Featured Post

Is the new professionalism and ACP's new ethics really just about following guidelines?

The Charter ( Medical Professionalism in the New Millennium.A Physician's Charter) did not deal with just the important relationship of ...

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Is the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship still a topic?

When I published the essay found below in 2015,there was considerable chatter on the medical blog space about the dangers posed to the traditional physician-patient relationship. Now little is written about that topic. The dogs bark and the caravan moves on.

The following was originally posted on 3/24/2015 and a lightly edited version appears below in the hope that there  may be some physicians who still care .

"H.L. Mencken defined Puritanism as that haunting fear that someone,somewhere may be happy.

The Medical Progressive Elite's haunting fear is that someone,somewhere is making their own medical decisions with input from their private physician.This fear is shared by the third party payers. In recent years,there appears to be considerable progress in alleviating their fear.

The last thing that the third party payers and the medical progressive elite want is that medical decisions be made  a physician- patient "dyad".This situation is ripe for a classic Baptists and Bootleggers scenario,some of the  medical elite sincerely believing that medicine is too complex and expensive to be left to the judgment of patients with advice from their physicians and the third party payers striving to decrease the cost of doing business and increasing profits share holder value.

This medicine-is-too important-to-be left-patients-and-their- physicians view  is made crystal clear in the following quote from the book,"New Rules"  written by Drs. Don Berwick and Troyen Brennan:

"Today, this isolated relationship[ they are speaking of the physician patient relationship] is no longer tenable or possible… Traditional medical ethics, based on the doctor-patient dyad must be reformulated to fit the new mold of the delivery of health care...Regulation must evolve. Regulating for improved medical care involves designing appropriate rules with authority...Health care is being rationalized through critical pathways and guidelines. The primary function of regulation in health care, especially as it affects the quality of medical care, is to constrain decentralized individualized decision making."

Dr.Berwick went on the be the  head of CMS for a while and Dr. Brennan went on to be the chief medical office of Aetna insurance company and then CVS Caremark.Sometimes the line between the Baptists and the Bootleggers gets a bit blurry.

Destroying the physician patient dyad or relationship  has been a strategic goal of the progressive elite for years and a major initiative to that end was the 2002 publication "Medical Professionalism in the New Millennium:A physician charter".That was a joint effort by the ACP Foundation,the ABIM Foundation and the European Federation of Internal Medicine. The project chair was Troy Brennan and, in my opinion, importantly in terms of future funding and  promotion of the "charter" a member of the project was  Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.The RWJF has been a major source of funds for the ad campaign for the Professionalism project.   CEO and . Dr. Harry Kimball ,president of ABIM from 1991 to 2003 was also a project participant.

The Professionalism 's theme is to downplay the fiduciary role of the physician to the patient and insert a nebulous co-duty of  the physician to be a steward of society's limited medical resources and to work for social justice. A particular political agenda was inserted into medical ethics. For physicians who wondered how that role was to be played out, later the ABIMF clarified  things by explaining that one could be a steward of the [collectively owned] medical resources  and social justice would be achieved by providing efficient health care.In one document the authors changed the nature of traditional medical ethics and  also rewrote the meaning of social justice which was now efficient care as opposed to the widely accepted meaning of social justice as redistribution.  In a bait and switch move they have redefined social justice as efficient health care attempting to aggregate the values that individuals might place on a treatment with some collective metric allegedly representing the greatest good to the greatest number.They then further simplified things for the practicing internists (actually all physicians) by gratuitously asserting that following guidelines would be the road to social justice.

Disappointingly, the AMA went along with this flim flam sophistry of the physicians as stewards of society's collectively owned medical resources.See here.

In the ACP-ABIM world no longer would the patient and the physician  be the primary determiners of a test or treatment value but value would be designated as high or low  primarily on a cost effectiveness calculus.Rather than treating each patient as an independent moral agent an aggregate utilitarian metric would be imposed  in which "high value care" is not in the eye of the patient but rather defined by a third party and expressed in  quality adjusted life years per dollar spent The only or at least determinate value is economic efficiency.

Of course, the medical professional elite is a subset of the larger progressive community whose operational credo is that most things are too complex and complicated  to be left to average people and if they will not listen to the delivered wisdom they should be compelled  while the progressive's polar star and major talking point is  to fight against inequality. The poster child for the stick approach has be the comments of Dr. Robert Benson Jr.,the emeritus president of ABIMF,writing on the blog of the ABIMF:

" CMS, which has the ultimate negotiating position in the form of reimbursement for Medicare services, could only accept negotiated bundled charges. It could also refuse payment for non-compliance with the Choosing Wisely recommendations."...ABIM could require candidates to achieve a perfect score on questions related to costs and redundant care as a requirement for admission to secure exams for initial certification or MOC." (This would seem to be a rather severe penalty for not complying with a "recommendation" which Benson thinks should be an edict.)

Consider how important the Choosing Wisely rules would be if  Benson's wishes were enacted.Consider how much of a target the Choosing Wisely decisions would be to various lobbying groups.Third party payers would relish such a situation.


If you want to know what the ABIM and its foundation are about, just read  the ABIMF blog.

The combination of mega hubris and libido domini spells trouble in health care as it does pretty much everywhere."



Monday, June 10, 2019

Why a non-cardiologist thinks generally ablation is bettter than medication for rhythm control

Of course the teaser tittle is misleading.You should ask "better for what".Remember the old auto ad that claimed Fords (or some brand) are better,again better than what and for what.

A  better,more focused claim is that ablation is better than drugs to convert atrial fibrillation to normal sinus rhythm.That issue arises only after the decision of rate versus rhythm control has been made.There is convincing evidence to that point that ablation works better. There is also general agreement that patients feel better with a sinus rhythm than when their atria are fibrillating.Atrial fibrillation is a bad method of running a cardiac pump.

What has not been proven with randomized clinical trials is that ablation results in longer lives and fewer strokes.

The recently presented CABANA trial (https://www.acc.org/latest-in-cardiology/clinical-trials/2018/05/10/15/57/cabana) was long awaited and was hoped to answer that question

This was a large (n=2204),multicenter trial  with five year followup comparing standard AF ablation procedure with either rhythm or rate control medication.When the data were analyzed by the venerable,preferred, orthodox method of analysis ( intention-to-treat or ITT) there was no difference in the combined end points of death,disabling stroke,or cardiac arrest nor was there for each component of the combined end point.

ITT is also referred to as "once randomized always analyzed". If 1,000 were assigned to medication and another 1000 assigned to ablation, all of the Medication group would be analyzed according to the group to which they  were assigned even if they switched over to the ablation group. This method is ,according to standard epidemiologic-statistical dogma, is the only analytic approach which will preserved the "integrity of the randomization process." Randomization is done in the first place to control for the effect of known and unknown variables so that the two groups are balanced in regard to prognostic variables. ITT has been called the de facto standard and it is "conservative", i.e it minimizes Type I error,  it is less likely to show a difference when there is no difference. In criticism of ITT one could say it is too conservative and more susceptible to Type II .

Per protocol analysis (PPA) compares treatment groups that include only those who completed the treatment as originally allocated.Whereas ITT makes the two treatments look similar PPA is more able to how differences.

When PPA was applied to the CABANA data there was demonstrated a decrease in mortality in the ablation group.So there are dueling conclusions based on the method of analysis.(1)

My argument is that regardless of there being no difference in mortality (or maybe there is a difference favoring ablation depending of what analysis you prefer) ablation works better to decrease atrial fibrillation and people feel better without AF and the procedure is safe. It is safe according to either way  you analyze CABANA and we already knew it was safe. The extensive data from Cleveland Clinic  (2) makes that clear. So you do not have to believe that ablation save lives or decreases strokes to favor ablation over rhythm control medication, but of course ablation is not for everyone  for everyone.

After the data were presented the predictable flurry of spin emerged touting the results  of the PPA and of the "as treated "data.But the EP folks did not really need an alternative analysis to continue with business as usual as ablation is safe,it works better and when successful in decreasing or eliminating the atrial fibrillation "burden" there is better quality of life.

This is certainty not a recommendation to treat everyone with af with ablation but rather an argument in favor of ablation over medication for rhythm control.For  many patients for various clinical reasons, rate control may be the better choice and  a trial of rhythm control meds before ablation is a reasonable and common approach.

1) "...a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest".The Boxer, Simon  and Garfunkel.1982

2)Rehman,KA Life-threatening complications of atrial fibrillation ablation. 16 year experience in a large tertiary care cohort. JACC,March2019, vol 5 no. 3, p 284
(fifteen year period,10,278 patients, no deaths, 100 life threatening complications (mainly pericardial effusions and stroke),no aorto-esophageal fistulas,


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Does a high coronary calcium score in long time endurance athletes mean greater mortality

Another article (2)  has  been published regarding the proposed relationship between high level endurance exercise and coronary calcification.

 We get this comment from the chief science officer and CEO of the Cooper Institute , Dr. Laura DeFina :

" The key question addressed in the present study was whether the presence of a high CAC associated with high levels of exercise training as typically practiced by masters marathon runners is associated with greater mortality.For this question,the answer is clearly no"

During times when I am influenced by Lily Tomlin's observation (1) I tend to think - perhaps unfairly-of studies such as these as coarse-grain,multi-comparison, big "n" small "RRs" fishing trips.

It is big n  study with 21,758 men followed for about ten years. The significance of n size is that with large numbers,small differences may be statistically significant but not clinically important. The point of saying multi-comparison is that sometimes researchers will do many regressions that may or may not be mentioned in the article searching for a p value of statistical significance. ( I ,of course, am not accusing authors of this article with that practice.)This article cannot be considered fishing as earlier work has suggested that high or very high levels of endurance exercise are associated with more coronary calcification but no increase and possibly a decrease in cardiac disease mortality.This article seems consistent with that notion.

We also get this quote from Dr. Carl Lavie : " Despite the fact that this type of high volume physical activity and exercise may promote calcific coronary atherosclerosis, it appears to still be associated with safety and possible lower mortality risks" Dr. Lavie has written several articles with Dr. James O'Keefe arguing that some relatively low level of exercise described as "excessive" would increase one's risk of death but has subsequently softened views what is excessive.

The analogy with the more potent statins and more coronary artery calcifications and lower C-V mortality seems obvious



1) Lilly Tomlin: No matter how cynical you become its never enough.


2)DeFina, LF et al ,"Association of all cause and cardiovascular mortality with high levels of physical activity and concurrent coronary artery calcification. JAMA Cardiol 2019 4 (2)174


Saturday, May 11, 2019

Is it possible for experts to determine objective high value health care

Is value objective or subjective?

A common, though oversimplified and exaggerated view,  is that Adam Smith was the father of economics. His views were published in 1776 in his Wealth of Nations.He along with several other early giants of classical economists,David Ricardo,John S. Mill, promoted the Labor theory of value. Karl Marx continued that line of thinking in 1867 in his magnum opus Capital  in which he said " If a pair of shoes usually takes twice as long to produce as a pair of pants,for example then..the competitive price of shoes will be twice the price of pants."

Lawrence H, White , in his book The Clash of Economic Ideas talks about what he describes as the fundamental flaw in the labor theory of value is "its supposition that the price of a good reflects an intrinsic feature of the good,...rather than something in the minds of its buyers". The belief was that input costs determines the selling price rather than the reverse.

It was not until 1871 that the labor theory  of value was displaced by what is known as the subjective or marginal utility theory of value. Karl Menger one of the three co-founders of this idea,who worked independently, said in his Principles of Economics , "Goods always have value to certain economizing individuals and this value is also determined only by those individuals."

Simply put the value of a good or service is the subjective evaluation of the buyer.

In fact,it is this subjective value that underlies exchange-Fred values the apple more than dollar he give the grocer who in turn value the dollar more than the apple.Both  typically thank each other as exchange is mutually beneficial.


So since the late 19th century economists of almost all stripes have agreed that value is subjective.
If this is the overwhelming consensus views of economists what is the rationale or justification for organizations such as the American College of Physicians and others to  claim to be able to determine which medical procedures and treatments are "high value". Are they claiming that value is objective,that they can determine scientifically the real value,and further determine which values are high enough to merit the designation "High value"

First how is value determined by health outcome experts and how is a value determination judged to be "high". Is the process objective and scientific all the way down or is it the case that at some point someone's subjective value is inserted .

Through clinical research it is possible to determine if the outcome of treatment X versus treatment Y is better in terms of survival.So one could talk about life years saved by treatment X versus treatment Y-this is clinical effectiveness research.X is better-more effective than Y in terms of simple survival. But to determine value cost has to be injected into the analysis.How much did X cost versus how much did Y cost.,then one could look at life years saved per dollars and compare X  and Y in that way.

Obviously  years lived  per se is not the only relevant outcome to consider.How one lives (pain,mobility,level of cognition etc) are all important and those and other elements are lumped under the heading "quality of life" (QOL). Measuring quality to transform life years into quality adjusted life years is a difficult and ambiguous slippery  area and we will defer a discussion about whether than can ever be done for later but for discussion we'll assume that something called quality adjusted life years(QALY) can measured. (I seriously doubt that it can be measured  because in part I do not believe you can aggregate quality of life.I doubt that it is meaningful to add Frank and Fred's  quality of life and transform that some aggregate of quality years.)

After the QALY are determined for procedure X and Y then in theory one can sum the cost of the two procedures and then derive a ratio of QALY s per dollar spent. Ignoring for the moment the difficulties and ultimately the arbitrary nature  of teasing out cost from charges in the context of what is certainty not a free market unencumbered by price control  but rather one whose costs exist behind a veil of various variable negotiated prices between providers groups and third party payers with an even more opaque series of subsidies and discounts.


When you brush past the bewildering display of statistical artifacts and step to view the overall landscape what you see is another utilitarian procedure. Some new wine is there but the bottles are stamped underneath with the imprint  "utilitarian analysis" A  resurrection of Benthams "greatest good for the greatest number." in the form of a cost benefit analysis done in the tradition of and with the tools of Neo-classical economics.




Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Has the movement to debase medical ethics become a done deal now


In 2013,  when I posted the essay found below in a slightly revised version found ,there was still considerable resistance to the "New Medical Professionalism" which had been introduced in 2002 by the American College of Physicians and the European Federations of Internal Medicine. and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in an article entitled  "Medical Professionalism in the New Millennium: A Physician's Charter." Numerous medical blogs protested and there was some public debates.Now I find little comment or concern about what I believe was a effort to destroy traditional medical ethics.
Here is my earlier essay entitled "The Great Linguistic Coup of 21Th Century Medical Ethics"

"George H. Smith in his book "The System of Liberty" in the chapter entitled "Liberalism,Old and New" discusses how the concept of liberalism and its advocates were victims of a linguistic coup in the latter part  of the nineteenth century.

 The classic liberals considered freedom as the absence of coercion.They championed   limited government whose function was to secure the rights of individuals.Enter a group of thinkers who proposed a " new liberalism" , one that would,in their view, correct this inadequate,limited definition of freedom.To the newcomers liberty without equality was freedom in name only  and true freedom involved equal opportunity and power to enjoy one's life. They wanted to replace the idea of "negative freedom" of the classical liberals with what would become  the focus  of  the welfare state.True freedom in their view was more than mere removal of compulsion or coercion.  The new liberals were paternalistic and believed  the state should do much more than secure the people from internal and external predators but rather protect them from the effects of their own uncoerced actions.The classic liberals defended their position in part by asserting that the new liberalism was old wine in new bottles, with the wine being advocacy for a paternalistic government.The new liberals continued to dispense rhetoric that seemingly supported liberty but they had redefined the word liberty.

The new liberals won the day and the old or classic liberals lost much influence  but re-appeared in the 20th century with a new label, libertarian. The new liberals were simply known as liberals and later referred to by some as progressives.

I argue analogously that the traditional ,classical medical ethics and its advocates ( physicians themselves) were victims of a similar linguistic coup. Throughout most of the 20th century and earlier the core of medical ethics was primacy of patient welfare and respect of the autonomy of the patient,the later gradually replacing an older paternalism of medicine.Physicians were considered to have a fiduciary duty to the patient.

At the end of the 20th century and the early years of the 21th century a new medical ethics emerged,one in which -while  its proponents claimed nothing had really changed-there was a radical sea-change in regard to the duties of the physician.This was accomplished by nothing more rhetorically solid based  or intellectually justified  than a simple gratuitous assertion.The notion of social justice was simply declared to be part of medical professionalism and medical ethics.The degree to which this bogus concept has been accepted and endlessly repeated in medical publications is a tragic shame.The victims of this linguistic coup are the physicians themselves but to a greater degree the patients are the real losers as they have lost their advocates at a time when they may need them the most.


Monday, March 25, 2019

Will the quality crusade be the final corruptor of the medical record?


 File this under "The corruption of the medical record".

  The topic today is the " After visit summary"(AVS).

In my case this was a collection of mistakes,misstatements and falsehoods all neatly printed out in a manner that  may facilitate the physician getting credit for various quality measures.  After reading the AVS I asked myself do I really want a serious medical problem that I may develop to be  overseen by someone who signs off on such a pile of crap.

Recently I saw my primary care physician (PCP) for an annual check up.

Several aspects are worth a blog entry. Today it is the "After visit Summary" (AVS) which was available the next day on the practice's web site .Actually it is the hospital web site's patient portal,
This group of internists is "hired" by the hospital under the guise of being a practice group somehow affiliated with the hosptial.

Mt particular  AVS is a sleek  , multicolored document replete with little icons by such entries as your weight (icon of a dial),pulse ( icon of a valentine style heart). etc.

Under the "Today's Visit" we see small head shot photo of the physician and a listing of the addressed issues.This was a collection of mistakes,misstatements and outright falsehoods which are now part of my permanent record.

I was said to have atrial fibrillation. I do not have AF. The diagnosis of AF was erroneously placed on the  chart by the EP clinic but was later ( 8 months) corrected and removed from by problem list. I mentioned to my PCP that do not have AF and that the earlier entry was the results of a error in the EP clinic.This was the second time I explained about the diagnosis of AF to him and his scribe.

I was also said to have "osteopenia of both hips" .WTF. I have had no imaging of my back or hips at that facility .

I was said to have "hypercalcemia"  and "hypergammaglobulinemia "When  first seen by this PCP one issue was a metabolic profile done by my previous PCP that was stuffed with errors, namely elevated, calcium,elevated K and elevated globulin ( all likely the results of hemolyzed blood sample). These were all repeated and found to be normal but some how the diagnosis of hypercalcemia and elevated globulin level remain.

Nevertheless, on my AVS I was told that those issues were addressed.

What is the AVS all about? it is about "meaningful use".It is one of the eligible professional meaningful use core measures. It all began in 2009 with the HITECH act that was designed to "encourage physicians" to use an EHR.There were monetary carrots and sticks. Neither of which seem to me to be much more than chump change particularly after considering the care and feeding of a EHR .

Kaiser Health News and Fortune Magazine have a detailed article describing what a utter disaster the EHR has become.The title is "Death by A Thousand Clicks"










Monday, March 18, 2019

Recent changes in AHA/ACC atrial fibrillation guidelines

One of my favorite EP cardiologists, Dr. John Mandrola,gives his thoughts regarding the 2019 focused update on  atrial fibrillation (AF)  from the AHA/ACC ,Heart Rhythm Society task force.

Here are some of the highlights and the entire article by Mandrola (full text is available) is recommended.

Aspirin is no longer recommended for low risk AF patients. As Mandrola says , just like that, without much of an explanation .

Both the FDA and CMS have approved percutaneous left atrial appendage closure with the Watchman device  and the panel gives it. a class 11b recommendation. Apparently, the panel did not see fit to comment on the 4% risk of device associated thrombosis reported with Watchman.

DOACs now is  officially preferred over warfarin. Not mentioned by Mandrola is the observation that the fewer strokes with DOACs versus warfarin is driven by the fact there  are fewer hemorrhagic strokes with DOAC while there is little if any difference in the number of ischemic strokes.

The task force stated that female sex alone is no longer considered  a risk factor  for stroke in an AF patient per se.

The guideline writers gave a class 11 b (additional studies are need-procedure may be considered) recommendation for AF ablation in heart failure.Mandrola believes the data supporting AF ablation in HF patients is sufficient for the panel to have given a higher recommendation quoting the positive results of the CASTLE-AF trial that showed a 12% absolute risk reduction in death and in heart failure admissions in the ablation cohort.


Mandrola shares my views on the CHA2DS2VASc score . It is "simple to use , but at its core distills a decidedly continuous risk for a future event down to an integer." He references D. R. Quinn's 2017 review of 34 studies of AF ( reference can be found in Mandrola's review) that illustrate the large variation in the baseline risk of stroke in untreated AF patients. Quoting Mandrola " Translation: We have no idea of the risk in untreated patients.",and yet every day cardiologists and other docs crank out the CHA2DS2VASC and mater-of-factly tell their patient that they have x% annual risk of stroke and suggest how much that risk will be reduced by oral anticoagulation.


I have written about Quinn's study before and quoting from Quinn's article "' The majority of cohorts did not observe stroke rates that would indicate a clear expected net clinical benefit for anticoagulating AF patients with a CHA2DS2-VASc score of 1 or 2."