“Brain on Fire” – A diagnostic odyssey

brain-on-fireI just finished reading a really gripping and emotional story—Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by journalist Susannah Cahalan. (Soon to be a movie!)

As a twenty-something cub reporter in New York, Ms. Cahalan began experiencing strange, seemingly unconnected symptoms, such as forgetfulness, paranoia and the sensation that bugs were crawling on one side of her body.

The details of her weeks’ long medical journey—which she had to piece together from medical records, her parents’ journals, and the recollections of friends, doctors and nurses because she couldn’t remember most of it—are a pretty frightening look at today’s fragmented … Continue reading

EHR – Electronic Hell Records

Healthcare Not Fair is a satirical YouTube video series created by a real-life physician, Dr. Waqas Khan, to highlight problems within our broken healthcare system.

Their latest video takes a stab at electronic health records, EHR—or, as they call it, Electronic Hell Records!

Other videos by Healthcare Not Fair:

I just saw my primary care physician a few weeks ago, and I can relate to the fictional patient’s experience in the video. Receptionists really do keep their eyes glued to their computer screens!

My physician isn’t that bad, … Continue reading

Always ask for your medical test results

An error of omission

A few weeks ago there was a lot of news about how medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the US, behind heart disease and cancer.

A medical error is defined as “an unintended act (either of omission or commission) or one that does not achieve its intended outcome.”

And now a Philadelphia paper is highlighting one very common mistake: when you and/or your doctor are not informed about a serious finding on a medical test.

The article explains that a well-known local musician (which is why this story is popular on … Continue reading

Hospital safety tips

hospital safetyHospital safety and medical mistakes

A friend forwarded an email to me. It was from a retirement blog he subscribes to, and this particular post was about what the writer, a doctor as well as a blogger, considers “The deadliest place you’re likely to visit this year…”

He’s talking about hospitals. And he’s not being overly dramatic, either.

He knows what many of us in health care know: hospitals can be dangerous to your health. One of my best friends is a physician. We have a pact that if either one of us has to go into the hospital, the … Continue reading

Electronic health records and medical mistakes

I just read a funny-not-funny post on the health care blog KevinMD: This doctor orders pregnancy tests on men. You’re probably doing it too

The author, a physician, laments that his hospital’s electronic health records system (EHR or EMR) makes it way too easy to make mistakes, such as ordering pregnancy tests on male patients.

Now this may sound funny to you, and I know the nurses love to read me the riot act when I do it, but truthfully this is no laughing matter.

As easy as it is to order a pregnancy test on a man, it is

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Save money – When to call an ambulance

I recently read an article about a man who was taken to the ER in an ambulance for a sprained wrist.

And then he was astounded when the ambulance company charged him $250!

“If I wanted to go to the emergency room, I could have taken a cab costing less than $10,” he said.

Or Uber. Or a friend. He learned the expensive way that ambulances are costly—$250 is actually on the cheap end—and should not be used without good cause.

Ambulance costs can range anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to well over $2,000, depending on the length … Continue reading

The “financial toxicity” of cancer

We’ve all heard the phrase “cancer kills.”

But guess what? So can the high cost of treatment.

I just read about a study that came out of the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center here in Seattle.

The results won’t surprise anyone familiar with how much cancer treatment costs (a lot!), but researchers found:

…cancer patients who go bankrupt are nearly 80 percent more likely to die than patients who don’t, and some cancers had significantly higher mortality rates. Prostate cancer patients who filed for bankruptcy were almost twice as likely to die; bankrupt colorectal cancer patients were 2.5 times more

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Overuse of CT scans is dangerous and expensive

I read two articles yesterday that complemented each other:

In Kaiser Health News (KHN) Heavy Use Of CT Scans Raises Concerns About Patients’ Exposure To Radiation

And on KevinMD two radiologists posted The financial costs of treating CT-induced cancer

Each underscores the fact that CT scans are significantly overused in American healthcare.

Although CT scans are an essential diagnostic tool, the Food and Drug Administration reports that an estimated 30 to 50 percent of imaging tests are believed to be medically unnecessary.

Considering we spend tens of billions of dollars every year on diagnostic imaging, that’s a lot of wasted … Continue reading

Be informed – “The Patient’s Playbook”

the patient's playbookI’ve spent most of the holiday weekend happily engaged in reading through a pile of health care books.

And the one I absolutely have to recommend to everyone is The Patient’s Playbook: How to Save Your Life and the Lives of Those You Love by Leslie D. Michelson.

Michelson is not a physician, but has worked in the health management field for more than 30 years, helping individuals and companies navigate our crazy health care system.

Based on his experience, he has organized his book into three sections. Each chapter ends with a helpful “Quick Guide” of the most crucial … Continue reading

Heads up about Medicare changes

This post if for any of my readers who are Medicare age or about to be Medicare age.

I think it’s important to understand what changes are in the pipeline that will affect your doctors and their ability to be able to treat you.

Some doctors already refuse to see Medicare patients because of government red tape and poor reimbursement.

But starting in 2017 it’s going to get worse, and many physicians are wondering if they should follow their colleagues and drop out of the Medicare game altogether.

I recently read two posts by physicians on the health care blog … Continue reading

Sad but true – CYA medicine works

A few months ago I posted about CYA—Cover Your Ass—medicine being one reason why too many diagnostic tests are ordered and health care costs are high.

CYA medicine is when the doctor or doctors are pretty sure what your problem is, but they order extra scans and x-rays and blood tests anyway because “failure to diagnose” is one of the leading causes of medical malpractice suits. They aren’t going to take any chances, and who can blame them?

Related story from KevinMD: This is why doctors practice cover your ass medicine

Besides, they don’t pay your resulting medical bill, so … Continue reading

Nursing shortage infographic

I was invited to share this very interesting infographic on the looming shortage of nurses in this country.

The last of the baby boomers will reach retirement age in 2029. Although baby boomers can expect to live well into their 80s and 90s thanks to healthier lifestyles and modern medicine, they won’t be without chronic health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and early dementia.

That will put a strain on the health care system, as there is already a growing shortage of doctors and nurses. And as more highly-trained nurses take on the role of primary … Continue reading

Preventing hospital readmissions

I’ve said it many times in this blog: Don’t go to the hospital alone! And don’t let your friends or family members go alone, either.

Having or being a patient advocate during a hospitalization can really improve communication among the patient, the patient’s family and the myriad of health care providers in modern hospitals.

Related story from KevinMD: There are too many cooks in the health care kitchen

Better communication is especially important at discharge time, when the doctor and nurses give you lots of instructions about your follow-up plan: Do you have new medications? Did you stop old medications? … Continue reading

What if Your Hotel Bill Was Like a Hospital Bill?

I couldn’t help but laugh when I ran across this video from Costs of Care: What if Your Hotel Bill Was Like a Hospital Bill?

I swear I recently had a very similar conversation with a health insurance company regarding the cost of a new wheelchair for my elderly aunt!

Although insurance covered the bulk of the cost (well over $5,000) my aunt still owed close to $2,000. The bill had a list of about 20 items related to the wheelchair, but neither side admitted to knowing anything about exactly what each charge was … Continue reading

End of life forms – Living Wills, DNR and POLST

Apparently even health care providers don’t understand all the different end-of-life forms that might accompany a patient into the hospital.

I watched a parody video (to Green Day’s “Good Riddance”) on YouTube that seeks to educate and eliminate the misunderstandings.

These end-of-life forms, also known as advance directives or health care directives, are similar but differ slightly in scope and usage.

Certainly physicians and nurses should know the difference (and in my experience, most of them do), but it’s equally helpful for patients and family members to understand them so “medical mistakes” can be avoided.… Continue reading