Long notes and unhappy patients.

A patient of mine saw a cardiologist recently.

His previous cardiologist has retired. The patient had a cardiac bypass in the past, he has a stent, he has known coronary heart disease and he’s in the young half of my practice. That is, under 60.

He had not seen a cardiologist for 2-3 years because he had a work injury, worked with Labor and Industries, the case was closed, he couldn’t go back to work, he found a lawyer. He lost his regular health insurance along with the job, so couldn’t see the cardiologist.

The L & I case is reopened. A physiatrist recommended specific treatment that was not done, and that allowed the case to reopen.

The specific treatment center then notes that he has heart disease and that he needs clearance from a cardiologist. I set him up with a new cardiologist.

“How was the visit?” I ask.

He shrugs. “The staff was nice.”

“I have the note.”

“The cardiologist spent under ten minutes with me. It was clear that she was rushed. She did not seem very interested. It was difficult to get my questions answered.”

“Her note is six pages.”

He snorts. “Great that she could get a six page note out of that visit.”

“Do you want a copy?”

“No.”

He is cleared for the specific treatment.

I have no doubt that the cardiologist spent more than 6-8 minutes on his visit and his note. But not in the room. Other people are entering the information filled out in the waiting room, medicines, allergies, past medical history, family history. Hopefully the cardiologist is reading my note and letter. But the problem is, doctors aren’t doing it in the room. So the impression left with the patient is that we spend 6-8 minutes on their visit, we are late, we are rushed. Doctors are looking at data. They are not listening to patients.

Medical Economics, a journal that arrives without me asking for it, says over and over that we need more physician “extenders”, that we need to have people doing the data entry, people doing the patient teaching, more people and machines….No. They are wrong. We need LESS barriers between us and the patients, not MORE. We need more time with patients. Every single extender we add burns physicians out more, because the salary has to be paid AND more patients seen faster to do that AND we are still ultimately responsible for knowing and reading and absorbing every single piece of information that is placed in that patient’s chart. An extender is NOT an extension of my brain and an extender is another person I have to communicate with and train.

Just. Say. No. to the managers who pile MORE barriers between the physician and the patient. NO.


It just makes me so mad that he lost his health insurance BECAUSE he got injured at work and so then his heart disease goes untreated as well… can’t afford medicines…if he then has a heart attack while uninsured we lifeflight him to Seattle, it costs a fortune, he loses his house and property and then is on medicaid and may end up on permanent disability, and what are the chances he returns to work? The US medical corporate money grubbing is insane. Single payer, medicare for all, make the US great again.

P for prior authorization

The letter P and my theme is happy things. But what comes to mind are these P words: prior authorization,  pharmaceutical, payer.

Prior authorizations are NOT a happy thing. The latest twist from insurance companies, three different ones in the last week, is that they are requiring prior authorization for old inexpensive medicines. I ordered a muscle relaxant for night time only on Thursday last week for a person with a flare of back pain. Friday I was dismayed to see that the insurance company was requiring a prior authorization. I have to prioritize the order of urgency of all the work: I did not have time. I called the patient who had paid cash for it. The insurance company wins. They didn’t have to pay for a covered medicine because they made it difficult to get. They keep the patient’s money.

Prior authorizations are on the rise very rapidly. With over 800 insurance companies, each with a different website, each with multiple insurance “products”, no one can keep up with it. It is a shell game, the ball under the cup, three cups moving, but the ball is the money and it’s already palmed by the insurance companies. I predict that this will continue to get worse. We do need a single payer system for the simple reason that physicians will not be able to hire enough staff to learn and navigate 800 different websites. I do most prior authorizations on the phone in the room with the patient: the other day we spent 35 minutes on the phone only to have the insurance company say that we had called the wrong number. Call another one. Not the one on the insurance card. We could complain to the state insurance commissioner, but my patient is afraid of losing their insurance. Time’s up. The prior authorization is not obtained, and we are five minutes into the next patient’s visit. People are finding that the medicine they have taken for 20 years suddenly requires prior authorization.

And remember: prior authorization is your insurance company making rules and extra paperwork for your physician. It is advertised as a way to save money, but it costs YOU money. Back in 2009, the estimate was that physicians in the US had to spend 90,000$ per year EACH on employees to do prior authorizations by computer or phone. And YOUR insurance dollars go to the employees at the insurance company refusing medicines and dreaming up new medicines to refuse. They change the contract. Every year and during the year. The law is now that 80 cents of each dollar must go to healthcare, not profit, but those computer and phone employees are counted as healthcare. Do we really think that is healthcare?

Take CT scans. Medicare does NOT require prior authorization. But most insurance companies do. Think about that. Is age the difference? CT scans increase cancer risk over time so physicians don’t order them by reflex.

And for pharmaceuticals, insurance companies often have an on line formulary. But it is different for every insurance “product” in individual companies. A patient and I were trying to sort out a less expensive medicine on a website and we were having difficulty figuring out which insurance she had. Multiple abbreviations and color coding and we could spend the entire clinic visit just figuring it out. Is that what medicine is in the United States? You can say that someone else in the office could do it, but the more employees your physician hires, the less time the physician will spend with you, because he or she has to pay all of those people.

If there was one set of rules, one website, I would learn it. Medicare for all, single payer, when will the United States people wake up and tell congress: if you want our vote, make it so.

P

But wait, where are the happy things? I am so happy that I still am in business in my small clinic, p for patients and patience and prayer and single payer, we will have medicare for all in my lifetime. Whether I am still a practicing physician in the US at that time is uncertain. If I can’t afford my own health insurance, my clinic will close. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

 

Make America sick again: diabetes

The trend in diabetes treatment is clear: keep Americans sick.

The guidelines say that as soon as we diagnose type II diabetes, we should start a medicine. Usually metformin.

A recent study says that teaching patients to use a glucometer and to check home blood sugars is useless. The key word here is teach, because when I get a diabetic transferring into my clinic, the vast majority have not been taught much of anything.

What is the goal for your blood sugar? They don’t know.

What is normal fasting? What is normal after you eat? What is the difference between checking in the morning and when should you check it after a meal? What is a carbohydrate? What is basic carbohydrate counting?

I think that the real problem is that the US medical system assumes that patients are stupid and doesn’t even attempt to teach them. And patients just give up.

New patient recently, diabetes diagnosed four years ago, on metformin for two years, and has no idea what the normal ranges of fasting and postprandial (after eating) are. Has never had a glucometer.

When I have a new type II diabetic, I call them. I schedule a visit.

At the visit I draw a diagram. Normal fasting glucose is 70-100. Borderline 110 to 125. Two measurements fasting over 125 means diabetes.

After eating: normal is 70-140. Borderline 140-200. Over 200 means diabetes.

Some researchers are calling Alzheimer’s “Type IV diabetes”. The evidence is saying that a glucose over 155 causes damage: to eyes, brain, kidneys, small vessels and peripheral nerves.

Ok, so: what is the goal? To have blood sugars mostly under 155. That isn’t rocket science. People understand that.

Next I talk about carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are any food that isn’t fat or protein. Carbohydrates range from simple sugars: glucose and fructose, to long chain complicated sugars. Whole fruits and vegetables have longer chain carbohydrates, are absorbed slowly, the body breaks them down slowly and the blood sugar rises more slowly. Eat green, yellow, orange vegetables. A big apple is 30 grams of carbohydrate, a small one is 15, more or less. A tablespoon of sugar is 15 grams too. A coke has 30 grams and a Starbuck’s 12 ounce mocha has 62. DO NOT DRINK SWEETENED DRINKS THEY ARE EVIL AND TOOLS OF THE DEVIL. The evidence is saying that the fake sugars cause diabetes too.

Meals: half the small plate should be green, yellow or orange vegetables. A deck of card size “white” food: grains, potatoes, pasta, whole wheat bread, a roll, whatever. A deck of card size protein. Beans and rice, yes, but not too much rice.

For most diabetics, they get 3 meals and 3 snacks a day. A meal can have up to 30 grams of carbohydrate and the snacks, 15 grams.

Next I tell them to get a glucometer. Check with their pharmacy first. The expensive part is the testing strips, so find the cheapest brand. We have a pharmacy that will give the person a glucometer and the strips for it are around 4 for a dollar. Many machines have strips that cost over a dollar each.

I set the patient up with the diabetic educator. The insurance will usually cover classes with the educator and the nutritionist but only in the first year after diagnosis. So don’t put it off.

For type II diabetes, the insurance will usually only cover once a day glucose testing. So alternate. Test 3 days fasting. Test 1-2 hours after a meal on the other days. Test after a meal that you think is “good”. Also after a meal that you think is “bad”. I have had long term diabetics come in and say gleefully “I found a dessert that I can eat!” The numbers are not always what people expect. And there are sneaky sources of carbohydrate. Coffeemate and the coffee flavorings, oooo, those are REALLY BAD.

For most of my patients, the motivated ones, they have played with the glucometer for at least a week by the time they see the diabetic educator. I have had a person whose glucose was at 350 in the glucose testing. The diabetic educator called and scolded me for not starting metformin yet. The diabetic educator called me again a week later. “The patient brought their blood sugars down!” she said. “She’s under 200 after eating now! Maybe she doesn’t need the metformin, not yet!” Ah, that is my thought. If we don’t give people information and a tool to track themselves, then why would they bother? They eat the dessert and figure that the medicine will fix it or they can always get more medicine.

Type I diabetes has to have insulin. If a type II diabetic is out of control, high sugars, for long enough, they too will need insulin. The cells in the pancreas that make insulin are killed by prolonged high blood sugars.

I went to a lunch conference, paid for by a pharmaceutical company, at the AAFP conference in September. The drug company said start people on metformin at diagnosis and if they are not in control in 3 months, start a second medicine, the drug company’s new and improved and better and beastly expensive medicine!!!

Yeah, I don’t think so. All of my patients are smart and they all can figure it out. Some get discouraged and some are already on insulin, but they are still all smart.

Fight back against the moronization of US citizens. Keep America healthy, wealthy and wise.

hypertension: The 2017 Clinical Guidelines

A visual guide to the new hypertension guidelines: https://www.medpagetoday.com/cardiology/hypertension/69399
In writing: http://www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/ten-points-to-remember/2017/11/09/11/41/2017-guideline-for-high-blood-pressure-in-adults
I don’t watch television news, so I always hear about these things from patients first. “What do you think of the new hypertension guidelines?”

“Haven’t heard about them yet, so I don’t know.” Seems pretty embarrassing really, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t I be alerted as a doctor before it hits the news?

First of all, these guidelines are NOT JNC 9.

What is JNC 9, you ask?

One of the messy complications of medicine for people in the US and in the world, is that there is not ONE set of guidelines. There are multiple sets of guidelines. Take mammograms, for example. The US Preventative Task Force* said that the evidence in their review could not differentiate between yearly and every other year mammograms. They said you could do it every other year. The American Cancer Society and the Susan Koman Foundation yapped and had different guidelines, do it yearly. So as a physician I have to not only pay attention to the guidelines but know who is putting them out. The radiologists wanted yearly mammograms too, surprise, surprise.

And do you think some of it is driven by money? Well, it’s the US.

JNC 8 is the Eighth Joint National Committee and put out guidelines in 2014. Their job is to review all of the big hypertension studies since JNC 7 and put out new guidelines. JNC 8 took over a year, was multidisciplinary, and the final document was 400+ pages.

They said that if a patient was over 60, their blood pressure should be taken standing up, and the goal was under 150/90. Under 60, sitting, goal under 140/90. Normal is 120/70 and below.

Then there are pages and pages of recommendations about which medicines to use and in special circumstances, that is: diabetes, kidney failure, heart disease, atrial fibrillation, etc, etc.

The cardiologists promptly started yelling about how JNC 8 is wrong and they put out a huge study saying that people have less heart attacks if their blood pressure is 125/80 or below.

But… the heart is not the only organ in the body. My patients are 77% over age 50 and 48% over 65. Once a person hits 80, their blood pressure may drop when they stand up. Most do. And low blood pressure, well, it’s bad for the over 80 crowd to get poor blood flow to the brain or to the kidneys or to faint and break things. That is why JNC 8 is multidisciplinary: because we need geriatrics and psychiatry and ortho and family medicine to be part of the guidelines.

So these NEW and IMPROVED guidelines. Well, who is putting them out? American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology, and a bunch of other mostly heart related organizations. And they are comparing it to JNC 7, not JNC 8. JNC 8 is being ignored. This document is a mere 192 pages, with the “short” version being 112 pages.

It says that blood pressure 130/80 to 140/90 is stage I hypertension, not prehypertension, and that we should treat it with lifestyle changes. Drugs are still to be recommended at anything over 140/90, though honestly, I start with lifestyle there too. Over 180/120 is now “hypertensive crisis”, consult your doctor immediately. 140-180/90-120 is stage II hypertension.

How will this change my practice? I am still thinking about the new guidelines and who has skin in the game. The AAFP (American Academy of Family Practice) put out a link to the guidelines and then a cautious comment to the effect of “We are studying how we should respond to this.”

Before this came out, I would tell people the JNC 8 goals. I do stand the people over 60 up, most of the time. I also tell people that the cardiologists want their blood pressure lower. And then that the cardiologists mostly ignore hypertension and cholesterol guidelines anyhow. If I follow the guidelines and then the patient sees a cardiologist, the cardiologist usually changes something. Guidelines be damned.

It comes down partly to a patient’s goal. I have people come in and say, “I don’t want to die of dementia!!” I see that as an opening. “What DO you want to die from?” People have different ideals. Some say, “I don’t want to die!” but then many do think about it. Sometimes this changes their ideas about what they want treated and what they don’t want treated.

Not everyone’s blood pressure drops in their 80s. Some people develop hypertension in their 90s. I tell them. They say, “I’m not taking a drug!”

I reply, “Let’s talk about strokes.”

They usually are not afraid of sudden death, but they don’t want the disability of a stroke. Many choose medicine after all.

One of the issues with guidelines is complexity. I could spend 20 minutes with a patient just talking about hypertension guidelines and choices of drugs and side effects and why they should be on an ace inhibitor or ARB if they have diabetes…. and there are guidelines for EVERYTHING. Sometimes conferences feel like all the specialists yelling: only half of diabetics are controlled, only one third of hypertensives are controlled, family doctors aren’t screening for urinary incontinence enough, osteoporosis, lung cancer, stop smoking! And then what my patient really needs is to talk about their adult child, in jail for addiction, and how frightened they are about overdose and the grandchild and the future…..

JNC-8 flowchart: http://www.nmhs.net/documents/27JNC8HTNGuidelinesBookBooklet.pdf
JNC-8: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1791497
*lots of guidelines: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/

focus

For the Daily Prompt: cringe.

I took this on the ridge on top of Mount Zion yesterday. Absolutely gorgeous hike, with the rhododendrons floating among the tall trees and tons of wild flowers. Here are little wild strawberries…. we will have to come back in September.

Cringe: I cringe when I hear the discussion on the news being about health INSURANCE  and not health CARE. We need to change the focus.

We HAVE a mandate that anyone in the US can have health CARE. That is, the emergency room cannot legally turn anyone away. But the bills can bankrupt you and take your house away. Not only that, but the emergency room is the most expensive and worst way to take care of people in the world. The emergency room cannot treat cancer, cannot treat hypertension, cannot help a person with depression, cannot do the long term chronic care that I do. Per person in the US we pay twice as much as the next most expensive country and they have universal care. What is the matter with the citizens of the US? We care more for corporations protecting their profits than we do for our citizens health. And I think this will bring our country down….. we will collapse.

I am a physician but I also run my own clinic. I am a small business owner. And I really expect that health INSURANCE will force my clinic to close.

Call Congress. Say we want health CARE not health INSURANCE.

 

My clinic and the state of medicine

January has been the busiest month in clinic since I returned to work in April of 2015 after the ten month systemic strep A hiatus. It took another ten months for my fast twitch muscles to start working again. I was working “half time” for the first ten months after I returned.

Right now, though, my receptionist and I are about maxed out. We saw 4-8 people a day in January, averaging 6.5, and with Martin Luther King’s birthday off. I see patients five days a week, try to stop by 2 pm and then do paperwork until 4 or 5. Lately I have been going in at 7 am, because I am feeling behind. Three very sick patients, one who has been sick and hospitalized nearly weekly since October, are each taking 1-2 hours a week and I can’t get to the routine paperwork. Labs, referral letters that need to go out, reading referral letters that come back and updating the med list, xrays, pathology reports….

Yes, we could hire someone to scan it all faster, but scanning it does not mean it has been read. And it is me that has to read it. One of the complex patients has five specialists and four different electronic medical records are involved. I had to call the rheumatologist, because the doc was not responding to the patient’s calls. I had sent the rheumatologist letters and updates: turned out the doc didn’t read any of them until the patient missed a visit because their car broke down. And another of the specialists said they “didn’t have the notes” from the other hospital. I wrote a letter to ALL of the specialists and said, the notes are in there because I faxed them to our hospital myself. Unfortunately scanned notes are difficult to find in the EPIC electronic medical record. Ironically both hospitals use EPIC but the two versions do not share their information. This is REALLY REALLY BAD. It is bad for patient care and bad for this specific patient. Not only that, but when one of the specialists orders something, the report doesn’t get sent to me as well as them. I tracked down labs and I tracked down an xray report and sent him back to the hospital at that visit. I do not know if the hospitalization could have been averted, but….I’ve told the patient and spouse that if ANYONE orders a test, call me. So I can track down the results.

So it looks like five clinic days a week, seeing up to eight patients a day, will take forty hours or more. This is a rural family practice clinic. I cannot see any way to see more and actually keep up with the information coming in with my patient population, half of whom are over 65. And an additional one is in hospice and another on palliative care.

A fellow doc has retired from medicine, in her 50s. She is “med-peds”: internal medicine-pediatrics, which is sort of like family practice except they don’t do obstetrics, less gynecology and less orthopedics. I hear that she is retiring because every 20 minute clinic visit generates an hour of paperwork. The hospital considers 4 days a week, 18 patients a day, full time. Ok, that is 72 patients a week, seen in four 8 hour shifts. 32 hours plus 72 hours of paperwork. One hundred and four hours. Can’t be done.

I dropped to 3.5 days in 2009 when the hospital said we had to see 18 a day. So 28 hours, 63 patients. 28 hours plus 63 hours. That is 91 hours a week. I still could not keep up with the information coming back from specialists, labs, xrays, pathology reports, medicine refill requests, requests for those evil ride on carts, spurious nonsense from insurance companies, and families calling about their loved ones. All ten fingers in holes in the dyke and 90 other holes spouting water.

Something has to give and something IS giving. Care is falling through the cracks and providers are quitting. I am not quitting, I just am not making anything anywhere near to the “average family practice salary” in the US. And we hear that burnout is now at 54% of primary care doctors. Hello, US. If we don’t go to single payer, you might have to ask your naturopath to take out your appendix. And good luck with that.

If I see 7 per day, five days a week: that is 35 patients. I do longer visits and more paperwork in the room, so call it 45 minutes of paperwork per patient. I see patients from 8:30 to 12 and 1 to 2. 4.5 hours five days = 22.5 hours plus (35 patients x 45 minutes)= 26 hours and now I am at 48.5 hours a week. And then if I have three really sick ones: more.

If we hire help, they have to be paid. Then I need to see more patients in order to generate that pay. Then there is more paperwork that I can’t keep up with. An infinite loop.

Let’s look at my clinic population verses county and state.
Clinic: 2.4% under age 18
20.7% age 19-50
28% age 50 to 64
48.9% over 65
Jefferson county (2014): 16.7% under age 19
51.5 age 19-65
31.8% over age 65
Washington state (2014): 29% under age 19
56.9% age 19-65
14.1% over age 65

We have an older county and nearly half my patients are over 65, and 77.9% of my clinic patients are over age 50.

And I should be reading all the new guidelines as they come out. The newest hypertension guidelines say that the blood pressure should be taken standing in all patients over age 60. Those guidelines are now a couple of years old. My patients tell me that I am the ONLY doctor that they have taking their blood pressure standing. The cardiologists aren’t doing it either. Just this week there are articles in the AAFP journal explaining the blood pressure guidelines. But the doctors need time to READ the articles. The guidelines themselves tend to be 400 pages of recommendations and explanations and a list of hundreds of studies reviewed since the last guidelines. And ok, there are also hundreds of guidelines. On blood pressure, who should be on aspirin, what to do for heart pump failure, urinary incontinence, osteoporosis, toenail fungus.

https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/
guidelines: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/BrowseRec/Index
Ok, that is a list of 96 guidelines, which doesn’t even include the hypertension ones. The hypertension guidelines are called JNC 8, for the eighth version:
http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1791497
Here is the two page hypertension JNC 8 algorithm: http://www.nmhs.net/documents/27JNC8HTNGuidelinesBookBooklet.pdf. Memorize it and the other guidelines, ok?
And here is the Guideline Clearing House: https://www.guideline.gov/

This week another clinic suddenly closed and we have gotten walk in patients and calls. About eight so far. We are booked for new patients out to April…..

I took this photograph from the beach as the sun set, camera zoomed. Different mountains were lit up while others were in shadow as the sun went down. This is Mount Baker and friends….

Coming soon: The Unaffordable Health Care Act!

Coming soon in the United States!

Aren’t you sick of the Affordable Care Act? aka Obamacare? Time for a new administration and time to get rid of Affordable Care. We don’t want that! Competition, Corporations and Profit First!

Call Mr. Future President Trump, call you congress persons, call your senator, call your representative, call your state ones. Stand up and be heard, US Citizens! Tell them you are all for the Unaffordable Health Care Act! We can kill more small businesses faster! We can make doctors and nurses quit by age 50! We can have more people turn to addictive drugs for numbing and comfort!

Come on, US Citizens! You voted! Now call! The Unaffordable Health Care Act! brought to you by an all conservative all corporate all discriminatory group of unbelievably rich congresspeople and your stinking rich and suing everyone future president.

Or you could say you want Medicare For All! Hey, one system, one set of rules, all US citizens have care, we could start small businesses, business might return to the US since they don’t have to pay more and MORE and MORE for health insurance, wages would go up instead of yearly decreases in health care coverage….nah, US Citizens, you wouldn’t want that, would you?