Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Born to run (slowly) and to loaf-The Leiberman hypothesis?

Harvard Professor David E. Leiberman  has taken Theodosius Dobzhansky's maxim to heart; "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

Leiberman,also known as the barefoot professor for his interest and advocacy of barefoot running ,expounded his thesis along with co author Dennis Bramble in a 2004 article in Nature entitled " Endurance running and the evolution of the genus homo."

Quoting from the above article ;" The fossil evidence of these features [features that facilitate endurance running] suggests that endurance running is a derived capability of the genus Homo, originating about 2 million years and may have been instrumental in the evolution of he human body form."

Leiberman's theory suggests that Homo evolved the ability to run long distances and hunt and forage in the heat before the human brain grew and humans got smart enough to  rule the roost .

The creature than evolved  could be described as a fur less,short toed,sweaty bipedal endurance athlete who was typically at the edge of negative calorie balance and who tended to loaf and rest whenever he could to conserve energy as food was scarce and difficult to obtain.These were the hunter gatherers whose survival depended on their ability to track and hunt animals over long distances in the climates of the African savannas as well as to dig around and find what they could to eat. That stylized story is that is how our ancestors lived as recently as some 600 generations ago, according to some estimates.

As the pressing need to work very hard physically became less and less necessary for more and more people the evolved human's drive to rest and conserve energy persisted and when not countered by lots of exercise obesity  the modern maladies such as  arterial diseases and type 2 diabetes went from rare to increasingly common.

It is an appealing story,one that resonates with those among us who like to do endurance type exercise. This includes Leiberman .  Much of it seems to make sense and is rich in physiologic insights, but is it all  just an "as if story"?

Hans Vaihinger is known as the philosopher of "as if". His view was that one should not ask if a theory or belief was true in some deep probably unknowable objective sense but rather is it useful to act as if the theory were true. ( I think Milton Freidman spoke of economic models or theory is that way, that is are they useful.) From reading descriptions of Vaihinger's work, I think it seems to him maybe most stories are "as if stories".

Leiberman writes and speaks well in an entertaining way and regales us with mechanisms  such why tighter ( rather than more lax) Achilles tendon enables running and why longer toes are a detriment to running  and how sweating works much better as a heat dissipation mechanism than panting.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bob Wachter's defense of ABIM's shenanigans and Mel Brooks

Dr. Bob Wachter,former chair of the ABIM, has spoken out in defense of ABIM and , of course, of himself.

Several medical bloggers have offered their critique of his comments including Michel Accad,  ,Walter Bond. and Dr RW..In my opinion all make  some good points with which I agree.

But I think Med Brooks' comments  may be the most appropriate.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Can Dr. Cassel and her collaborators at the National Quality Forum repeal Goodhart's Law?

In the December 4, 2014 issue of the NEJM, Dr. Chistine K.Cassel et al expound on performance measures.She freely admits there have been some problems but also apparently some successes.It is just a matter of learning from the mistakes and  leveraging the successes. We just have to work harder and be smarter. "Getting More Performance from Performance Measurements" Cassel, CK et al , NEJM 371,23 2014)

She offers her explanation of  why the notorious "four hour pneumonia rule" did not work out well. That particular clinical situation was "not the right place to intervene". .."There was too much clinical variability for the measure to help physicians on exactly the right course of action." True enough but that was not the reason.

The underlying insight is found in Goodhart's Law which states that when a measure becomes a target it loses its value as a measure.A more basic insight is that people respond to incentives. When folks are graded, or rewarded or punished based on some measure they will find ways to achieve that target and if better care results fine but there is not reason to think apriori   that it will. Teachers will teach to the tests and students will study for the test regardless of how well or how badly the test reflects the students mastery of the subject.

Goodhart wrote about his "law " in 1975 and in 1976 Donald Campbell wrote in regard to education and testing :

"achievement tests may well be valuable indicators of general school achievement under conditions of normal teaching aimed at general competence. But when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.

It is tempting to substitute medicare care for  the teaching process and we get "But when quality measures become the goal of the medical care process , they both loose their value as indicators of medical care and distort the process in undesirable ways."

I submit that devising better measures will not change the situation.

Dr. Cassel et al would disagree with my view and she closes her commentary with  the usual boiler plate words about "stakeholders"  and better quality down the road. "All stakeholder groups are now invested in getting more  performance out of measurements ,which should ultimately drive the care improvements that patients need and deserve."

 The economist,Arnold Kling, give his take on performance measures or P4P  here.

I have commented on this general subject before and here  the issue of a conflict between P4P and traditional medical ethics is talked about.

The folks at the National Quality Forum can no more negate Goodhart's law than they can make it now longer the case that people respond to incentives.The stakeholders of which Cassel speaks , of course, included the NQF itself as it is in the business of writing quality standards .

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

There are some amazing octogenarians out there

Some  know-it-all-officious-busybodies   medical progressive elite presume to know when various medical procedures should be limited on the basis of age. Some even presume to know how long someone will live as in recommendations regarding limiting of medical procedures for those deemed to have less than ten years life expectancy or using 75 as a cut off date for certain type of screening tests.My pathology professor in medical school was fond of saying when you tell someone how long he has to live they may piss on your grave.Spock's "live long and prosper" butts up against Dr.Zeke's proposed forgoing of preventive measures for those 75 and older, well at least for him, or so he claims now.

Two recent journal articles shed some physiological light on  some  folks in their 80s,folks about whom some of the progressive elite would desire to limit medical care.

Trine Karlsen et al described a remarkable 80 year old Norwegian.The authors believe that the subject of their study may have a world record for maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max). for his age,50 ml/kilo/min.Accordingly to the authors this value is compatible of a normal, active, non endurance trained 35 year old Norwegian man.(How to be 80 year old and have a V02max of a 35 year old, Case Reports in Medicine, Vol 2015, article id 909561). The "how " seems to be to have great genes and to be very physically active.

 To put V02 max  in some perspective; It is a measure of the highest rate at which oxygen can be utilized by the body during intense exercise.It is a function of how much blood the heart can deliver to the muscle ( cardiac output) and how  much oxygen the muscles can take up measured by the a-v oxygen difference.

It is generally believed to peak somewhere between age 25 and 35 and decreases afterwards. Various estimates of the rate of decline have been made. A stylized version is that the decrement is of the order of 5-10 % per decade until about age 70 and then V02 max declines more rapidly.For those who continue to do endurance exercise training the decrease is in the 5% per decade range.Some data indicate that endurance athletes' VO2 max actually decreases more per decade in absolute terms ( ml/minute/kilogram) but since they begin the decline with a higher absolute value their percentage decline is about half of that of the non trained healthy person. In that regard as in most things there are some conflicting data and considerable individual variation. Karlsen's subject has his 02 max measured at age45 so that the calculated decrease in his 02 max  from age 45 to age 80 was a remarkable 2.3 ml/min/kilo per decade while previous reports suggested the average decrease is 5.4 ml/min/kilo per decade. At age 25 he was measured at 75 ml,min/kilo.

World class endurance athletes typically have values in the 70s and 80's. The value of 90 is often quoted as the highest record, this in a 24 year old cross country skier while other publications quote the recording of 95 . The value of 17.5 ml/kilo/min ( 5 mets)  has has been labelled the aerobic frailty level, the value below which a person is by one  imprecise definition, frail, and would find the activities of every day life consuming such a high percentage of their O2 max that fatigue would greatly limit function.A value of 7 ml oxygen /kilo is said to be the lowest level compatible with life.Endurance exercise training program typically increase 02 max by 10-15% ( with the occasional outlier of more than 30%) but those folks in the 70 plus range can thank their parents ( at least one of them) for their exercise capacity.The sled dogs who race have 02 max values in the range of 240!

Scott Trappe and co authors in an earlier article in the Journal of Applied Physiology ( see here) published detailed physiological data including results of muscle biopsies and muscle enzyme studies on 15 active healthy octogenarians (one actually was 91).Nine were long time endurance athletes and 6 were age matched healthy untrained men without serious medical conditions and who were fit enough to do the exercise testing. Not only had the athletic group been competitive cross country skiers in their youth, they had continued with vigorous programs and all had trained  on average 8 hours a week for the last fifty years. ( Fifty years is not a typo).The endurance athletes had 02 max values between 34 and 42 while the healthy non endurance folks had on average a 21.

And then there is Ed Whitlock.See here for details of his setting the marathon time record for a 82 year old human . He finished at 3:41:58 which is nine minutes 49 second per mile.Whitlock is also noted for being the only man to run a sub three hour marathon at age 70 or older.Estimating his V02 max using table 2.3 from Tim Noakes's Lore of Running ( which is derived from data of Davies and Thompson) gives a value of about 48 ml/kilo/min, which is close to Karlsen's subject's measured value..


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

do you need a physician to order your blood tests?

There are a number of folks who want to eliminate at least one aspect of  gate-keeper role of the physician  or at least allow people  to order blood tests without getting a physician's order.

To name a few: Dr Eric Topol,Elizabeth Homes,and apparently the governor of Arizona.

Elizabeth Holmes is founder and CEO of a company named Theranos,which has developed a technology to enable a very large number of blood tests to be done from a few drops of blood,less than the tube drawn on a standard veni- puncture.

In April 2015 , the governor of Arizona signed a statute "allowing" clinical labs to perform blood tests without a physician's health care provider's order.

Laboratory Corporation of American has recently announced that they will perform lab tests on folks without requiring a doctor's order. See here for article.

According to the Bloomberg article linked above some twenty states already allow blood tests to be done without a physician's order.However according to this chart more states than that allow what is call "direct access testing". (This table is from a website called Longevity Testing.Com and I cannot attest to its accuracy as there are no links to supporting data.)

LabCorp and Quest and other large commercial labs have seen decrease in fees from CMS cuts and also from fewer referrals from independent physician's office as more doctors move to large groups or are being bought out by hospitals,who have their own labs. So they obviously welcome more direct assess customers.

In some instances a person's copay for a visit to a doctor to get a hall pass for a blood test may be more than the fee for service going the direct access route plus you do not have to wait in the doc;s office to see him and then wait for his office to send you your results.Of course,this assumes that the quality and resource conservation guidelines that he is "encouraged"   to follow will "allow" you to have the test.As you know the American College of Physicians and the American Board of Internal Medicine have declared that physicians are the "stewards" of the allegedly collectively owned national medical resources

Direct access testing fits in nicely with Dr. Topol's latest book The Patient will see you now in which he argues that smart phone based technology will go a long way to the democratization of medicine and the continuing stamping out of the lingering paternalism that was a regular feature of medicine for centuries.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Bad news for pediatricians-good news for ABMS and the hegemony of the progressive medical elite

See this blog posting regarding the unfortunate situation regarding board certification for pediatricians and how, at least so far, the  monopoly of ABMS is preserved.

If possible the MOC situation regarding peds is even worse that that regarding internists and their board, the ABIM.

One major insurer has refused to recognize certification from anything other than a ABMS recognized board.

Quoting Dr. Med Edison in her blog:

 " After months of speculation about insurer acceptance of anything other than ABMS certification, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is on record refusing certification through the National Board of Physicians and Surgeons. To my knowledge, they are the first to do so.
This is actually a big deal for pediatricians in Michigan. For our internist friends, the ABIM has slowed down implementation of MOC. But the American Board of Pediatrics refuses to listen to pediatricians, and instead instructs insurers to “check” our certificates yearly."

From the narrative related by Dr. Edison the folks at ABIM seem like avuncular colleagues compared to the even more hard nosed folks at the pediatrics board.

It may be too early to say  but it looks like we might see another situation in which the dogs bark and the caravan moves on. If other insurance companies refuse to accept NBPAS certification the viability  of that organization is in doubt.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Who elected the ACP as the"conscience" of medicine?

In a embarrassing display of  self congratulatory praise , in this  commentary Bob Doherty ,senior vice president of the American College of Physicians office of government affairs and public policy, makes the assertion that internists and particularly  the ACP are the "conscience of medicine".

How does he support that claim? First, he cites the advocacy that ACP has provided for universal health care and for other causes..He also quotes from a commentary from Lancet which declared that internists and ACP were the conscience of medicine.Further, he makes the claim that the ACP has always put the patient first even if some aspect of their advocacy might not be in the best interests of internists,while other professional organizations lobby in Washington  for their parochial interests. In his view apparently ACP (or at least its leadership) knows what it is best for the public good and selflessly strives to achieve those goals.

Conscience can be defined as the complex of ethical and moral principles that controls or inhibits the actions or thoughts of an individual or an inner sense impelling one toward right action.

Does Mr. Doherty believe that the ACP has acted in some way or ways that distinguish it from other medical professional groups  in regard to this alleged role as medicine's conscience?

What about pediatricians and their professional organization,the American Academy of Pediatricians, (AAP). If advocacy in regard to certain positions for various social issues is one criterion for being medicine's conscience,one could argue that the AAP has "out-advocated" ACP or at least earned a tie.Maybe ACP and AAP could be the co-conscience of medicine.

For example AAP has taken stands on measures to decrease firearms deaths,supported the Affordable Care Act,increased funding for the Children's health Insurance Program (CHIP) to name a few of their efforts.Since its founding  AAP has  advocated for the "health of all children", so ACP has no monopoly in putting "the patient first" and to claim that it is only internists that put patients first is without foundation and seems more like self serving rhetoric .

The American Psychiatric Association says its mission is in part to promote the highest quality care for individuals. That sounds like they put patients first too. The APA is more modest , however, in that their claim is that APA is the "voice and conscience of modern psychiatry".So maybe ACP should soften its claim and say they are the "conscience of medicine except for psychiatric issues".

In light of the most recent Newsweek revelation regarding executive pay and booking keeping practices and other alleged improprieties  at ABIM in regard to its maintenance of certification program (MOC), perhaps ACP could flex its conscience muscles and actually make a comment about ABIM's behavior.

It might also be in order to make a statement regarding ACP's educational products sold to internists that are promoted  as helpful for ABIM recertification.There are  numbers of internists out there who, rightly or wrongly,suspect there has been a very cozy and cahoots relationship between ABIM and ACP and their foundations with a revolving door type situation regarding the leadership ranks of those not for profit organizations . Surely, the voice of the conscience of  medicine should have something to say about that.

 Does advocacy for certain solutions to perceived social ills or problems constitute evidence for someone or something acting out of conscience?  It might but would it not be more correct to characterize ACP's advocacy for certain solutions as simply expressing views consistent with mainstream progressive thought which is in  some if not most  instances  contrary to mainstream conservative or libertarian thinking.While it may be possible that a majority of internists (I am not aware of a head count) consider themselves progressive, there are doubtlessly many libertarian and conservative internists who find ACP's views on a number of topics not an expression of their conscience.