Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How to fix the problem of general surgery resident attrition

Over the last 25 years, about 20% of general surgery residents have failed to complete their five years of training. This compares unfavorably to other specialties such as orthopedics, obstetrics-gynecology, and medicine with attrition rates of < 1%, 4.5%, and 5%, respectively.

A paper presented at the American Surgical Association in April looked at the factors associated with attrition in one year’s resident class. In 2007, 1047 residents began their training and after 8 years of follow-up, 80% had become surgeons. How many non-finishers left programs by their own choice is not clear.

Some highlights of the research are as follows:

24% of women and 17% of men left general surgery training.

Size mattered because 23% of men and 25% of women left large programs compared to both sexes leaving smaller programs at a rate of just 11%.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Some general surgery residency graduates may not be competent to operate

A new study says 84% of general surgery residents in their last six months of training were rated as competent to perform the five most common general surgery core procedures—appendectomy, cholecystectomy, ventral hernia repair, groin hernia repair, and partial colectomy. However the percentage of those judged competent varied from a high of 96% for appendectomy to a low of 71% for partial colectomy.

When analyzing the other 127 core operations of general surgery, the investigators found that 26% of residents in their last six months of training were felt to not be competent to perform at least some of those procedures.

The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Surgical Association in April 2017 and reported in ACS Surgery News.

Data were compiled from ratings of 522 residents by 437 faculty yielding 8526 different observations.

For all of the procedures rated, maximum resident autonomy was observed for 33% of cases, and the more complex the case, the less ready the residents were to perform it on their own.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Brian George of the University of Michigan, was asked whether the duration of surgery training should be increased. He answered, “The 20,000 hours of surgical residency should be enough to train a general surgeon to competence—it's up to us to figure out how.”

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Surgical residents have lots of problems, need more time off

A recent survey of surgical residents regarding their personal and professional well-being revealed that while most of them enjoyed going to work, they had many serious issues.

All 19 surgical residency programs in the New England region were invited to participate, and 10 did so. Of 363 trainees contacted, 166 (44.9%) responded to the survey with 54% of respondents saying they lacked time for basic health maintenance. For example, 56% did not have a primary care physician and were "not up to date with routine age-appropriate health maintenance such as a general physical examination, laboratory work, or a gynecologic examination."

I am not surprised that young men and women averaging 30 years of age or less have no primary care physician? I wonder what percentage of young people who are not surgical residents have one.

Should asymptomatic people in this age group or anyone in any age group have a general physical examination and lab work?

Thursday, June 8, 2017

More on artificial intelligence in medicine and surgery

Part 1

A survey published in the journal arXiv predicted with a 50% probability that high-level machine intelligence would equal human performance as a surgeon in approximately 35 years. See graph below. 
Click on the figure to enlarge it
We have already seen a machine beat the world’s best Go player. Although Go is a complicated game, it lends itself to mathematical analysis unlike what one might experience when doing a pancreatic resection.

A potential flaw in this study is that the surveyed individuals were all artificial intelligence researchers who predicted that machines would not be their equal for over 85 more years with the 75% likelihood of this occurring being over 200 years from now.

I suspect if surgeons were asked the same questions, we would say it would take over 85 years for machines to be able to operate as well as we can and 35 years until artificial intelligence researchers would be replaced by their creations.

[Thanks to @EricTopol for tweeting a link to the arXiv paper.]

Part 2

Similar to the question “who is responsible if a driverless car causes an accident?” is “when artificial intelligence botches your medical diagnosis, who’s to blame?” An article on Quartz discussed the topic.

[Digression: The article matter-of-factly states “Medical error is currently the third leading cause of death in the US… ” This is untrue. See this post of mine and this one from the rapid response pages of the BMJ.]

If artificial intelligence was simply being used as a tool by human physician, the doctor would be on the hook. However indications are that artificial intelligence may be more accurate than humans in diagnosing diseases and soon may be able to function independently.

If a machine makes a diagnostic error, are the designers of the software responsible? Is it the company that made the device? What about the entity owns the system? No one knows.

The Quartz piece did not address this. Who is responsible if a nonhuman surgeon makes a mistake during an operation?

I’m sorry I won’t be around 35 years to hear how this is settled.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Radiologists have an identity crisis

Here's a question that has been debated for several years: Should radiologists talk to patients about their imaging results? Citing several issues, I came down solidly on the "No" side in a 2014 blog post which you can read here.

Two major radiology organizations have committees looking into the concept, and New York Times article said, "they hope to make their case [for it] by demonstrating how some radiologists have successfully managed to communicate with patients and by letting radiologists know this is something patients want."

However, a recent paper presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Radiology raised a new issue.

Apparently patients need more basic information before talking to radiologists—namely what exactly is a radiologist and what does a radiologist do?

A group from the University of Virginia surveyed patients waiting to have radiologic studies performed and came up with some remarkable results. Of 477 patients surveyed, only 175 (36.7%) knew that a radiologist is a doctor, and 248 (52%) knew that radiologists interpret images.

Based on those findings, the investigators developed an educational program of PowerPoint slides which was shown to a new series of 333 patients in the waiting room. When surveyed after viewing it, 156 patients (47.7%) said they were aware that a radiologist is a doctor, and 206 (62.2%) knew that radiologists interpret images.

Both responses were significantly better after the educational presentation, but still, less than 50% of patients identified radiologists as doctors. Maybe the problem was the PowerPoint. Maybe radiologists need to wear scrubs or drape stethoscopes around their necks.

This is only a small study from one institution. Nevertheless before taking the big step of talking with patients, it suggests radiologists need to do a better job of explaining who they are and what they do.

We surgeons think we have an image problem when people say to us, "Oh, are you just a general surgeon?" They don’t know what we do, but at least they know we are physicians.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The opioid epidemic: What was the Joint Commission's role?

Last year the Joint Commission issued a statement written by its Executive VP for Healthcare Quality Evaluation, Dr. David W. Baker, explaining why it was not to blame for the opioid epidemic. If you haven’t already read it, you should. Here is the first paragraph of that document:

“In the environment of today’s prescription opioid epidemic, everyone is looking for someone to blame. Often, The Joint Commission’s pain standards take that blame. We are encouraging our critics to look at our exact standards, along with the historical context of our standards, to fully understand what our accredited organizations are required to do with regard to pain.”

With the help of an anonymous colleague, I looked at some of the historical context.

In December 2001, the Joint Commission and the National Pharmaceutical Council (founded in 1953 and supported by the nation’s major research-based biopharmaceutical companies) combined to issue a 101-page monograph entitled “Pain: Current understanding of assessment, management, and treatments.”

Here in italics are some excerpts from it. My emphasis is added in bold.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Are incentive spirometers useless?


Has this ever happened to you? You walk into a patient's room on postoperative day 1 and find the incentive spirometer still in its plastic wrap. And it's on a windowsill 10 feet from the patient's bed.

Here's another question. Does it matter?

A friend just had a 4-vessel CABG at a major academic center. Despite a lack of evidence that incentive spirometers are effective, he was told to use one in the hospital and to use it hourly at home which he has faithfully done.

That’s right. The effectiveness of incentive spirometry in postoperative cardiac and abdominal surgery patients has never been proven.

Three Cochrane Reviews (2007, 2012, 2014) have been done. In the 2014 review analyzing 12 studies with 1834 subjects who underwent abdominal surgery, the authors noted problems with study methodologies and lack of data on compliance with the use of spirometers. For preventing pulmonary complications, spirometry was not superior to deep breathing exercises or no respiratory intervention at all.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Finally, evidence clarifies the surgical caps controversy

A study of clean surgical cases found no significant difference in wound infection rates for 13 months before and 13 months after the use of bouffant surgical caps became mandatory. Infection rates for the 7513 patients operated on when surgeons were allowed to wear traditional skullcaps, was 0.77%, and for the 8446 patients who had surgery after the bouffant cap mandate, the infection rate was 0.84%. Subgroup analyses of only patients having spine or cranial operations showed similar insignificant differences in wound infection rates.

The study, from a group in Buffalo, New York, was published online in the journal Neurosurgery.

At the 2017 Americas Hernia Society meeting, Dr. Michael Rosen, director of the Cleveland Clinic Comprehensive Hernia Center, presented the results of a survey of 86 surgeon members of the society's quality collaborative.

Ventral hernia repairs were done in 6210 patients with a 4.1% incidence of wound infection. Risk factors for surgical site infection were obesity, hypertension, width of hernia, operation duration greater than two hours, and female sex. The type of cap worn was not associated with the occurrence of a wound infection or any other surgical site complication such as seroma, wound dehiscence, or enterocutaneous fistula.

Of the 79% of surgeons who responded, 48% said they wore disposable skullcaps, 9% wore cloth skullcaps, 29% wore bouffant caps with ears exposed, and 16% wore bouffant caps covering their ears.

[I know that adds up to 102%, but that's what the General Surgery News article about the paper said.]

The report mentioned a series of postoperative infections caused by a mycobacterium at an Israeli hospital in 2004. At the time, a newspaper account of the 15 breast plastic surgery patients said an investigation found the source was a surgeon whose hair and eyebrows were colonized from his home Jacuzzi.

In 2016, the surgeon published a paper about the incident. The organism had never been identified before and was christened M. jacuzzii. Several patients suffered persistent infections and required removal of implants. In the paper, the surgeon revealed he wore a standard paper cap [presumably a skullcap] and the organism was also found on his facial skin.

While some might suggest this paper justifies the use of bouffant caps, the surgeon could still have contaminated the operative field with organisms from his facial skin or eyebrows. Other than with a space helmet, complete coverage of the eyebrows and facial skin is impossible.

The paper from Buffalo had some limitations. It was from a single hospital and was not a randomized trial. However, it was sufficiently powered to detect a difference in infection rates.

The hernia study was not as scientifically rigorous as the Buffalo study, but enough procedures were analyzed to detect a difference in infection rates had one been present.

In the GSN story, the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) response to the American College of Surgeons statement supporting the use of skullcaps was quoted. “Wearing a particular head covering based on its symbolism is not evidence-based [nor is the AORN's bouffant cap rule] and should not be a basis for a nationwide practice recommendation.”

Now that we have evidence that skullcaps are not linked to increased infection rates, will the AORN at last get over its obsession with bouffant caps?

My previous posts on this topic can be found here and here.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Can a med student who flunked Step 1 still become a surgeon?

I received these emails (italics) recently. The writer gave me permission to publish them. They have been edited for length and some details have been changed to protect his anonymity.

I'm a third year medical student at an allopathic state medical school. I've always wanted to do surgery. My problem is I failed USMLE Step 1 the first time and got a 207 on my second attempt. I hadn't failed anything else throughout first and second year, with the majority of my grades being my school's equivalent of Bs.

My surgery shelf exam was a week after I received my Step 1 score and, despite studying hard, my low score on that exam got me the equivalent of a C in surgery even with very good clinical evaluations. The rest of my third year has been good with most evaluations saying I'm well-liked and a team player.

Should I give up and go into a different specialty with better odds of matching? Apply to prelim surgery programs and categoricals? Or even apply to all of those things at once? I'm in a large pickle, paralyzed with indecisiveness, and would immensely appreciate your advice.


Disclaimer: This is my opinion. I do not presume to speak for all program directors. I'm going to be honest.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Can surgical residents please have some autonomy?

A comparison of appendectomy outcomes for senior general surgeons and general surgery residents revealed no significant differences in early and late complication rates, use of diagnostic imaging, time from emergency department to operating room, incidence of complicated appendicitis, postop length of stay, and duration of postop antibiotic treatment.

The only parameter in which a significant difference was seen was that attending surgeons completed the procedure significantly faster by 9 minutes—39.9 vs. 48.6 minutes, but this may have been influenced by the fact that attending surgeons used laparoscopic staplers 13.5% of the time as opposed to use by the residents in only 2% of cases, also a significant difference.

This before-and-after study of more than 1600 appendectomy patients was published in JAMA Surgery. Between 2008 and 2012, residents were permitted to perform appendectomies without direct supervision by an attending surgeon. The pre-2012 group included 548 operations performed by general surgery residents alone. Because of a policy change, all of the appendectomies from 2012 to 2015 were performed by attending surgeons alone or directly supervising a resident.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Resources 3rd-year medical students study during general surgery clerkships

At the University of Florida medical school, the answers to that question varied widely. According to a paper published ahead of print in the American Journal of Surgery, students at UF use review books, e-books such as UpToDate, government agency and professional organization websites, textbooks, journals, and more.

The recommended textbook for the course is Lawrence’s Essentials of General Surgery, now in its fifth edition.

The authors surveyed the 133 members of the 2014-2015 third-year class, and 92 (69.2%) responded. Regarding each resource used, they could answer with one of four choices: always, usually, sometimes, never.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Should a consultant pass through the ED to see what's up?

A couple of weeks ago, this tweet appeared.
I could relate to it for two reasons. One, I lived in New York City in 1975, and here is the other.

Early in my career, I thought it was a good idea when leaving the hospital at night to exit via the emergency department to see if there were any potential surgery cases brewing. I was hoping to avoid going all the way home, getting paged to the ED, and having to go right back to the hospital. I soon learned to stop that practice because it was similar to poking a skunk.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Bizarre medical stories ripped from the virtual pages of the Internet

A 30-year-old California woman died after a naturopath gave her an intravenous infusion of turmeric—yes, turmeric, a spice used in curry, supposedly has anti-inflammatory properties when taken by mouth.

An naturopath who only uses turmeric orally was quoted in a San Diego ABC news report, "There are some doctors who use turmeric extract in IV form to try and heighten the physiological effects, so the anti-inflammatory effects of the turmeric. It hasn’t been well studied. It’s more theoretical, so it’s more investigational.” Unlike most naturopathic treatments, IV turmeric hasn't been well studied.

According to NBC San Diego, the medical examiner said she died of a heart attack and ruled the death an accident. In fact, the story was headlined "Tumeric Solution Through IV To Blame, in Part, For Women's Death: ME." In part?

The naturopath has yet to be named in any news story. How is this not manslaughter or criminal negligence? If an MD had given say, oregano intravenously, would it still have been an accident? Would the doctor's name still be unknown? I think it would be on Yahoo's front page.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Surgical fellowship match results for 2017

Two weeks ago, I reviewed the preliminary results of the 2017 main NRMP match. Data for the specialty match, also known as the fellowship match, recently became available. Here are the outcomes for the subspecialties of general surgery.

For abdominal transplant surgery, 36 of 58 programs filled, comprising 51 of 74 positions. There were 75 applicants with 24 going unmatched. The number of transplant programs has dropped from 69 in 2013 with a concomitant decrease in the number of available positions from 84 to 74. Applicants numbered 116 in 2013, and except for a slight upturn in 2016, interest has steadily declined. Consistent with the previous four years, US grads filled 31% of the positions in 2017.

Colon and rectal surgery filled all 56 programs and all 95 positions; 35 of the 130 applicants failed to match. Colorectal has filled 100% of positions available in three of the last five years. US grads filled 75% of the slots which is fairly consistent with previous years.

Pediatric surgery’s 44 programs filled all but one of the 45 available positions. This is the first time in the last five years that pediatric surgery did not fill 100% of its slots through the match. There were 96 applicants this year, and 52 of them did not secure a position. US grads filled 80% of the slots which is a slightly lower percentage than previous years.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

An expert witness goes the extra mile

A Canadian dermatologist was found guilty of professional misconduct by a disciplinary committee of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons. He had been accused of rubbing his penis against the legs of two patients he was examining.

In his defense, the doctor said it couldn't have happened because he was so obese that his penis was covered by abdominal fat.

After 38 days of testimony, the committee was in effect a “hung” jury regarding the penis allegation but found against the doctor for rubbing his abdomen against the patients without "any form of warning, apology or excuse." The committee found the conduct "disgraceful, dishonorable or unprofessional."

One of several fact witnesses, not a direct party in the case but having seen the doctor, was asked how she knew it was a penis rubbing against her. She said, “I’m a woman of almost 70 years; I know what a penis is and what it feels like. I have no doubt at all that it was a penis.”

The doctor was also found guilty on charges of touching a patient's breasts under her bra without a valid clinical reason for doing so and for not giving patients a warning or explanation before removing some of their clothes.

The most interesting part of the hearing was that both the defense and the college had retained expert urologists to examine the dermatologist to see if the patients' allegations would have been possible.

The defense expert examined the dermatologist with and without an erection and said it would not have been possible for him to have done what the patients alleged.

The urologist for the college pretended to be the patient on the examining table with the dermatologist reprising his role as the examiner. At three different table positions, the urologist said he was able to feel the dermatologist's chemically induced erection.

I tried to imagine the conversation between representatives of the college and their expert witness prior to his encounter with the defendant.

College: Are you willing to be our expert?
Urologist: Yes. What do I have to do?
College: You must determine if the accused's erect penis can be felt at various heights of the examining table.
Urologist: How should I do that?
College: Just give him a drug to produce an erection, lie on the table while the defendant presses up against you, and testify about what you feel.
Urologist: Say what?

I tweeted a link to one of the newspaper articles about this case, and @Laconic_doc said he knew all along “the evidence wouldn't stand up in court.”

References:
Globenews.ca
The star.com

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Evidence? We don’t need no stinkin’ evidence

One of my posts requires clarification. The post "A paper of mine was published. Did anyone read it?" went live in August 2014 and has been viewed 5133 times to date.

A reader had emailed me to ask if I might know why two papers he had written did not cause much of a stir in the orthopedic world. One reason might have been that the papers appeared in an obscure orthopedic journal.

I then wrote: "A paper in Physics World claims that that 90% of published papers are never cited and 50% are never read by anyone but the authors and the journals' peer reviewers." This is simply not true.

The link in the above paragraph originally went to a nebulous Indiana University web page and eventually became a "file not found." The source of the 2007 Physics World paper remained elusive. The subject came up again about a week ago on Twitter and a follower, @TirathPatelMD, sent me a link to the full text.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Brief summary of 2017 residency match data

Here are some snippets from the NRMP Advance Data Tables for the 2017 Main Residency Match.

The number of PGY-1 positions offered was the highest total ever. US allopathic medical school seniors in the match numbered 18,539, which is also a new high. Only 5.7% of US seniors failed to match. That was a slightly lower percentage compared to 2016 and 2015.

The numbers were not as good for previous graduates of US allopathic medical schools with only 46% of 1472 applicants matching. Osteopathic graduates fared better with 81.7% of 3590 applicants matching.

I have blogged about the prospects for international medical school graduates. Of the 5069 US citizen graduates of international medical schools, 54.8% matched—a rate consistent with the totals for the last four years.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Nonoperative treatment of appendicitis in children: Is it safe?

After writing my 21st post about appendicitis back in November, I swore I would not write about it again for the foreseeable future.

Well, the future is now because investigators from the United Kingdom and Canada just published a meta-analysis including 10 papers and 413 children about the efficacy and safety of nonoperative treatment for appendicitis in children.

They concluded that nonoperative management is effective in 96% of children with acute uncomplicated appendicitis during their initial hospitalizations with just 17 (4%) children requiring appendectomy before discharge. An additional 68 (16.4%) developed recurrent appendicitis later, and 19 of these patients were treated with the second course of antibiotics. The other 49 underwent appendectomy with histologic evidence of recurrent appendicitis.

Another 11 patients underwent appendectomy in the follow-up period for various reasons. In all, 77 (18.6%) patients initially treated with antibiotics eventually underwent appendectomy.

Although the initial hospital length of stay for appendectomy was shorter than that of patients treated with antibiotics, complication rates were similar.

These findings were met with headlines like "Antibiotics, not surgery, could treat appendicitis in children, study suggests" from The Guardian and "Is Surgery Always Needed for Kids' Appendicitis?" from US News.

What are the problems with this paper?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Vacation notice

As of the evening of February 22, I will be out of the country with limited Internet access. I'll be back on March 12.

Comments left on posts may not be approved for a few days. Please be patient.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Will robots eliminate the need for surgeons?

A medical student from Germany emailed me saying he had always wanted to be a surgeon, but someone told him that by 2030 surgeons would no longer be needed because robots would be doing all the operations. He worried that after years of studying and hard work, he might lose his job to “R2-D2.”

He mentioned IBM’s Watson and a recent paper that appeared in the journal Science Translational Medicine about a robot that can handle and suture bowel.

He asks, “What do you think about the future of surgery?”

Thank you for your email and the link to the paper.

I read the paper and was amused by its title "Supervised autonomous robotic soft-tissue surgery" which is an oxymoron. The definition of autonomous is "acting independently or having the freedom to do so." This “supervised” robot is not really autonomous.

The robot is capable of performing a nearly technically perfect intestinal anastomosis but still needs a human surgeon to open the abdomen, prepare the bowel for the procedure, tidy up, and close. I'm not sure that this is any different than when surgical staplers were introduced. This robot is simply making the operation easier and possibly more precise.

Surgeons will still be needed in case the robot makes a mistake like causing bleeding while placing a suture near the mesentery. If bleeding in that area is not promptly controlled, a large hematoma can develop and possibly compromise the blood supply to the anastomosis. And will the robot be able to decide who needs an operation and when to do it?

One worrisome byproduct of surgical stapling is that many graduates of residency programs within the last 15 or 20 years have little experience in performing a hand sewn bowel anastomosis. What will they do if the hospital runs out of staplers? Soon, I guess they could consult the (somewhat) autonomous robot.

I have written about automation and the erosion of surgical skills. This problem also affects pilots. I have also addressed the concept of  robots operating alone. I don't see it happening any time soon.

I think there will always be a need for surgeons. Even the smartest robot is going to have some trouble dealing with a trauma patient who is hypotensive.

The future will take care of itself. In the 1980s, people were concerned about the demise of general surgery. Opinion pieces with titles like “Will the general surgeon become extinct?” and “Is general surgery a dying specialty?” appeared in major journals like JAMA and the World Journal of Surgery.

Then in 1990, laparoscopic cholecystectomy opened the door to a whole new area of general surgery that no one had ever dreamed of.

Good luck with your studies and your surgical career.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Can a cop’s baton accidentally slip into a man’s anus?

I doubt it.

A French police officer has been charged with rape after a black man who was being arrested suffered severe anal injuries.

After witnessing an officer slap someone, the 22-year-old had allegedly approached a group of policemen. The victim claims he was handcuffed, called names, and beaten. He says his pants were lowered and he felt pain in his buttocks.

At the police station another officer noted that he was covered with blood. He was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with the anal trauma which required “major surgery” including a colostomy. The family was told incontinence may result.

Doctors said the injury had been caused by a police baton which had been forced into his anus.

The Washington Post quoted the findings of a police investigation: “The violent sodomy was accidental and occurred when the officer’s expandable baton happened to slip into the victim’s anus.”

According to another story, “a French police union spokesman said there was no evidence so far that ‘the truncheon was actually introduced’ into the victim's rectum. And if that actually happened, it was likely done ‘accidentally.’”

A third story said, “a lawyer for the officer charged with rape said ‘the blow had been carried out in a totally involuntary manner, without his being aware of any injury.’” The word “his” must be referring to the officer because I have no doubt the victim was quite aware.

Based on my 40+ years of experience as a surgeon, I can assure you the police version of the incident is highly implausible. A patient who does not wish to undergo a rectal examination by a physician with a gloved and lubricated index finger can easily prevent it from occurring by voluntarily contracting his anal sphincter and gluteus muscles.

I would imagine a healthy 22-year-old man would react in exactly the same way if a policeman’s baton “happened to slip” with the end anywhere near his anus.

The incident has sparked many protests in France and has been widely reported by news media. Of the several accounts I have read, not one has asked a surgeon to comment on the nature or possible cause of the injuries.

Bottom line: A police baton slipping into a man’s anus is about as likely as a man accidentally falling on a woman and penetrating her.

From International Business Times
Thanks to @Tosk59 for the tip on the International Business Times story.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Yet another new medical TV drama

“'The Resident’ follows an idealistic young doctor who begins his first day under the supervision of a tough, brilliant senior resident who pulls the curtain back on all of the good and evil in modern day medicine.” So says the article announcing Fox’s pilot for a new medical TV show.

As opposed to all the other medical dramas, this one features an idealistic young doctor and a tough, brilliant supervisor. How original.

I tweeted the show's premise and got several humorous replies prompting me to write this post.

There is no such thing as an original medical show. Original would be a resident sitting in front of a computer 75 percent of the time and then leaving the hospital in the middle of a great case because of work hour restrictions. While at home he plays video games for five straight hours.

Someone wondered if “The Resident” would find romance—possibly in a convenient storage closet. I wouldn’t know about that because I trained at a Catholic hospital.

Another asked if there would be a tough staff with soft hearts, a hospital administrator who put profit before patients, a second-generation physician who cracks under pressure, and a renegade doctor who breaks all the rules but saves the day.

What about a show with overworked, stressed, but oh-so-average attending physicians and idealistic, but basically inept residents?

I’d like to pitch an idea. It’s called “The Administrator” and follows an idealistic young deputy assistant junior vice president who begins his first day under the supervision of a tough, brilliant hospital CEO who pulls the curtain back on all of the evil and none of the good in modern day medicine.

Think of all the dramatic meetings involving committees, ad hoc committees, lean, six sigma, budgets, root cause analyses, public relations, whether to buy a third robot, and so much more. True to life, the administrators never leave the C-suite*.

*C-suite (def): A widely-used slang term collectively referring to a corporation's most important senior executives. C-Suite gets its name because top senior executives' titles tend to start with the letter C, for chief, as in chief executive officer, chief operating officer and chief information officer. [From Investopedia]

Thanks to the Twitter folks who contributed: @smootholdfart, @DrDes1970, @geekpharm, @JessicaDeMost, @DrMikeSimpson, @jsekharan, @mjaeckel

Monday, January 30, 2017

Caribbean medical schools: A look inside



Did you know that several Caribbean medical schools provide postgraduate premed courses so students can complete their science requirements? At least one school’s nearly year-long premed curriculum includes 8 hours per day of classroom work, rudimentary general chemistry and organic labs, and a physics lab with 40-year-old equipment. The fee is more than $30,000 cash, no loans. That's a lot to pay for courses that are not accredited and credits transferable only to other Caribbean schools.

The goal of these premed programs is to prepare students to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). However, some schools require only that applicants take the MCAT but do not reject anyone on the basis of their scores.

A former student said, “Little did I know that a [Caribbean school] acceptance was the equivalent of a lottery ticket. They actually attempted to weed us out of the small (and unaccredited) pre-med class! It took me a month to figure it out.” One of his professors told him the administration said not to pass everyone in the premed course into the first year of medical school.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

More about adhesions and postoperative pain

In November 2016, I wrote about adhesions and whether they are the cause of chronic abdominal pain. I and several surgeons who commented felt they weren't.

Some new information from the February 2017 issue of the journal Surgery is just in. A randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled trial from The Netherlands was originally published in 2003 after one year of follow-up. At that time, there was no apparent benefit from an operation to lyse [divide] all adhesions laparoscopically in 52 patients compared to a placebo operation that involved performing only laparoscopy to assess the extent of adhesions in 48.

The current paper looked at outcomes 12 years after the original surgery was done. Follow-up was available for 73% of the patients—42 in the group who had adhesiolysis and 31 who had laparoscopy only.

The authors concluded, “Laparoscopic adhesiolysis was less beneficial than laparoscopy alone in the long term. Secondly, there appeared to be a powerful, long-lasting placebo effect of laparoscopy. Because adhesiolysis is associated with an increased risk of operative complications, avoiding this treatment may result in less morbidity and health care costs.”

Unfortunately the paper has a few flaws.

Friday, January 13, 2017

"Malpractice" from the viewpoint of a plaintiffs' attorney

Lawrence Schlachter is a neurosurgeon who after 23 years in practice, was forced to stop operating because of a hand injury. He went to law school, became a plaintiffs’ attorney, and wrote a book called “Malpractice.” Although it is intended for patients, physicians might want to read it to learn something about how a plaintiffs’ lawyer thinks.

I’m not surprised that Schlachter cites the heavily extrapolation-based Journal of Patient Safety study claiming 400,000 medical error-related deaths per year and the thoroughly debunked Makary study claiming 251,000 deaths per year due to medical error. He does a little extrapolating of his own and comes up with 562,000 patients per year.

I agree with Schlachter about many issues. He says the best way to avoid becoming a victim of negligence is to take good care of yourself. If you need to be hospitalized, aggressively be your own advocate or have a relative or friend do it. You cannot assume that mistakes will not happen.

Monday, January 9, 2017

How can we instill more confidence in our graduating chief residents?

For over six years, I have been writing about problems in surgical education. My seventh blog post ever was about the negative impact of changes in surgical residency training.

In that post, I cited a residency program director who felt that rules imposed by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) resulted in excessive supervision of residents who never had a chance to operate independently. Many feel that this is a major factor resulting in 80% of graduating chiefs opting to do one or more years of post residency fellowship.

Excessive supervision continues in 2016. In his presidential address to the Southwestern Surgical Congress, John R. Potts, III, M.D., a former surgical program director and now Senior Vice President of Surgical Accreditation for the ACGME, had a similar observation. He said, “I have personally encountered individuals finishing general surgery residency programs who have never completed any operation—regardless how simple and basic—without an attending surgeon being with them throughout that operation.” [Emphasis by Dr. Potts]

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The occasional surgeon

On the Forbes website, Dr. Robert Pearl writes

"When I was selected to become CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, the Permanente half of Kaiser Permanente, the time required for my responsibilities forced me to give up doing surgery on a regular basis. But every year since then, during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I have returned to the operating room. The timing works, as the leadership demands become minimal and it’s unlikely I’ll suddenly be needed to fly to another part of the country. It’s a magical time for me, contrasting dramatically with my world as CEO. For several hours each day, my focus is not on millions of Kaiser Permanente members—or, for that matter, on all the complexities of healthcare policy, politics and strategy—but, rather, on a single patient at a time."

Dr. Pearl is a Yale medical school graduate who trained at Stanford and has been board-certified in plastic surgery since 1979. The American Board of Plastic Surgery did not start requiring maintenance of certification every 10 years until 1995.

We do not know what specific surgical procedures he does during his magical time. Is he removing moles, performing reconstructive surgery, or doing facelifts and nose jobs? Do his patients know that he only operates a few days per year? What happens if a wound complication requiring revision surgery arises? Who follows up his patients?