Get PJ Media on your Apple

How Big Medicine Will Affect Patient Care

How Big Medicine will restrict doctors’ freedom to practice and patients’ ability to receive care.

by
Paul Hsieh

Bio

September 10, 2013 - 9:54 am
<- Prev  Page 2 of 2   View as Single Page

Another P4P metric is, “Percent of surgical patients that received the correct kind of antibiotic.” However, Dr. David Gelber has described a situation when the protocol mandated an additional antibiotic he considered medically unnecessary for his patient’s specific operation.

Dr. Gelber was informed that if he didn’t follow the guidelines, the nursing staff would “get in trouble.” He reluctantly allowed them to administer the unnecessary medication, hoping it wouldn’t cause any adverse side effects. (It didn’t.)

In Dr. Gelber’s words,

Administering unnecessary antibiotics opens the door to potential side effects, some of which can occur after only a single dose. Disruption of normal, symbiotic bacteria by the administration of antibiotics can cause transient diarrhea or severe colitis, while allergic reactions are always unpredictable. …

Yet, here is an example of the SCIP [Surgical Care Improvement Program] administrators, who are not physicians, insisting on inappropriate antibiotics. Every surgeon learns, as part of their training, the proper way to administer prophylactic antibiotics, which medication to order for which procedure and for what duration. But, surgeons also understand that there are often situations where deviation from the usual regimen is not only allowable, it may be vital and life saving.

These examples illustrate a larger trend of attempting to control costs through standardized practice protocols.

Standardized guidelines and protocols aren’t always bad. Dr. Atul Gawande has written a now-classic essay on how well-devised checklists and practice guidelines can protect patient safety and improve clinical outcomes. When someone comes into the ER with chest pain and a suspected myocardial infarct (“heart attack”), it’s appropriate to utilize checklists to ensure the patient receives his or her oxygen, an IV, EKG, appropriate blood tests, etc. Protocols and checklists can serve as a vital procedural “safety net” to protect against sloppiness or human error — like an astronaut running through a standard safety checklist before liftoff.

Standardized protocols can be an important adjunct to clinical judgment, but they cannot replace human judgment. Clinical protocols may be fine for 95% of patients, 95% of the time. But not all patients will fit the standard guidelines; there will always be outliers. The art of medicine consists in tailoring general guidelines to the individual patients as necessary, which requires the independent judgment of the skilled physician. This independent judgment is the heart of good medical practice.

As a patient, you want your doctor to be rewarded for using his expertise on your behalf, not punished for it. You don’t want to be the patient receiving too few (or too many) antibiotics because a bureaucrat is overriding your doctor’s best judgment.

As a physician, this is one of my biggest concerns about Big Medicine — namely government intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship. Your doctor may have to choose between following government guidelines vs. doing what’s medically right for you as an individual. Will he still uphold his Hippocratic Oath, even though it may jeopardize his compliance statistics? Or will he meekly comply with the guidelines? You’d better hope he’ll still be willing to make the right choice.

Finally, “bundled payments” and “pay for performance” likely won’t be the end of government controls over health spending. The state of Massachusetts has already enacted into law “global caps” on aggregate health spending (public and private). The exact enforcement mechanisms are still to be determined, but this will inevitably mean more restrictions on who can receive what medical care. In the New England Journal of Medicine, several prominent ObamaCare supporters have called for a similar national-level binding “global spending target for both public and private payers.” If current cost control measures fail, this will likely be the next phase of Big Medicine.

Next article: The role of electronic medical records and Big Data in Big Medicine.

<- Prev  Page 2 of 2   View as Single Page
Paul Hsieh, MD, is a member of the Colorado chapter of Docs4PatientCare (www.Docs4PatientCare.org) and co-founder of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine (www.WeStandFIRM.org).

Comments are closed.

All Comments   (6)
All Comments   (6)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
It is frustrating that Obamacare won't fix in any way the big camel nose under the tent, Medicare. My elderly relatives cannot be convinced to conserve their Medicare benefits and continue to go to doctors about monthly for all manner of tests and treatment. The waiting rooms are full of other elderly. One relative is frail and very old, nothing any doctor can do will change that. The other is in his nineties and recently had a pace maker installed. I don't want to sound cruel but both are seeking the Fountain of Youth at the doctors' offices. So sad.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

Doctors began to lose their professional independence with the advent of managed care in the 'nineties. True, many ran offices that were grossly inefficient and managed care helped wring that excess cost out of the system.

But now we are long past that point. Slowly the docs are being forced out of private practice and into some kind of employment relationship with a large health care business. A hospital chain, a larger clinic, an HMO, it doesn't matter.

Once so employed they are slowly but surely pressed into conformance with the institution's way of doing things, which is always - always - focused on making money.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's a genuine tragedy that the big government's camel nose has been allowed this far under the tent to erect the artificial guidelines and call the shots in medicine.

Not to mention education and business.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We will soon imitate the health care system of Ukraine, whatever that is. Walking around the Ukraine, you see some elderly women and no elderly men. One can reach old age entirely without health care, if you are fortunate to avoid accidents, alcoholism, complicated pregnancies, cancer and heart disease. Thus, some people in the Ukraine go their whole lives without health care. For the party elite, the Emanuels, Pelosis, Jarretts and others will get superb health care if they get sick, but the average Joe will get very little.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My advice; study to become a doctor (not a terrific professional choice today), marry a doctor, give birth to or adopt a doctor. Otherwise, take a number and wait until your number is called. I'm alright, Jack. The rest of you will be SOL.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
since no business can continue in business if costs are more than income, hospitals will have to become defacto death panels for patients.

If the government takes over the failing hospitals they can tax more, but eventually they to will run out of money and become defacto death panels.

And doctors who see time to become a doctor and dimished returns will not be promoting others to go into the health care profession and then we get less health care and more problems and the snow ball turns into an avalanche
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
View All