Who are the stewards of healthcare?

Economist-Healthcare-Spending-Waste-Chart

I met a father yesterday in our ED who didn’t want antibiotics for his child’s otitis media.  He had read that a wait and see approach with appropriate analgesia might be a better option, and I was reminded that better stewardship of our healthcare is everyone’s concern.  It made me so happy to see a parent making such an informed choice, rather than thinking to myself (as I sometimes do) about how bad my Press Gainey score was going to be for being “the idiot doctor who didn’t want to give my child antibiotics for an ear infection”.

Our healthcare system is like recycling, carbon emissions or government spending: everyone agrees we should do more with less and be better stewards in theory, but when it comes to practice it’s always someone else’s problem. Is it because the system is so large we don’t feel that our actions matter, or do we feel entitled to use the resources we have, even if they offer no clear benefit to our patients? I don’t know the answer to this, but I do know that I still do unnecessary tests everyday in the emergency department.  Some are because of my concerns over missing disease in low risk patients, some are because I’m following “standard of care” or “best practice” based on poor evidence, some are because specialists want them or won’t admit or see the patient without them, sometimes its the end of my shift and it’s the path of least resistance.

The list of why unnecessary testing occurs is long and the vigilance required to stay on course and do what I think is right for each individual patient and the healthcare system as a whole is enormous.  In fact I would say a large percentage of my education time and practice is devoted to this one task.  The difficulty is in finding the support and resources to continue the process of informed and judicious use of medical resources against the onslaught of demands made by an avaricious, RVU/procedure driven, and risk averse healthcare industry.

The New York Times posted on a great resource for both patients and doctors that I believe is worth mentioning.  It is a list of the most commonly overused tests in seventeen different medical specialities.  Emergency Medicine is not one of the specialties listed (although it should be), however there are many emergency department relevant tests listed among the various specialty lists. I find this resource particularly helpful in stemming the tide of what other specialists ask of me in my Emergency Department (like PPI for GI bleed or pre-op echoes in cardiac patients) and in making decisions for why I’m admitting a patient.  If my major reason is an expedited workup with one of these unnecessary tests then perhaps I will think twice.

For example here are the top five recommended DON’Ts from the American College of Radiology:

1. Don’t do imaging for uncomplicated headache.

Imaging headache patients absent specific risk factors for structural disease is not likely to change management or improve outcome. Those patients with a significant likelihood of structural disease requiring immediate attention are detected by clinical screens that have been validated in many settings. Many studies and clinical practice guidelines concur. Also, incidental findings lead to additional medical procedures and expense that do not improve patient well-being.

2. Don’t image for suspected pulmonary embolism (PE) without moderate or high pre-test probability.

While deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and PE are relatively common clinically, they are rare in the absence of elevated blood d-Dimer levels and certain specific risk factors. Imaging, particularly computed tomography (CT) pulmonary angiography, is a rapid, accurate and widely available test, but has limited value in patients who are very unlikely, based on serum and clinical criteria, to have significant value. Imaging is helpful to confirm or exclude PE only for such patients, not for patients with low pre-test probability of PE.

3. Avoid admission or preoperative chest x-rays for ambulatory patients with unremarkable history and physical exam.

Performing routine admission or preoperative chest x-rays is not recommended for ambulatory patients without specific reasons suggested by the history and/or physical examination findings. Only 2 percent of such images lead to a change in management. Obtaining a chest radiograph is reasonable if acute cardiopulmonary disease is suspected or there is a history of chronic stable cardiopulmonary disease in a patient older than age 70 who has not had chest radiography within six months.

4. Don’t do computed tomography (CT) for the evaluation of suspected appendicitis in children until after ultrasound has been considered as an option.

Although CT is accurate in the evaluation of suspected appendicitis in the pediatric population, ultrasound is nearly as good in experienced hands. Since ultrasound will reduce radiation exposure, ultrasound is the preferred initial consideration for imaging examination in children. If the results of the ultrasound exam are equivocal, it may be followed by CT. This approach is cost-effective, reduces potential radiation risks and has excellent accuracy, with reported sensitivity and specificity of 94 percent.

5. Don’t recommend follow-up imaging for clinically inconsequential adnexal cysts.

Simple cysts and hemorrhagic cysts in women of reproductive age are almost always physiologic. Small simple cysts in postmenopausal women are common, and clinically inconsequential. Ovarian cancer, while typically cystic, does not arise from these benign-appearing cysts. After a good quality ultrasound in women of reproductive age, don’t recommend follow-up for a classic corpus luteum or simple cyst <5 cm in greatest diameter. Use 1 cm as a threshold for simple cysts in postmenopausal women.

The other seventeen lists are just as good and have a great deal of information relevant to our daily practice.  Of course no list trumps clinical judgement.  The environment we work in, the prevalence of a certain disease in our community, the quality of our tests, and our testing threshold should ultimately determine what we order and what we don’t, but having the support of other specialty societies to NOT do tests is a welcome resource. Along with sites like The NNT and EMLITofNOTE it is another tool to continue improving our daily practice.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Case Reports from the ED

The EMBER Project.002

Note the subtle venous congestion and edema of the right hand and wrist in this patient with an upper extremity deep venous thrombosis (Paget-Schroetter Disease),

Here is a slightly different twist on Virchow’s triad, and one that I had not seen before until yesterday:  a spontaneous upper extremity DVT (Paget Schroetter Disease) in an otherwise healthy person with no risk factors.  It’s uncommon, but not a complete zebra.  The pathophysiology and subsequent management also differs from your traditional DVT, so I thought it was worthwhile to highlight some of the features that make it unique.

The EMBER Project.003

The EMBER: as always, a collection of interesting information about this topic from around the web.

Paget–Schroetter disease – Wikipedia

First rib resection for Paget-Schroetter Syndrome – YouTube

Spontaneous upper extremity venous thrombosis (Paget-Schroetter syndrome) - Up To Date

Enhanced by Zemanta

Postcards from the ED

Upper Extremity Hematoma

I was going to use this post to talk about potential spaces in the body until I made the mistake of mentioning it to a surgical friend of mine (yes, I have them) who got all upset that I was really talking about a compartment and not a potential space (apparently I’ve been inappropriately mixing anatomical spaces my entire career). While the definition of a compartment versus a potential space is still debated hotly among anatomy nerds (yes I called you a nerd), for an EP there’s nothing like a dramatic case to remind you that not all potential spaces (or compartments or whatever, hey will you relax please?) are created equal.The elderly and morbidly obese often have a lot more “potential” to extravasate into these spaces.

In the case pictured here, a minor fall in a small woman with abundant loose adipose tissue in her arms led to substantial blood loss before spontaneously rupturing through the skin. She arrived to the ED in class III hemorrhagic shock.

So I guess if you want to be clear about it, old people on Coumadin have a lot of “potential” to bleed copiously into what seem like rather small compartments.  Okay there, does that make you happy?  I know it does.

If you would like to review the difference between a compartment and a potential space here is a mind-numbing review for you. Anatomical spaces: a review. Newell RL. Anatomy Unit, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, UK. Newell@cardiff.ac.uk

Enhanced by Zemanta

It’s De-lightful, it’s De-lovely, it’s De-winter?

New STEMI equivalents keep showing up all the time.  What is a STEMI equivalent you ask? For those ECG nerds out there (you know who you are, yes the one’s with the calipers in my ED) it is the rapidly expanding number of ECG patterns, beyond the traditional ST elevations, that suggest an acute coronary occlusion and therefore require emergent revascularization..  Here is one I was unaware of until just recently. Add it to your list.

Photo from Dec 3, 2012

The EMBER:

Dr Smith’s ECG Blog  Back Pain Radiating to the Chest in a man in his 40′s

Appropriate Cardiac Cath Lab activation: Optimizing electrocardiogram interpretation and clinical decision-making for acute ST-elevation myocardial infarction


Can Anyone Tell Me How I Got Here?

Tales of the Cunningham technique and one EP’s eventual journey to success through reverse engineering

The successful practice of medicine hinges on two things. A detailed grasp of medical knowledge, and being able to translate that knowledge into a positive patient interaction. For the emergency physician sometimes it’s a crash intubation, sometimes it’s talking to an elderly patient who lives alone about nursing home placement after their 4th visit to the ED in a week.

Whatever the road to a positive outcome for our patients, all physicians experience the nausea of staring into the dark chasm between knowledge and practice. Like neural dendrites gingerly reaching out to make a connection, the journey starts as a tenuous thread in the dark and can eventually become a well-lit pathway with clear signposts if given the right encouragement.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Giovanni Battista Piranesi: 1720–1778. An Italian artist famous for his etchings of fictitious and atmospheric “prisons”. He was a strong influence on the work of M.C Escher and his “impossible constructions”.

For me today the path comes in the form of learning the Cunningham technique for shoulder reductions. It’s no secret I’ve always liked doing joint reductions. Ask any of my colleagues and they’ll tell you I’m the first to jump in and help putting a displaced body part back where it belongs. I take satisfaction in doing them quickly, efficiently, and with minimal pain. I also like my patients to be happy with the whole experience; so it’s been a natural evolution for me to become enamored of a technique that requires less time, sedation or analgesia, and that makes my patients happy.

I started using the Cunningham technique about a year ago and I’ve refrained from writing about it until I had enough reduction attempts under my belt to make a post worthwhile. I think I’ve done about two dozen shoulders or more this way now, and I’m four out of five in the last two months (five out of five if you count some scapular manipulation added to one of them).

Like anything new I had plenty of failure in the beginning, and when I did achieve success I had no idea why, and couldn’t have reproduced it even if you put a gun to my head. Now I’ve reached a tipping point, and the Cunningham technique makes doing shoulder reductions feel almost like magic. Often I can see the signs of success begin to appear even before the humeral head slips gracefully into place. No secondary trauma, time-outs, sedation, traction/counter-traction, twisting, pulling or other nonsense.

How did this tipping point happen? Of course that’s the challenge of learning and subsequently teaching medicine.  It has never been a straight line from medical knowledge to clinical practice. Success requires absorbing a skill-set distributed across a multitude of strategies. Within these strategies are embedded a deep understanding of context, relationships, and timing; a detailed knowledge of our tools, and the logistics required to employ them. That “magic” experience of success is the emotional summation that all the pieces coming together to achieve a something good for one of your patients.  It’s one of the reasons I love my job.

However that “magic” experience of success is also why the signposts to it are so often invisible and thus difficult to teach. The signposts were there, but before you were in the dark. Now, you look back and wonder why you didn’t see them before.  It’s so obvious. But it’s the mind’s illusion that suddenly the light just went on.  In fact, a closer examination reveals an unconscious accumulation of multiple tools arranged across an array of skill-sets that allow you to consistently reproduce good outcomes.

How do you illuminate some of those signposts for yourself and others walking the path?  I don’t know exactly, It’s one of the reasons the EMBER project was started – a reverse engineering process in education.  Here are some of the signposts I’ve marked along my path with this particular technique that have helped me improve my success rate. They remind me that being a physician is about knowledge and skill, but also about context and relationships, pattern identification and intuition, resource management and logistics.

  1. Get the patient on board. Like most procedures on awake patients it requires co-operation, so explaining what you need them to do before you start and talking them through it is key. I like to think of it as a coach/player relationship. They are doing the work, you’re simply encouraging, leading and imparting knowledge. I also find that many patients find this active participation very satisfying and empowering. They get to share in the success.
  2. A little tincture of analgesia is never a bad thing, but once you get comfortable doing this you need very little or none at all.  The key is sizing up your patient.  Since there is no significant force or traction applied, if your patient is comfortable before the procedure, they will likely be comfortable during it. If they are uncomfortable before you start you’re going to have trouble, so give them something.  If they’re anxious treat the anxiety, if they’re in pain, treat the pain. Removing these barriers to success prior to an attempt at reduction just makes sense.
  3. Work on visualizing the anatomical and mechanical obstructions to reducing the shoulder. Surgeons have the advantage of being able to review this anatomy frequently in the operating theater, but we don’t have that luxury, so we must work with palpation, surface anatomy, and a visual image in our minds of the anatomic relationships. Use your eyes, your hands, and your mind to “see” the position of the humeral head and the barriers to slipping it back in place.
  4. The ideal position for the glenoid fossa is achieved by moving the scapula posteriorly and rotating it inferiorly.  This is achieved by having the patient sit up straight, adducting the rhomboids and having the patient drop their shoulders towards the ground. This is why having the patient sit in a chair is helpful and also reminding them repeatedly to sit up straight. It’s also why a touch of scapular manipulation by a partner can help in resistant reductions.
  5. The ideal position for the head of the humerus is to place the humerus in adduction with gentle internal rotation to present a greater articular surface to the glenoid fossa superiorly and laterally. This is why having the patient in front of you with your body to the outside of their affected arm is helpful to allow gentle physical reminders to keep their elbow in towards their body. Often I will stand or sit close to patient’s elbow to unconsciously force them to keep their elbow in and their arm internally rotated.
  6. Once the bones are in position it’s all about relaxing the muscles of the shoulder to overcome the dynamic forces that are pulling on the humeral head and trapping it, usually in a sub-glenoid or sub-coracoid location. This is why flexing the elbow and having them rest their hand on your shoulder is effective.
  7. Massaging the biceps, upper trapezius, and deltoid are equal parts physical and emotional. It is comforting, and it relaxes the mind and the muscles of the patient allowing the dislocated humeral head to “unlock” itself from its current uncomfortable position.
  8. Resist the urge to pull.  Remember muscle spindles?  Those sensory receptors within the belly of the muscle will actively resist excessive traction and make the spasming worse.  Once you are in the cycle of pulling and feeling resistance you are in a battle that can only be won at the cost of more force and likely sedation. There is also a psychology to this. If you radiate a relaxed and calm persona your patient can feel this and also begin to relax.  If you have sweat pouring from your face while you grimace and pull how can you expect anyone near you to be relaxed. Slow and gentle is the key.

Occasionally I have to revert to another method of reduction, or supplement this technique with scapular manipulation, but this is definitely the option I pick before anything else now. Once you feel the beauty of a non-traumatic reduction requiring no force you will never want to go back.  In my career I’ve gone from Conan the barbarian with heavy sedation, and traction-counter traction to Jedi mind trick:  “This is not the Propofol you’re looking for…”

Enhanced by Zemanta

Postcards from the ED

The EMBER: Here is a nice blogpost from someone who went through the experience.  Sometimes a well told patient story is better than any textbook.

Enhanced by Zemanta

So You Have a Plan Right?

I saw a patient on the Big Island of Hawaii with serious intracranial bleeding on Pradaxa. Now it’s rural here, which means a dearth of specialty care. And so three months ago when his brilliant doctor in a major city on the mainland, switched him to Pradaxa for his atrial fibrillation (so he wouldn’t have to check his INR while he got settled comfortably into his retirement in Hawaii) his fate was sealed.  He arrived at the nearest hospital to him which had no intervention other than Vitamin K.  No platelets, no FFP, no neurosurgeon. Rapid diagnosis and a flight to Oahu for neuro/icu care was still meant several hours of continued bleeding. Things did not go well for him.

After I got home that night I watched the news about BP settling its federal lawsuit and I thought, what do the Deepwater Horizon disaster and Pradaxa have in common?  It seems obvious that any endeavor with a potential for serious risk should have a clear plan to deal with the most likely adverse outcome(s). In the case of offshore drilling, you shouldn’t be looking for oil at 1800 feet below seal level if you don’t have a viable plan to contain an oil spill.  In the case of Pradaxa, you shouldn’t be giving anticoagulants to patients if you don’t have a viable plan for  the most likely adverse outcome, bleeding. It’s really just asking for trouble.

To highlight this problem, the management of an overdose with the new oral anticoagulants was recently published and then discussed on one of my favorite blogs, The Poison Review, and the most notable revelation about these collaborative guidelines is that the best option ten organizations who focus on thrombosis and anticoagulation could come up with was, wait for it, wait for it….SUPPORTIVE CARE.

I understand that anticoagulation in certain patients is a valuable tool. But we all know the rapid spread of highly marketed medications to questionable patient populations is a given, and we already have an effective anticoagulant, it’s called Coumadin. Coumadin is far from perfect and the search for safer, more user-friendly medications is a worthwhile endeavor, but let’s be honest, we’re still far from a perfect solution.

Is Pradaxa safer? Did it show benefit over Coumadin? No. But when you watch the  ads for Pradaxa it sounds like huge benefit. Of course the fine print is that the benefit was found in patients with sub-therapeutic INR.  Maybe it’s not as “convenient” as the newer drugs, but even with reversal agents this medication causes a lot of morbidity, hospitalization, and death. So please explain to me how an expensive drug gets mass marketed before there is a way to appropriately treat the potentially fatal side effects when there is an equally effective drug we can reverse?  Never mind, I know the answer…

The EMBER

(As always, a collection of emergency medicine focused resources for our topic)

Guidelines for reversing overdose of dabigatran (Pradaxa) and other new anticoagulants

Anti-coagulated Patients In The ED – LITFL

Dabigatran (Pradaxa®) Principles and Guidance for the Reversal of Effect and Management of Life Threatening or Major Bleeding

Paucis Verbis: Overanticoagulation and supratherapeutic INR

Anticoagulation Reversal – ERCAST


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 356 other followers

%d bloggers like this: