. In Virginia, a bill requiring women to undergo ultrasonography before having an abortion was passed despite objections from the American College of Physicians. Arizona required physicians to tell women that drug-induced abortions may be “reversible” a claim that is unsupported by scientific evidence. A growing number of states have instituted mandatory waiting periods for abortions when there is no apparent medical need.

Healthcare providers who do not observe with these laws could face fines, license revocation, and even jail time for failure to comply. Fortunately, many have been struck down by the courts. However, a new tact for some has been to allow objection to certain types of medical treatment such as abortions based on the healthcare provider’s religious or moral beliefs. These providers have a new defender in the Trump administration (3). The top civil rights official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is creating the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom to “protect” doctors, nurses and other health care workers who refuse to take part in procedures like abortion or treat certain people because of moral or religious objections. "Never forget that religious freedom is a primary freedom, that it is a civil right that deserves enforcement and respect," said Roger Severino, an anti-abortion Catholic lawyer who directs HHS's Office for Civil Rights. Here in Arizona healthcare professionals are not required to provide services that conflict with their religious beliefs, including abortion, abortion-inducing medication, emergency contraception, end of life care, and collection of umbilical cord blood (4).

Two recent incidents in Arizona involving pharmacists have brought this law under scrutiny (5). Hilde Hall, a transgender woman in Arizona, was allegedly denied hormone prescriptions by a CVS pharmacist in Fountain Hills. She was unable to fill the prescription at that location and despite her doctor requesting it, the pharmacist refused to transfer the order. CVS apparently fired the pharmacist. This comes within weeks of the case of Nicole Arteaga, who was denied medication for a nonviable pregnancy by a Walgreens pharmacist in Peoria, Brian Hreniuc PharmD. The Arizona State Board of Pharmacy has agreed to review Ms. Arteaga’s complaint against Dr. Hreniuc.

The Arizona Republic put it well. “The person in the white coat behind the counter should be there to help. To answer questions and ensure that the patient understands what the medicine is, how to take it and is aware of possible side-effects. Not to humiliate, question or refuse to serve the client” (5).  Assuming the accounts in the Arizona Republic are accurate, both pharmacists committed several transgressions of the code of ethics of the American Pharmacists Association including a commitment to the patient’s welfare; protecting the dignity of the patient; serving the patient in a private and confidential manner; respecting the autonomy and dignity of each patient; promoting the right of self-determination; recognizing individual self-worth; and acknowledging that colleagues and other health professionals may differ in the beliefs and values they apply to the care of the patient (6).

Whether the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy will decide to enforce professional standards or uphold a politically motivated law is unclear. At a time when pharmacists seek to extend their scope of practice, the behavior of these two pharmacists make one question who they would serve if given more responsibility-the patient or themselves? Also disappointing has been the lack of condemnation from other pharmacists and pharmacy professional groups such as the Arizona Pharmacists Association. This lack of action makes expansion of the scope of practice questionable. We as healthcare providers are entitled to our politics just like anyone else but the line is crossed when you impose your politics on me or my patients.  

Richard A. Robbins, MD*

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Weinberger SE, Lawrence HC 3rd, Henley DE, Alden ER, Hoyt DB. Legislative interference with the patient-physician relationship. N Engl J Med. 2012 Oct 18;367(16):1557-9. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  2. Rampell C. Politicians are invading our medical exam rooms. Washington Post. October 19, 2015. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/politicians-playing-doctor/2015/10/19/7b1af280-769e-11e5-bc80-9091021aeb69_story.html?utm_term=.ae6df6d65643 (accessed 7/22/18).
  3. Kodjak A. Trump admin will protect health workers who refuse services on religious grounds. NPR. January 18, 2018. Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/01/18/578811426/trump-will-protect-health-workers-who-reject-patients-on-religious-grounds (accessed 7/22/18).
  4. Center for Arizona Policy. Arizona religious freedom laws. January 2014. Available at: http://www.azpolicypages.com/religious-liberty/arizona-religious-liberty-laws/ (accessed 7/22/18).
  5. Price TF. CVS pharmacist who refused transgender patient's prescription abused Arizona law. Arizona Republic. July 20, 2018. Available at: https://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/2018/07/20/hilde-hall-transgender-prescription-denied-cvs-pharmacy/809450002/ (accessed 7/22/18).
  6. American Pharmacists Association. Code of Ethics. October 27, 1994. Available at: https://www.pharmacist.com/code-ethics (accessed 7/22/18).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Keep your politics out of my practice. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;17(1):42-4. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc096-18 PDF 

*The views expressed are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of the American Thoracic Society or its affiliates.

Saturday
Mar312018

What Does Shulkin’s Firing Mean for the VA? 

David Shulkin MD, Secretary for Veterans Affairs (VA), was finally fired by President Donald Trump ending long speculation (1). Trump nominated his personal physician, Ronny Jackson MD, to fill Shulkin’s post. The day after his firing, Shulkin criticized his firing in a NY Times op-ed claiming pro-privatization factions within the Trump administration led to his ouster (2). “They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed,” Dr. Shulkin wrote. “That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.”

Former Secretary Shulkin’s tenure at the VA has had several controversies. First, as undersecretary of Veterans Healthcare and later as secretary money appropriated to the VA to obtain private care under the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Acts of 2014 and the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017 appears to have been largely squandered on administrative salaries and expenses rather than hiring healthcare providers to shorten VA wait times (3). Second, Shulkin took a trip with his wife to Europe eventually ending up at Wimbledon to watch tennis (4). The purpose of his trip was ostensibly to attend a London Summit with senior officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to discuss topical issues related to veterans. Although the summit occurred over 2 1/2 days, Shulkin and his wife traveled for 11 days at the taxpayer expense including a side trip to Denmark.

“The private sector, already struggling to provide adequate access to care in many communities, is ill-prepared to handle the number and complexity of patients that would come from closing or downsizing V.A. hospitals and clinics, particularly when it involves the mental health needs of people scarred by the horrors of war,” Dr. Shulkin wrote (2). “Working with community providers to adequately ensure that veterans’ needs are met is a good practice. But privatization leading to the dismantling of the department’s extensive health care system is a terrible idea.” Going on Shulkin states that, “Unfortunately, the department [VA] has become entangled in a brutal power struggle, with some political appointees choosing to promote their agendas instead of what’s best for veterans … These individuals, who seek to privatize veteran health care as an alternative to government-run VA care, unfortunately fail to engage in realistic plans regarding who will care for the more than 9 million veterans who rely on the department for life-sustaining care.”

However, the VA for many years has engaged in a relentless expansion of administration at the expense of healthcare. In the absence of sufficient oversight, Shulkin and VA Central Office did little to curb this trend (3).

Assuming he is confirmed, what will Ronny Jackson, Shulkin’s replacement, do? It seems likely that he will do exactly what Shulkin alleges and Trump apparently wants, i.e., privatize VA healthcare. Whether Jackson will be able to bend the large VA bureaucracy towards privatization is another matter given his lack of healthcare administrative experience. Shulkin may also be right that privatization may only reward select people and companies with profits rather than improving veterans’ care. Regardless, healthcare is more expensive than not delivering healthcare, so the price will probably rise. Time will tell, but something needs to be done. To paraphrase former VA undersecretary Ken Kizer, it is time for another “Prescription for Change” at the VA. 

Richard A. Robbins, MD*

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Rein L, Rucker P, Wax-Thibodeaux E, Dawsey J.  Trump taps his doctor to replace Shulkin at VA, choosing personal chemistry over traditional qualifications. Washington Post. March 29, 2018. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-ousts-veterans-affairs-chief-david-shulkin-in-administrations-latest-shake-up/2018/03/28/3c1da57e-2794-11e8-b79d-f3d931db7f68_story.html?utm_term=.7bcfe44b4ff6 (accessed 3-30-18).
  2. Shulkin DA. Privatizing the V.A. will hurt veterans. NY Times. March 28, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/28/opinion/shulkin-veterans-affairs-privatization.html (accessed 3-30-18).
  3. US Government Accountability Office. Better data and evaluation could help improve physician staffing, recruitment, and retention strategies. GAO-18-124. October 19, 2017. https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-18-124 (accessed 3-30-18).
  4. VA Office of Inspector General. Administrative investigation: VA secretary and delegation travel to Europe. Report No. 17-05909-106. February 14, 2018. Available at: https://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-17-05909-106.pdf (accessed 3-30-18).

*Dr. Robbins has received compensation for providing healthcare to veterans under the VA Choice Act.

Cite as: Robbins RA. What does Shulkin's firing mean for the VA? Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(3):172-3. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc052-18 PDF 

Tuesday
Mar062018

Guns, Suicide, COPD and Sleep

Within the past year two tragic events, the shootings in Las Vegas and Florida have renewed the debate about guns. The politics and the money that fuels the political debate have sharply divided politicians. As tragic as these mass shootings are, deaths by suicide far outnumber the loss of live in these shootings. In 2014 suicide was the tenth most common cause of death with 42,826 lives lost (1). Half of the suicides were by firearm (21,386).

The medical profession has traditionally been reluctant to speak about politically sensitive issues such as abortion, sexuality, and guns. However, beginning early in this millennium some medical societies such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the US Preventative Services Task Force and even the Department of Veterans Affairs were suggesting physicians ask patients about gun behavior, but a few patients complained (2-5). There were some anecdotal reports of patients feeling “pressured” to answer questions about guns (5). One grumbled that it was invasion of privacy. The National Rifle Association also viewed the medical community’s gun-related questions as discriminatory and a form of harassment. In 2011, the Republican-controlled Florida legislature, with the support of the then and still state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, passed restrictions aimed at limiting physician inquiries about gun ownership and gun habits. Under the law, doctors could lose their licenses or risk large fines for asking patients or their families about gun ownership and gun habits. Fortunately, this law was struck down by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (5). The Court ruled in 10-1 decision that the law violated the First Amendment rights of doctors and did nothing to infringe on the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Eight health professional organizations and the American Bar Association have released a call for action to reduce firearm-related injury and death in the United States (6). Specific recommendations include the following:

  • Criminal background checks should be a universal requirement for all gun purchases or transfers of ownership.
  • Opposition to state and federal mandates interfering with physician free speech and the patient–physician relationship, such as laws preventing physicians from discussing a patient's gun ownership.
  • All persons who have a mental or substance use disorder should have access to mental health care, as these conditions can play a significant role in firearm-related suicide.
  • Recognition that blanket reporting laws requiring healthcare providers to report patients who show signs of potentially causing serious harm to themselves or others may stigmatize persons with mental or substance use disorders and create barriers to treatment. The statement urges that such laws protect confidentiality, do not deter patients from seeking treatment, and allow restoration of firearm purchase or possession in a way that balances the patient's rights with public safety.
  • There should be restrictions for civilian use on the manufacture and sale of large-capacity magazines and military-style assault weapons, as private ownership of these represents a grave danger to the public.

Our national professional societies including the American Thoracic Society, the American College of Chest Physicians and the Society of Critical Care Medicine have all endorsed this call for action to gun violence (7).

Editors of the Annals of Internal Medicine have recently urged physicians to sign a formal pledge committing to having conversations with their patients about firearms (8). The Annals campaign began in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting and gained momentum after the February 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. So far nearly 1000 physicians have signed the pledge (9).

People who commit firearm violence against themselves or others often have notable risk factors that bring them into contact with physicians. We in the pulmonary, critical care and sleep communities are positioned to prevent some of these deaths. Patients with chronic diseases including COPD and sleep deprivation are known to be at higher risks for suicide (10,11). By inquiring about guns during these patients’ clinic visits, we may be able to identify potential problems and prevent some deaths.

It is ironic, but hardly surprising, that Florida, a state known for a series of gun-rights laws and its “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law (5), is the site of the latest mass shooting. The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, by all descriptions could have readily been recognized as a potential threat. Perhaps if he had been identified and an intervention performed before the Florida law banning physicians from discussing guns when the he was 12, a tragedy could have been avoided. As Florida Sen. Marco Rubio recently found out, the times may be changing (12). Politicians should keep their politics out of the clinic, hospital and physician-patient relationship. Those who do not, and especially those who by their actions put our patients in peril, do so at their own political risk.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide and self-inflicted injury. March 17, 2017. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm (accessed 3/2/18).
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Gun violence prevention. Available at: https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/federal-advocacy/pages/aapfederalgunviolencepreventionrecommendationstowhitehouse.aspx (accessed 3/2/18).
  3. United States Preventive Services Task Force. Guide to clinical preventive services. Available at: https://www.ataamerica.com/arc1/users/pdfforms/Guide%20to%20Clinical%20Preventive%20Services.pdf (accessed 3/2/18).
  4. Department of Veterans Affairs. Firearms and dementia. August 2017. Available at: https://www.va.gov/vhapublications/ViewPublication.asp?pub_ID=2731 (accessed 3/2/18).
  5. Alvarez L. Florida doctors may discuss guns with patients, court rules. NY Times. February 16, 2017. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/16/us/florida-doctors-discuss-guns-with-patients-court.html (accessed 3/2/18).
  6. Weinberger SE, Hoyt DB, Lawrence HC 3rd, et al. Firearm-related injury and death in the United States: a call to action from 8 health professional organizations and the American Bar Association. Ann Intern Med. 2015 Apr 7;162(7):513-6. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  7. American College of Physicians. More than two dozen organizations join call by internists and others for policies to reduce firearm injuries and deaths in U.S. ACP Newsroom. May 1, 2015. Available at: https://www.acponline.org/acp-newsroom/more-than-two-dozen-organizations-join-call-by-internists-and-others-for-policies-to-reduce-firearm (accessed 3/2/18).
  8. Wintemute GJ. What you can do to stop firearm violence. Ann Intern Med. 2017 Dec 19;167(12):886-7. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  9. Frellick M. More than 1000 doctors pledge to talk to patients about guns. Medscape. March 1, 2018. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/893307?nlid=121033_4502&src=wnl_dne_180302_mscpedit&uac=9273DT&impID=1572032&faf=1 (accessed 3/2/18).
  10. Goodwin RD. Is COPD associated with suicide behavior? J Psychiatr Res. 2011 Sep;45(9):1269-71. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  11. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Sleep Medicine and Research; Colten HR, Altevogt BM, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2006. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  12. Associated Press. Sen. Marco Rubio changes stance on high-capacity magazines after Florida school shooting. Time. February 22, 2018. Available at: http://time.com/5171653/marco-rubio-large-capacity-magazine-parkland-shooting/ (accessed 3/2/18).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Guns, suicide, COPD and sleep. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;16(3):138-40. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc039-18 PDF

Monday
Dec182017

Seven Words You Can Never Say at HHS

The recent announcement of the seven words you can never say at Health & Human Services (HHS) reminded me of the late George Carlin’s routine, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” (1). Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting last Thursday, December 14, with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing (2). The forbidden words are "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "evidence-based" and "science-based." In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or “evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.

This is the latest attempt by government departments to distort fact. As an example, The New York Department of Education tried a similar tactic in 2012 (3). Among the words were dinosaur, birthday, and Halloween. Some of the reasons given were that dinosaurs suggest evolution which creationists might not like; Halloween was targeted because it suggests paganism; and birthday because it isn’t celebrated by Jehovah’s Witnesses; The Bush administration waged a similar war on climate change (4). That war has been extended by the Trump Administration as part of their war on any science that the Trump administration does not like (5). Science that does not fit Trump’s agenda or ideology is insulted or called “fake news”. Climate change is fact and not a hoax dreamed up the Chinese as Trump has claimed (6).

Mr. Carlin is not alive to make fun of the latest war on free speech but perhaps others will take up Carlin’s calling. Seven words they might suggest be banned include stupid, moron, fool, clown, weird, dumb and incompetent-all frequently used by President Trump on Twitter (7). The CDC is a scientific organization. Appointing unqualified politicians to head scientific organizations to carry out a political agenda is like mixing oil and water. No matter how times you say it, the water will not float on top of the oil. Science relies on a precise vocabulary and is not Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, or right or left. In my view, those that banned these words made an indirect attack on fact and should be “ashamed” (7).

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. Carlin G. 7 words you can never say on television. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyBH5oNQOS0 (accessed 12/18/17).
  2. Sun LH, Eilperin J. Words banned at multiple HHS agencies include ‘diversity’ and ‘vulnerable’. Washington Post. December 16, 2017. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/words-banned-at-multiple-hhs-agencies-include-diversity-and-vulnerable/2017/12/16/9fa09250-e29d-11e7-8679-a9728984779c_story.html?utm_term=.c983e2f2af81 (accessed 12/18/17).
  3. CBS News New York. War on words: NYC dept. of education wants 50 ‘forbidden’ words banned from standardized tests. March 26, 2012. Available at: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2012/03/26/war-on-words-nyc-dept-of-education-wants-50-forbidden-words-removed-from-standardized-tests/ (accessed 12/18/17).
  4. Union of Concerned Scientists. Scientific integrity in policy making. September, 2005. Available at: https://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/center-science-and-democracy/promoting-scientific-integrity/reports-scientific-integrity.html#.Wjf0TFWnGUk (accessed 12/18/17).
  5. Editorial Board. President Trump’s war on science. New York Times. September 9, 2017. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/09/opinion/sunday/trump-epa-pruitt-science.html (12/18/17).
  6. Marcin T. What has Trump said about global warming? Eight quotes on climate change as he announces Paris agreement decision. Newsweek. June 1, 2017. Available at: http://www.newsweek.com/what-has-trump-said-about-global-warming-quotes-climate-change-paris-agreement-618898 (accessed 12/18/17).
  7. Lee JC, Quealy K. The 394 people, places and things Donald Trump has insulted on twitter: a complete list. New York Times. November 17, 2017. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/01/28/upshot/donald-trump-twitter-insults.html (accessed 12/18/17).

Cite as: Robbins RA. Seven words you can never say at HHS. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(6):294-5. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc154-17 PDF 

Friday
Dec082017

Equitable Peer Review and the National Practitioner Data Bank 

The General Accounting Office (GAO) recently reported that Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) did not report most physicians whose clinical care was found to be, or suspected of being, substandard to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) or to state licensing boards (1). The GAO examined 5 VAMCs and found required reviews of 148 providers’ clinical care after concerns were raised from October 2013 through March 2017. Of the 148, 5 were subjected to adverse privileging actions and 4 resigned or retired while under review but before adverse actions were taken. Only 1 of these 9 was reported to the NPDB and none was reported to his or her state medical board.

In response to GAO's report and in testimony to the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, VA officials said the agency was taking three steps to improve reporting of providers who don't meet required standards:

  1. Reporting more clinical occupations to the NPDB;
  2. Improving the timeliness of reporting;
  3. Enhancing oversight to ensure that no settlement agreements waive the VA's ability to report to NPDB and state licensing boards (2).

What is lacking in the report is determination if substandard actually occurred and how it was determined. The VA has 3 ways of identifying substandard care (1).

  1. Tort claims (the VA equivalent of a medical malpractice lawsuit);
  2. Complaints or incident reports;
  3. Peer review.

Each has major problems of accuracy and fairness at the VA.

The majority of US physicians have been sued (3). The minority of suits are associated with malpractice and malpractice has no apparent association with the outcome of the litigation (4). Over 90% of medical malpractice cases are settled out of court (5). A common misconception is that settling a case before trial means a large financial settlement. However, 90% of the 90% or 82% of all claims, close with no payment (5). However, the VA uses US District Attorney to defend malpractice claims (6). In many instances, the US District Attorney’s office settles the case without determining if there is malpractice. The VA then submits the offending physician(s) name to the NPDB or state boards whether malpractice has been shown or not.

Complaints or incident reports are common in many hospitals, and many, if not most, have little merit (7). However, the weight given to a complaint should be viewed differently depending on the source. When colleagues raise concern about a physician’s care this is more credible than a patient complaining about not receiving their narcotics to a patient advocate. In the GAO report it is unclear if this was a source the of possible substandard care.

Lastly, there is peer review. There are several problems with this process in the VA. The VA selects the “peers”. In many instances the reviewers are un- or under-qualified to review the case (6). Furthermore, the selected reviewers may be conflicted clouding a balanced and fair determination if the physician’s care met the standard of care. There are multiple instances of this at the VA, of which a couple have been cited in the SWJPCC (6).

No surprisingly, a bureaucracy in the federal government has suggested a bureaucratic solution to a nonexistent problem. The goal should not be for more bureaucratic reporting, but a system for determining if a physician’s care has met the standard of care. The VA has shown it is incapable of making this determination fairly and accurately. What is needed is an outside review separated from VA influence and politics. If malpractice is still questioned after an initial VA review, the medical schools or private practioners could provide a source of physician peer review. The case could be presented to a panel of non-VA physician peers chosen in an equitable ratio by the VA and the accused practitioner. In the absence of a more equitable review process, the VA will only succeed in driving away the quality practitioners the veterans need.

Richard A. Robbins, MD

Editor, SWJPCC

References

  1. General Accounting Office. VA health care: improved policies and oversight needed for reviewing and reporting providers for quality and safety concerns. Report to the chairman, committee on veterans’ affairs, House of Representatives. GAO-18-63 (Washington, D.C.: November, 2017). Available at: http://www.gao.gov/assets/690/688378.pdf (accessed 12/6/17).
  2. Terry K. VA medical centers fail to report substandard doctors, GAO says. Medscape. December 5, 2017. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/889600?nlid=119420_4502&src=wnl_dne_171206_mscpedit&uac=9273DT&impID=1501593&faf=1 (accessed 12/6/17).
  3. Matray M. Medscape malpractice report 2017 finds the majority of physicians sued. Medical Liability Monitor. November 15, 2017. Available at: http://medicalliabilitymonitor.com/news/2017/11/medscape-malpractice-report-2017-finds-the-majority-of-physicians-sued/ (accessed 12/6/17).
  4. Brennan TA, Sox CM, Burstin HR. Relation between negligent adverse events and the outcomes of medical-malpractice litigation. N Engl J Med. 1996 Dec 26;335(26):1963-7. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
  5. Chesanow N. Malpractice: when to settle a suit and when to fight. Medscape. September 25, 2013. Available at: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/811323_3 (accessed 12/6/17).
  6. Pham JC, Girard T, Pronovost PJ. What to do with healthcare incident reporting systems. J Public Health Res. 2013 Dec 1;2(3):e27. [CrossRef] [PubMed]
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Cite as: Robbins RA. Equitable peer review and the national practitioner data bank. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2017;15(6):271-3. doi: https://doi.org/10.13175/swjpcc152-17 PDF