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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 ...

Monday, December 22, 2014

If you wondered what the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation was all about...

I have asked more than once on this blog why does the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) have a foundation ( the ABIMF).Why did one non-profit set up another one?

 Dr. Westby Fisher, writing  on his blog "Dr. Wes"  provides an eye-opening and in my opinion, shocking narrative about what is happening at the ABIM and ABIMF.This detailed expose about the ABIM and the ABIMF should be required reading not just for internists but for all physicians .

This entire article should be read and shared with colleagues.Here are some highlights and excepts as well as some of my comments.

The ABIM established the ABIMF  and  is its major source of funds. (I am aware the the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation gave the ABIMF 5 million dollars for its Choosing Wisely campaign, but most comes from ABIM)

The ABIM's source of funds is mainly from testing internists for certification and more  recently for maintenance  of certification (MOC) testing. It seems that if you subtract their operating expenses from their money flow from testing and certifying and re-certifying internists there is a lot left over to give to the ABIMF.

The principal activities  of the ABIMF are promotion of the new medical professionalism and   the Choosing Wisely Campaign while the ABIM is pushing its maintenance of certification (MOC) program.. Choosing Wisely  began as an apparently reasonable, mom and apple pie  program but may well be morphing into more than that or at the least a number of policy wonks ( and the former CEO of ABIMF) want it to be more controlling than the simple "conversation" between  physician and patient that is was originally purported to be.See here for a commentary about remarks made by the former CEO of the ABIMF ( Dr. John Benson) on the ABIMF 'blog  and by Dr. N, Mortin writing in the NEJM. Both speak of enforcement of the ABIM's edicts recommendations.

So, internists take tests for the which the costs and requirements continue to increase and the "profits" (at least cash in minus expenses) or a significant percentage of it is funneled to the ABIMF where it is spent on   promotion  of the seemingly ever expanding Choosing Wisely campaign as well as the medical  ethics game changing new professionalism.

Quoting Dr. Wes:'s introduction:

"Is it "medically professional" for a non-profit organization to use physician testing fees to "choose wisely" a $2.3 million luxury condominium complete with a chauffeur-driven BMW 7-series town car? In my view, obviously not. To most people such an action would conjure up images of hypocrisy, waste, and corruption.
Yet, after a review of public and tax records, it appears to me this is exactly what has happened."

Hypocrisy,waste and corruption are strong words.Dr. John Mandrola, writing on his blog "Dr. John M:" uses the words, hubris,overreach and tone deafness. in regard to the ABIM's MOC efforts.

I think  Drs. Fisher and Mandrola are if anything too restrained in their characterizations of the activities of ABIM and ABIMF.

The greater uproar and push-back from practicing internists is  directed at, understandably, the egregious and over reaching MOC program but I am afraid that the promotion of the new professionalism and the  linked political agenda may be even more dangerous to the practice of  medicine-all emanating from the ABIM-ABIMF conjoined twins.

Addendum: 1/26/15-Much deserved kudos to Dr. Wes ( AKA Dr.Wesby G Fisher,EP cardiologist) for pulling back the curtain revealing at least some the back stage activities of the ABIM-ABIMF.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Fewer hospital readmissions,the seen and the unseen and Goodhart's Law

One of the multiple provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is something called the Medicare Hospital Readmission Program.This provision links provider payments to 30 day readmission rates for three conditions-heart attack,heart failure,and pneumonia.More medical conditions are scheduled to be added to the list including chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD).

Writing in the December 4,2014 issue of the  NEJM Dr. Christine Cassel claims success for this program quoting that national readmission rates decreased from 19% to 17.5%.

 The French economist,Frederic Bastiat writing in 1850 advised his readers that a good economists not only looks as the visible effect,the seen, but needs to consider the unseen or what comes next.

What is seen here is the results of the reporting, what is unseen is the reason(s) for the decrease.

Did more patients end up in nursing homes, did more patients die at home,were more patients treated in ERs and not readmitted,what restraints , if any, were placed on ER doctors to not readmit folks recently discharged,.If someone was admitted to a different hospital did that count in the statistics?.What actions did hospitals take in a effort to minimize the likelihood of patients being readmitted?

The patients who were not readmitted are not seen. What  happened to them? Does this reported decrease in readmission rate reflect better care or just less care in the hospitals? Did more people die at home?Were more patients prematurely placed in a hospice care setting?

Thomas Sowell tells his readers that in the real world of limited resources and virtually unlimited desires that  most of times we are involved in trade offs and not solutions.What are the trade offs in this reported decrease in admission?

Has the hospital readmission program managed to be an exception to  Goodhart's'aw?

Charles Goodhart,a professor at the London School of Economics,wrote in a 1975 paper that when a measure becomes a target it ceases to be a good measure.

Although not discussed explicitly  as a example of Goodhart's law, Dr. Cassel also reviewed the ill advised six hour rule for the administration of antibiotics in patients with community acquired pneumonia.It turned out that ER personnel were too profligate in the administration of antibiotics so as to not get cited for poor care. They were like school teachers who "teach to the test".

Dr. Cassel said that the data validated the readmission policy approach. Can you claim that without knowing the mechanism(s) for the fewer readmissions? Do we know if the decrease helped or harmed patients? There was less expenditures from CMS in the hospitalization category but what costs were incurred and by whom?

Friday, December 05, 2014

Does a JAMA viewpoint essay by Dr. Harold Sox reveal what population health really means?

Dr. Harold C. Sox writing in the November 13,2013 issue of JAMA in an article entitled  "Resolving the tension between Population Health and individual health care" says:( my bolding ).

"Perhaps the de facto organizing principle for US health care,,approaching each patient strictly as an individual is obsolete.The population health approach is an alternative."

This sentence seems structured to allow for escape mechanisms. He hedges by beginning with "perhaps" and then says that" approaching each patient strictly as an individual " , so he could later claim that, of course ,treat the individual but you also have to consider the interests of society.

The money quote is :

 " Must the Population health approach compromise the needs of the individual to benefit the community?"

It will take several generations to realize the full benefit of investments in disease prevention . In the short run,the investments may draw resources away from tests and treatment for some sick people.In the long run, disease prevention and better low cost technology could reduce the outlay for treatment.In the interim, skillful clinical decision making can make the most of limited resources"

He is answering  his introductory question in the affirmative by giving an example of how an individual would suffer for the allegedly benefit of a group  and incredibly does not express any concern about sacrificing the individual to some hypothetical future benefit to the community or society.In fact and amazingly  the only benefit he actually mentions is "reduce the outlay for treatment".

 Sox continues:

 " Are the needs of the individual and the population reconcilable?
Using the same method of value and the same decision making principle for patients and for populations would be an important step toward a system that fairly allocated resources between the healthy many and the sick few"

The traditional role of the physician has been the care of "sick few".Are they now being asked to allocate some of the resources away from the sick to the "healthy many"?

But the principles involved in treating patient who requests help from a physician and  and proposing preventive measures for a population are not the same. The population has not requested help and may have not even authorized the "treatment"  A key principle in treating the individual is to respect his/her values. How can one determine the values of a population? Do all member of the population have to agree.? Is disease prevention is only principle to value, do liberty, and avoidance of coercion not matter? Who is to judge what is the fair allocation? Is disease prevention more important than treating the sick which historically is what physician basically did ?What about the possible harms of a preventive program?Should the population members have to agree to the preventive measures? Is informed consent not to be part of population medicine?

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The coruption of medical practice

Drs Hartzband and Groopman hit another major home run..See here .

This husband and wife physician team  from Harvard Medical School have published cogent thoughts before  regarding serious issues in  current day medical practice.See here for their critique of the concept of quality adjusted life year (QALY) and here .

They contend that  medical care is being corrupted by the actions of several groups-insurers,hospital networks and regulatory groups.I would add that philosophical (ethical ) cover is provided by health policy experts who are attempting to change medical ethics from one in which the  physician has a strong,primary fiduciary duty to her individual patient to one in which the physician is obligated to act in the alleged benefit of the group.This attempt is exemplified by the New Professionalism initiative which is spearheaded by the American College of Physicians (ACP) and the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM and its foundation (ABIMF) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Additionally, the movement for a "Population Medicine " approach  depends heavily on this sea change in medical ethics.Simply put- the population medicine approach is dead in the water unless physicians reject their traditional fiduciary duty to their patient.

Quoting the authors from their NYT article:

" Insurers, hospital networks and regulatory groups have put in place both rewards and punishments that can powerfully influence your doctor’s decisions.Contracts for medical care that incorporate “pay for performance” direct physicians to meet strict metrics for testing and treatment. These metrics are population-based and generic, and do not take into account the individual characteristics and preferences of the patient or differing expert opinions on optimal practice."

and later

"When a patient asks “Is this treatment right for me?” the doctor faces a potential moral dilemma. How should he answer if the response is to his personal detriment? Some health policy experts suggest that there is no moral dilemma. They argue that it is obsolete for the doctor to approach each patient strictly as an individual; medical decisions should be made on the basis of what is best for the population as a whole

addendum: 12/27/14.Minor spelling and punctuation corrections made and on 6/5/15

Friday, November 28, 2014

Does exercising efficiency decrease in cycists and walkers with aging but not runners?

The following will likely  only be of interest to older runners,walkers, cyclists and folks who like to talk about mitochondria.see here for a interesting commentary about muscular efficiency,aging and its effect of various kinds of exercise.

The mainstream current party line regarding the determinants of endurance exercise performance is that the major three factors are:

1Maximum oxygen uptake ( V02Max)there are conflicting data regarding whether regular endurance training over the years lessens that decrease with the older data supporting that idea.More recently Tanaka and others have shown that when expressed as per cent decrease from early adulthood, the rate of decline in VO2Max is not reduced in habitual aerobic exercisers.See page 58 reference no. 1.

2)Lactate threshold (LT).LT as a measure of the exercise intensity at which a person can sustain a high level of the maximal oxygen consumption.It is said to decrease with aging.Although data indicate that the absolute work rate or running speed at the LT decreases as a function of age, the LT does not change when expressed as a percentage of the 02 Max. Tanakia and Seals (ref 1) suggest that the decrease in LT is secondary to decreases in the 02Max.

3)Exercise economy .This is measured as the steady-state 02 consumption while exercising below the LT.A number of cross-sectional studies have shown that exercise economy does not change with aging.Most of the studies were done in runners but now we have a study that demonstrates a decrease in excise efficiency  in cyclists with aging.

Alex Hutchson in his Runner's World column,"Sweat Science", discussed several articles that demonstrated that older cyclists became less efficient with age but that deficit compared to the younger cyclists  was abolished by a several week period of quadriceps resistance exercises . In one study a 3 week training period increased leg strength by about 18% and cycling efficiency by about 16%. Possibly the old high school coach's comment "you are only as young as your legs might really be "you are only as old as your quads".Aging runners and cyclists can profit by adding quad resistance exercises to their exercise program.

As early as the 1980s there was experimental evidence that resistance exercise could increase mitochondrial bio-genesis and improve oxidative capacity even in a person habitually doing endurance exercise. 

1)Tanaka,H and Seals DR, Endurance exercise performance in masters athletes.
J Physio 586 1 (2008) pp 55-63

5/25/16 minor additions made regarding quadriceps exercise.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Eight high school football deaths from head or neck injury in 2014 equaling the number in 2013.

The Annual Survey of Football Injuries 1931-2013 (first author Kristen Kucera) was published in March 2014.See here for the full report.

The report distinguishes between direct death (basically brain or neck injury) and indirect death which includes a cardiac cause or heat stroke among others.

In 2013, there was 8 directs deaths ,all in high school, and nine indirect deaths seven of which were related to high school football. Of the direct deaths 6 were from brain injury and 2 were from neck injuries.There are approximately 1.1 million participants in high school football. So there were 16 death related to football in 2013 in that population.News report indicate that there have been 8 apparent direct deaths from high school football in 2014 .

Of the 8 direct deaths in 2013, 3 occurred in running backs, 2 in defensive backs and one  in wide receiver and one in line backer and the position of the eighth player was not known.

In 1976, a major football  rule change was put into place and review of the deaths tabulated by year indicates it was an important contributor to overall fewer deaths from head and neck injury but has certainty not eliminated them There were further rule changes in 2005 and 2007 designed to eliminate the use of the helmet as a weapon.. In 1976 it became illegal to make initial contact with head and face while blocking or tackling (so called "spearing").The decrease in cervical spine injuries is greater than that seen in fatal head trauma following that rule change and the increased emphasis of not hitting with the helmet.Still from 2003 through 2013, 23 high school players died from head or neck injuries and 103 died from indirect causes ( largely heat stroke and cardiac causes).

 What is thought to be the mechanism(s) involved in  the football related. fatal brain injuries . The likely candidates  are 1)acute subdural hematoma and 2)and those  of the second hit syndrome. See here for Dr. Robert Cantu's description of ten cases of the second hit  syndrome.The second hit syndrome is thought to be at least in part a disorder of cerebral blood flow auto regulation occurring acutely after a second blow to the head in a player who is still symptomatic from an earlier (perhaps unrecognized) concussion and may result in fatal herniation and brain stem compression which can occur within a few minutes of the second  head blow.

Better helmets,greater awareness of concussion and the efforts to restrict play for a concussed athlete and rule changes since 1976 are thought to have decreased fatal had  and neck injuries. Things did look like they have gotten better. From 1968 through 1971, 44 high school players died from head and neck injuries and 12 died in sandlot type football  and 12 died playing college ball and 2 died in pro and semi pro leagues.In that 4 year  time frame 70 people died from playing football .

 The reports states that data from the decade 1985 - 1994 showed reduction in those injuries.However, the data from 1995-2004 show an increase in brain fatalities over that in 1985-1994 ,namely 11 more deaths during 1995-2004 representing a 33% increase.In the latest nine year period  analyzed (2005-2013) 25 brain deaths have been recorded in high school players.

Football continues to be a sport in which there are high impact collisions which place the head and neck at a non trivial risk. It may be that the mitigating factors mentioned above (rule changes etc) have done what they can do but a very troublesome residual exists and young athletes continue to die while cheerleaders and family members gather on Friday nights to celebrate the rituals of high school football. Judo has been made mandatory part of  high school education in Japan and a number of athletes die every year as a result of head trauma associated with that sport. Understandably parents in Japan have raised  justified protests.Just imagine what protests would be raised if high school football were a mandatory part of high school education.

It has become common ( mandatory?) for an ambulance to be on hand at high school football games.I wonder if their presence is reassuring to parents or a troublesome reminder that medical tragedies continue to occur in spite of the considerable effort that has been made to avoid them.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Great Health Information Technology Flim-Flam explained in plain english

Margalit Gur-Arie has hit another out of the park on her blog "Health Care Technology". Everyone should read her recent entry entitled "Technology for Onesies-Twosies". See Here.

Her comments are aimed at the almost one half of U.S. physicians who are still in private practice, most of which are in medium or smaller groups.The topic isthe government program to "help"private docs obtain and use electronic health records (EHRs) and its "Meaningful Use" Program which is a carrot and stick approach to get  recalcitrant physicians on the program.


"Case in point: Meaningful Use is a voluntary program. The maximum incentive per Medicare physician is equivalent to seeing one more patient per week. The maximum penalty for a typical Medicare physician can be recuperated by seeing one more patient per week. The cost of using a Meaningful Use EHR, in both cash and physician time, far exceeds one weekly visit. Can someone please enlighten me on why there is no market (and trust me, there isn’t) for non-government sanctioned technology that is purposely built to serve doctors? Remember, you own more than half the market."

Bottom line- signing on to the government subsidy EHR program is not just a bad idea it is much worse than that. Note, the computer programs that are government sanctioned are for the most part not meant to help the physician practice medicine nor to help the patient receive better care.Read her entire article and find out who really benefits.Spoiler- it ain't the patients and physicians.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Does much of the blame for sarcopenia rest on the satellite cells of the fast twitch muscle fibers?

Well, at least some of the blame anyway.

Dr. LB Verdijk and coworkers at the Masstricht University in The Netherlands have published several articles contributing insights into at least some of what goes on with the age related loss of muscle size and strength.See here and here.

Their work deals with satellite cells (SC), so called because in their resting form they hang out on the periphery of skeletal muscle cells, wedged between the basement membrane and the sarcolemma.They are the muscle's stem cells. They are poised to multiply and to differentiate into myofibers when signaled by damage such as occurs with strenuous exercise.

Their 2007 publication  gives a good summary in the article's title, "Satellite cell content is specifically reduced in type II skeletal muscle fibers in the elderly" The authors performed muscle biopsies in the lateral thigh in 80 elderly subjects (age 76 +/- 1 yr) and 80 twenty year olds. The proportion and mean cross-sectional area of type II fibers was reduced in the elderly  as were  the number of satellite cells per fiber .A similar pattern was not noted in the slow twitch (type I) fibers.The type II fibers were smaller and fewer in number and contained fewer satellite cells per fiber .

Now for the sorta  good news.

A more recent article from the same  research group in the Netherlands reported that a 12 week program of resistance exercise training significantly increased both muscle fibers size and satellite cell count in type II fibers in elderly subjects. This was part of a more comprehensive study which examined muscle fiber type and satellite cell content in 165 subjects in various age ranges. 49 of which were 70-86 years of age.Also a subset of elderly subjects took part in a 12 week resistance exercise program .Muscle biopsies after the training program demonstrated increased type II fiber size and satellite cell content.

It seems plausible that the satellite cell awakening induced by resistance exercise was instrumental in muscle cell growth.There are , of course, many other factors in the muscle loss of aging including loss of sex hormones,increase in inflammatory cytokines,inactivity,poor nutrition and loss of anterior horn cells,among others. Resistance exercise in the setting of adequate protein intake  is not the fountain of muscle youth but so far it seems the best we've got.

A final word.writing as someone who has run more ( much more ) than can be justified  based on reasonable  concerns of improving health .Running will not prevent sarcopenia. While running on level ground the quadriceps does little more than stabilizes the patella. I suppose running up and down hills may activate some type II fibers but basic jogging will not prevent the age related loss of muscle size and strength.That requires resistance exercise and adequate protein intake.Apparently you need resistance exercise to mitigate the age related loss of fast twitch muscle fibers.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Can long standing endurance exercise training mitigate the of age related loss of compliance of left ventricle?

With more evidence available to generate legitimate concern about an increased risk of atrial fibrillation with  many years of endurance exercise and papers about long time endurance athletes and the  much less likely risk of developing arrhymogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD), some good news for the crazy, old long distance runners was very welcome.

Here is a link to summary of the paper by Dr. Paul Bhella et al. entitled "Impact of Lifelong Exercise "dose" on Left Ventricular Compliance and Distensibility"

Here is the authors'conclusion :

" Low doses of casual, lifelong exercise do not prevent the decreased compliance and distensibility observed with healthy, sedentary aging. In contrast, 4 to 5 exercise sessions/week throughout adulthood prevent most of these age-related changes. As LV stiffening has been implicated in the pathophysiology of many cardiovascular conditions affecting the elderly, this "dose" of exercise training may have important implications for prevention of cardiovascular disease."

Is there an age related decrease in left ventricular compliance.  According to a 1984 article by Rodeheffet et al the aging heart may be able to maintain cardiac output in the face of an age associated decrease in maximal heart rate by increasing stroke volume. See here for link. The older person relies more on an increase in end diastolic volume and riding the beneficial part of the Starling curve, but if the left ventricle become less compliant, which it is claimed it does as a function of age that adaptation would only work for a while.

Is the decrease in LV compliance due to just getting old or might it be due to lack of vigorous physical exercise. Dr. Armin-Zaeh and coworkers at the Dallas Based Institute for exercise and environment medicine  believe  it is the latter. See here.  My personal bias is obviously to agree with them. Here are the conclusions from the above linked article.

"In conclusion, a sedentary lifestyle is associated with a decline of ventricular compliance, leading to higher cardiac filling pressures and lower stroke volumes for a given filling volume compared with age-matched athletes or young individuals. Prolonged, sustained endurance training preserves ventricular compliance with aging and may be an important approach to reduce the probability of heart failure with aging."

A partial,apparent  counterpoint to the  above studies can be found here in this 2003 article by  P E Gates and co-authors whose analysis and summary minimized the importance of one of their own findings  ( namely that a standard measure of diastolic function (the e/a ratio) was higher in endurance trained subjects) and instead emphasized the value of the decreased arterial stiffness noted in long term exercisers.Either way, a less stiff ventricle and/or a less stiff aorta, it is  good news to long term endurance exercisers.

addendum: 10/1/14 Correction made on title, "Stiffness" changed to "Compliance"
addendum-1/22/14 Title reworded to a less awkward version 

addendum; 10/4/15 An article by Daniel Forman  entiltted "Enhanced left ventricular filling associated with long term endurance exercise." The title tells their conclusion . The link below is just for an abstract so I cannot comment on the data or how well their summary captures the data. or how old the masters were. The authors state "Early ventricular filling indices in master athletes more closely resemble transmitral flow patterns of health young adults." (Journal of Gerontology 1992, 47 2)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Another chapter in "were you wrong then doctor, or are you wrong now?" this time regarding stenting of non culprit lesions.

The American College of Cardiology recently retracted one of its magic five "Choosing Wisely" recommendations.In 2012 ACC had advised that in the setting of an acute coronary event one should only revascularize the "culprit artery".This is the artery thought to be responsible for the event and if other obstructions are detected the ACC said that there was evidence that the fix everything approach might be harmful.This advice was based on non randomized trials. Here is ACC's official statement.

Now apparently two randomized trials  suggest one should fix (place a stent in ) the other obstructions. Here is quote from ACC:

 “over the last two years, new science has emerged showing potential improvements for some patients in their overall outcomes as a result of complete revascularization.”

Larry Husten,prolific medical journalist whose Forbes article on this subject is linked above, really nailed it , quote:

" It seems to me that the medical organizations that produce guidelines should freely admit this lack of evidence for most recommendations. Then, instead of getting their panties all in a bunch trying to defend the indefensible– as we saw recently with the salt guideline– they could advocate for better evidence...So if they want to make the case for more data they will have to first acknowledge their ignorance.

Acknowledging ignorance seems the last thing  likely to emerge from the guidelines generating organizations.

In 1728, the three verdict system arose in Scottish Criminal cases.The accused could be found guilty,not guilty or not proven. So guilty, not guilty or admitting their ignorance and admitting we just can't say.

Being  a guideline author seems to confer immunity for having to say you are sorry.  The individual physician strives to do what is the right thing for his patient and hopes that what he does is right, the quality rule makers are able to summon up sufficient hubris to  presume to know what is good for everyone. Of course they frequently do not. Remember the beta blocker fiasco.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Are pediatric football concussions different from high school and college head trauma?

It would be nice to think so and a 2012 study by Maugans et al provides some data ( see here for full text) which suggests it may be the case. Eight young football players  (in a study of 12 athletes ) were studied early post concussion and at two subsequent times.The football players ages were : two 12 year olds,one thirteen year old,three 14 years olds and 2 aged 15.

Multiple Imaging techniques were used . The diffusion tensor imaging (TDI) tests were normal  as were conventional MRIs,and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

 This is in contrast to two studies in college and two studies in high school football players, none of whom experienced a concussion ,which showed decreased fractional anisotropy (FA) in certain white matter tracts and/or functional MR  abnormality in the dorso-lateral frontal cortex.See here for Talavage's article regarding functional MR changes in high school players.

Further ,one study (Bazarian,  (see here for full text)) showed persistence of the TDI changes six months after the college football  season ended. Here is the authors' summary:

" we have demonstrated that a single football season of RHIs  [ repeated head impacts]without clinically evident concussion resulted in WM changes on DTI. These DTI changes correlated with multiple helmet impact measures and persisted despite 6 months of no-contact rest. This lack of WM recovery could potentially contribute to progressive, cumulative WM damage with subsequent RHI exposures. If this relationship is confirmed in longitudinal studies, efforts to limit the development of RHI-related WM changes by monitoring helmet impact measures, and further elucidation of modifiable factors that may influence WM recovery, could mitigate the long-term risk of CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy]."

Maugan's group did demonstrate decrease in  cerebral blood flow ( CBF) in the concussed subjects which tended to return to normal over a few weeks.The authors' conclusion;

"Pediatric SRC [sports related concussion] is primarily a physiologic injury, affecting CBF significantly without evidence of measurable structural, metabolic neuronal or axonal injury.(I am still trying to figure out what a "physiologic injury" means.)
What might account for the apparent differences in brain scan results in the college and high school players and the younger athletes studied by Maugan?

Possibly the younger players have a  threshold for CNS symptoms given a head blow  that is lower that the  threshold for whatever tissue changes take place that are reflected in DTI findings.There are contradictory data regarding the question of whether younger brain are more or less susceptible to damage for head trauma.

While it has been shown that  some head  impact levels ( as measured by accelerometers in helmets) in  youth football may approach those demonstrated in high school and college they are on average lower.(see here for full text of article by Cobb, 2013 for detailed data of head impact forces ) Further, the total number of impacts in a season of high school or college practice and game time may be considerably more than in a season of youth football and it may be the cumulative effects is what drives the DTI changes and whatever underlying tissue changes that may occur.Also as the years pile up, youth football and then high school and then college and then for a few professional football the total  number of head impacts grows and it may be the long term cumulative effect of multiple sub-concussive plus the occasional concussive blow that  leads to CTE in a minority of football participants.A definitive link between the imaging findings on active players and the pathological changes seen in chronic traumatic encephalopathy has yet to be established.

Although parents may feel some reassurance from Maugan's research, there is little to be reassured about in  the brain imaging studies of high school and college football players following a concussion free season as well as those studies on players with concussions.There is certainly little reassurance offered in this lengthy and detailed  article from Rolling Stone.There is an increasing about of research on the effects of football related head trauma ( as well as ice hockey) .One pundit, a retired football  player,commented  that it is the parents who really need their heads examined.

Addendum : Minor alterations in syntax and spelling and grammar done on 9.24.14.The original, unfinished version was published on 9/19/14 by mistake .

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Is the "triple aim of health care" analogous to the dual mandate of the Federal Reserve

Well, it can be argued that they are both unachievable and the execution of their aims and goals will require wise men such as the "Men of system" discussed by Adam Smith.

In 1977,  Congress, having accepted at least part of the theory of Keynesian economics, amended The Federal Reserve Act, with the passage of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act, stating the monetary policy objectives of the Federal Reserve as:

"The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Open Market Committee shall maintain long run growth of the monetary and credit aggregates commensurate with the economy's long run potential to increase production, so as to promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices and moderate long-term interest rates."

In other words, the Federal Reserve System is tasked by law to control inflation and maximize employment in spite of the fact, given the tools to which the system has access, that the two mandates might be incompatible.

Dr Don Berwick speaks of medicine's "triple aim"  ( as envisioned by the Institute for Health Care Improvement)  : Population health,the patient's experience and the per capita cost.The collective medicinal "we" should strive  to improve population health,the individual patient's experience and reduce the per capita cost.

I am reminded of a series of  articles in JAMA in 1994 by Dr. David Eddy ( "Rationing resources while improving quality" ) in which he promised to provide a means to improve quality of medical care and reduce costs. This was to be done by utilizing a utilitarian cost calculus.The idea was to do what was best for the group,the health care collective statistically, even though he admitted that in such a system there would be winners and losers but the utility to the former would out way the dis utility to the minority. Of course in this scheme quality had to be defined or redefined as  what is better for the aggregate. At least Eddy was candid about there being losers,in Berwick's utopian visions in the picture he paints there seem only to be winners.The population will do better, the individual patient's experience will improve and "we" will spend less money per patient. Everyone will do better and it will even cost less.What could possibly be wrong with that?

I believe that IHI's policy recommendations are basically Eddy's prescription adorned with a layer or two of management-speak verbiage dumped on the top to obfuscate what is really happening. When you claim to improve population health care or outcome and simultaneously  decrease per capital costs, you essentially are doing a cost effectiveness analysis based on a statistical benefit to some group ( e.g. those covered lives in an ACO or HMO) regardless of what determent might befall some other  individuals in the group making the third aim of improving the  patient's experience little more than a fraudulent claim. This is population medicine dressed up in polite euphemisms designed to flimflam the members of the health care collective.

Both Dr. Robert Berenson and Dr. Harold Sox,former president of the American College of Physicians, are  perhaps more candid about about their visions for medical care in the country.

Berenson writing in 1998 in the Annals of Internal Medicine said.

"We propose that devotion to the best interests of each individual be replaced with an ethic of devotion to the best interests of the group for which the physician is personally responsible.

Berenson makes it clear that the individual's interest should be trumped by the group's interest.

Dr Harold Sox, former president of the American College of Physicians, in his commentary regarding "population medicine"  made it clear that in shifting funds from managing one disease to another would involve for at least a few generations a situation in which some patients might not receive  treatment so that others might enjoy some type of preventive measures.

Quoting Sox's  November 12, 2013 JAMA commentary:

 "Planning to optimize population health will mean determining the frequency,causes and consequences of he common medical conditions in a population and devising strategies for dealing with them over a lifetime. "...
resources must be allocated across program to prevent,detect and treat disease and its risk factors. "...One reasonable principle to move resources from groups of patients less likely to benefit to groups more likely to benefit...

With the application of this utilitarian calculus there will be winners and losers which Sox seems to admit implicitly the following paragraph.

"It will take several generations to realize the benefit of investments in disease prevention.In the short run, these investments may draw resources away from the tests and treatment of some sick people.In the long run, diseased prevention and better low-cost technology could reduce the outlay for treatment."

If Berwick's, triple aim is something other than  the utilitarian approach of Eddy,Berenson and Sox I wish someone would explain. It is the old wine in newly labeled bottles, this time labeled "enhanced patient experience" and the platitudinous "patient centered care" when really it is the greatest good for the greatest number as judged by cost effectiveness calculation and the real winners are the third party payers and their fellow travelers.

addendum: 12.8/2014.Some editorial changes made to clarify some points and correct spelling.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Is there convincing evidence that some high school football players develop traumatic brain injury without sustaining a concussion?

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is classified as mild,moderate and severe based on mental status change and duration of loss of consciousness (LOC). Mild TBI  involves LOC less than 30 minutes and corresponds to  a Glascow Coma Scale rating of 13-15. For example, a football player who appears stunned and confused with only brief of no loss of consciousness would have a Glascow score of 14.

A major element of TBI is diffuse axonal injury thought to be caused by rotational and linear acceleration of the brain. Conventional MR imaging and CT images do not detect that type of changes. However, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) can detect changes in fiber tracts reflecting changes in diffusion of water into nerve tissues.A DTI based measurement ,fractional anisotropy (FA) ,reflects water movement along the axons.In normal tissue FA is high ( approaches 1)

DTI abnormalities have been demonstrated in concussive cases of  mild TBI and the degree of abnormality correlates with the severity of post trauma symptoms.(see here). Typically FA increases acutely in TBI and later on values are decreased (see here ), although there is some inconsistency about the direction of change in this measurement  in the literature and there are case reports in which acutely FA decreases.

Football players  college,high school and professional, who have sustained concussions,have been shown to have abnormal DTIs.

There are  several publications  (1. Davenport et al,2.Talavage,3.Barzarian  4.McAllister )describing research involving college and high school football players that have shown similar DTI changes in athletes who did not have clinical concussions,These imaging changes seem related to multiple sub-concussive head blows.Some studies-but not all- have also shown that these DTI findings correlate with decrements in memory test results over the course of one season.Generally these DTI abnormalities correlate with measurements of acceleration forces of the skull detected by in- helmet accelerometers.

 1)EM Davenport and her colleagues from Wake Forest studied the cumulative effects of head impacts in a single high school football season in players without a recognized concussion.(Abnormal white matter integrity related to head impact exposure in a season of high school varsity football" J of Neurotrauma 2014 Jul 14, published ahead of print).

The authors' summary:

"We show that a single season of football can produce MRI measurable brain changes that have been previously associated with mTBI (mild TBI) .Finally, we demonstrate that these impact related changes in the brain have a strong association with postseason change in cognitive function." The cognitive function was noted in a verbal memory composite score which correlated with the magnitude of the MR findings.

 2) TM Talavage and coworkers studied 11 high school players with functional MRs (fMR),measures of head impact events and neurocognitive function testing. "Functionally detected cognitive impairments in high school football players without clinically diagnosed concussion." J of Neurotrauma. 31:327-338,Feb 2014)

 Unlike most of imaging studies of TBI this group found abnormalities in the frontal lobe with functional MR.DTI was not done.

 Quoting from the authors summary:

"Additionally, we observed players in a previously undiscovered third category, who exhibited no clinically-observed symptoms associated with concussion, but who demonstrated measurable neurocognitive (primarily visual working memory) and neurophysiological (altered activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex [DLPFC])."

3 JJ Bazarian  studied 10 college football players over the course of one season. ( "Persistent Long Term cerebral White Matter Changes after Sports related Repetitive Head Impacts. Plos one 9(4),e94737)

 Head impacts were recorded and measured by helmet accelerometers and DTI was done preseason, immediately post season and six months after the end of the season.

 DTI abnormalities in white matter were noted in these players none of whom sustained a clinically evident concussion. The changes in most players,but not all, were also seen in the six month followup images. .. There was a positive  correlation between number of head impacts and DTI findings. The DTI changes were not correlated with changes in cognitive testing or tests of balance.

4)  TW McAllister's study involved 80 college football and hockey players ( "Effect of head impact of diffusivity measures in a cohort of collegiate contact sports athletes", Neurol. 10:1212/01Dec 11 2013.)
Quoting the authors:
"The magnitude of  [TDI] change in corpus callosum MD (mean diffusivity) was associated with poorer performance on a measure of verbal learning and memory."  Again these findings occurred in players with no recognized concussions.

The risk of concussion is greater in certain positions such as quarterback and wide receivers. Lineman , on the other hand have fewer concussions but most experience multiple head impacts during each game and each full contact practice session.See here for a detailed study on impact forces on various player positions.

Maugans and coworkers studied athletes younger than typical varsity high school players.These players were 12 to 15 years of age and DTI scans done fairly soon after the concussion did not show abnormalities in diffusion indicators including fractional anisotropy.

Dementia Pugilistica as a clinical condition in professional boxers was described as a clinical entity in a JAMA article in 1928.In 1973 the pathological findings were published. In 2005,Omalu et al published the results of an autopsy on an National Football League  player, Pittsburgh Steeler center,Mike Webster, on whom Dr. Omalu had performed an autopsy 3 yearns earlier.This was the first report of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a football player.

Zhang et al provided some data regarding brain changes in boxers who were symptoms free and who had a normal neurological exam. 47 professional boxers ( age 30 +/-4.5 years ) underwent conventional MRIs and DTIs.In 42 the conventional MRI was normal while 7 demonstrated some focal non specific white matter changes. The 42 demonstrated abnormal DTIs, with decreased fractional anisotropy in regions of the corpus callosum and internal capsule.Boxers have been the canaries in a coal mine.Their experience has made it clear that repeated blows to head can cause permanent progressive brain damage that is not immediately apparent but develops over a  variably long period of time.The question is to what extent does this apply to football in which the players wear helmets.For years it was believed that helmets were adequately protective but now that view is increasingly less plausible.

By 2013 the NFL agreed to settle a class action law suit brought about by former NFL players and their families  but the judge did not agree to the amount offered..Now the NFL has seemingly admitted that as many as one third of players will develop some sort of cognitive impairment and that they will have funds available to cover the agreement.

The distinction between a concussive and a sub-concussive head blow is on the margin indeterminate.  A player may experience a blow to the head and feel slightly dizzy or dazed and not report those symptoms to the coach or trainer. There may be social or peer pressures on players to not report symptoms as they would be benched and not allowed to play until they complete whatever concussion protocol is in place.So the distinction between a group of players with a concussion and a group with no history of reported concussion is  not one based on clear cut objective criteria,often relying on the voluntary reporting of subjective symptoms.So it should not be surprising that cognitive tests and brain imaging studies show similar findings in football players with and without a concussion history.

So in reply to the title question, yes I believe there is convincing evidence, But there has not yet been established a clear linage between the changes in cognitive tests and brain imaging studies  seen after a season of high school or college football  and the development of  chronic traumatic encephalopathy .


Sunday, August 31, 2014

The effects of multiple sub-concussion head blows in football

Two research  groups have demonstrated brain imaging findings in collegiate football players over the course of a season.Importantly these abnormal findings occurred in players who did not experience a concussion..While concussions occurring at all levels of football competition has finally attracted some long overdue attention,more recently the significance of so called " sub-concussive" head blows is under scrutiny.

Bazarian et al studied 10 college football players over the course of one season. ( "Persistent Long Term cerebral White Matter Changes after Sports related Repetitive Head Impacts. Plos one 9(4),e94737)

 Head impacts were recorded and measured by helmet accelerometers and brain imaging was done preseason, immediately post season and six months after the end of the season. Imaging was done by the diffusion tensor technique (DTI).This MR technique can demonstrate abnormalities in the white matter and can visualize connections of fiber tracts between different parts of the brain.Current theory regarding traumatic brain injury is that axons are stretched with resultant micro damage.These changes are not detectable by conventional MR while DTI is capable of detecting abnormalities associated with so-called mild brain trauma.

White matter changes were noted in these players none of whom sustained a clinically evident concussion.
The changes in most players,but not all, were also seen in the six month followup images. Evidently in some cases the 6 month period with no head impacts allowed recovery or at least return to the pre season scan pattern.. There was a correlation between number of head impacts and DTI findings. The DTI changes were not correlated with changes in cognitive testing or tests of balance.The authors state that it is not known whether the changes noted represented damage per se or recovery and beneficial plasticity. The number of head impacts ranged from a low of 431 to 1850.Multiple head impacts occur regularly in lineman while quarterbacks and wide receivers are more at risk for more severe single hits and concussions.

A possibly encouraging  finding in the Bazarian study  is that none of players demonstrated any scan abnormalities at the beginning of the season.One would expect that if these findings were to persist for very long periods of time (longer than 6 months) that these players who likely played football for a number of years by this time would have shown some abnormality from repeated head blows.

Another TDI imaging study was published by TW McAllister ( Effect of head impact of diffusivity measures in a cohort of collegiate contact sports athletes, Neurol. 10:1212/01Dec 11 2013.) There was at least one important difference from Bazarian's results. Quoting the authors from this study which involved 80 varsity football and ice hockey players and 79 non contact sports participants:

 "The magnitude of change in corpus callosum MD (mean diffusivity) was associated with poorer performance on a measure of verbal learning and memory."

What are the underlying tissue changes corresponding to the DTI patterns? No one knows whether they represent damage to the axon and or the myelin  sheath and/or edema. See here for a comprehensive discussion of the DTI technique and findings in head trauma.

Regardless of the exact relationship between imaging findings and the tissue changes, it is difficult  to argue that subjecting (allowing) young brains to sustain multiple hits can be anything other than potentially harmful.Although recent emphasis on concussion and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has lead to some rule changes in the direction of limiting to some degree head blows and rules regarding management of concussions ( when to be allowed to return to play etc) ,every Friday night tens of thousand of young men hit each other repeatedly in the head and are cheered on by hundred of thousands of football fans and parents. For now the dogs continue to bark while the caravan moves on.

ADDENDUM:9/4/14 and again on 9/24/14
Much to no one's surprise a similar study has been published involving measurement of head impact forces and DTI changes in a high school football team over the course of a season. (Devenport,EM et al, "Abnormal white matter integrity related to head impact exposure in a season of high school varsity football"
J of Neurotrauma 2014 Jul 14, published ahead of print) .There was a significant linear relationship between their measured impact force and DTI changes as well as relationship between DTI measurements and changes in a memory test.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What would happen if Choosing Wisely became the medical "law of the land"?

Choosing Wisely (CW) is an initiative or campaign lead by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation (ABIMF) to change the thinking of physicians and patients so that the choice of  medical tests and treatments are chosen  wisely in such a way as to greatly reduce waste of resources and harm to the patient.At least that is the way in which its proponents frame it.

It began as an apparent low-key program to simply have the physician and her patient sit down together and have a  conversation about what needed to be done in a particular patient's case and it continues in part to be marketed as such. So, if for example that a given test, e.g. MR of the lumbar spine,might not be ordered if it were the case that an MR in that stylized scenario had not been shown to be helpful.The patient would be subject to possibly harm of a false positive tests and the possible cascade of more testing,etc etc.

However in the two years since the launching of CW ( at the time of this writing) several policy experts and wonks have envisioned a much more full bodied, authoritative and coercive role  for the pronouncements announced under the CW brand.  It is this expanded role for CW that I refer to as the medical law of the land.. From simply reducing waste and  harm a second wave of CW is devoted to reducing "low value" services,however that may be defined.

So based on some of these experts' recommendations, what would the medical landscape look in the era in which the decisions of Choosing Wisely would be much more than the suggestions or recommendations,which is how they are sometimes presented  and  instead be  determinative in regard to the reimbursements of third party payers, private and public as well as  being used in decisions regarding medical specialty certification  and maintenance of certification and other mechanisms to decrease medical costs.

Consider the comments of Dr Robert Benson Jr.,President Emeritus of the ABIM and ABIMF  writing on the ABIMF blog with bolding of words added by me:

" 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."

So, a candidate for ABIM certification would have to properly quote the Choosing Wisely rules recommendations before he even gets to take the certification or MOC examination.

This recent commentary by Dr N.E. Morden and her co-authors from Yale and Harvard tells the same story.

"..physician-endorsed low-value labels will probably be leveraged to these purposes. [cost containment and quality measures]...We believe that if such efforts are designed and applied carefully they should be embraced as a promising method for reducing low-value services."

...linking the lists ( of tests and procedures not to do ) to specialty specific maintenance of certification  activities such as practice audits and improvement tasks could also advance their dissemination and uptake at very low cost."

"...Choosing Wisely items should also be incorporated into quality-measurement efforts such as Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Physician Quality Reporting  ...linking low value service use to financial incentives ( translate penalties )  .. should accelerate ...into practice changes."

So payment for physician services,quality ratings,and maintenance of board certification are linked to adherence to the "recommendations" of  CW.

In this proposed choosing -wisely world the deciders at CW assume a very powerful position.Various special interest groups stake holders would have great incentive to lobby the CW leaders,to do what they could to direct the "recommendations". Physicians would have to follow the CW guidance or risk loosing certification let alone payment for services. As bound as physicians would be to the  dictates of the CW authority how much trust could a patient have that his physician is acting in his ( the patient's) best interests .Making CW the medical law of the land would be a giant step toward the collectivization of medicine and destruction of the traditional physician patient relationship.

Of course, all of those sky-is-falling comments are in stark contrast to what one would read on the websites promoting the CW campaign.. There we hear  marketing phrases such as "ensuring the right care at the right time" and doing reasonable, sensible things and involving the patients in the decision process. Mom and apple pie with ice cream on the pie is the image floating above  the CW advertising efforts, but when one reads the comments of Benson and Morden et al  that outlines what they want to do,a different, darker side of CW is visible.So what is it: an idealized physician-patient collaborative effort or advocacy for  an alarming  level of medical care hegemony lead by select members of the higher echelons of the progressive medical elite who seem to believe that carrots are not enough .The ABIMF ( financed largely by the ABIM) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are spending millions of dollars convincing the public and members of the medical profession that Choosing Wisely is a collaborative,thoughtful movement that just wants to ensure that patients get the right care at the right time while the President Emeritus of ABIM(F) and some policy wonks from Yale and Harvard talk a markedly different game.

Today's trial balloons may well become tomorrow's policies and governing rules about how medicine is practiced and it will not be all about the right treatment at the right time.It will be about the most cost effective means of achieving quality adjusted life years as that is valued by someone other than those trying to live those years.

Addendum: Minor changes in grammar and style made on 10/8/14 and on 12/28/14 and on 2/20/15

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The crusade to change medical ethics,custom and practice gains momentum

The mega-thought leaders,the established leadership of some of the major,influential professional medical organizations, and an alarming numbers of fellow travelers are on a quest to change the thinking of the worker-bee physicians,and the general public (who are either now patients or potential patients) from the long established model of the physician as an advocate and fiduciary to the patient to one in which the physician is a steward  of "scarce medical resources" which are characterized as being owned by society.But the physicians who are tricked into acting in that way are not preserving "society's resources" but rather they are boosting the bottom line of some vertically integrated health care entity.

Early explorations  and exhortations of this theme in the major medical literature are exemplified by one article in the Annals of Internal Medicine and a series of articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).I chose these articles because the authors were quite explicit about their recommendations.

A series of articles was published in 1995 in JAMA authored by Dr. David Eddy that discussed the metrics and merits of decision analysis which he hailed to be a mechanism to increase the quality of medical care while reducing costs. Eddy defined quality as the greatest medical good for the greatest number within the eco-medical collective (aka HMO now this might be an ACO) It did not go unnoticed to the skeptical reader that Dr. Eddy listed his affiliation as "Kaiser Permanente of Southern California")

In 1998 M.A. Hall,a law professor, and Dr. Robert A. Berenson writing in the Annals of Internal Medicine said that "the traditional ideal" [the prime duty to the patient ] was "not compatible with the role that existing insurance contracts and manged care arrangements define for physicians."
"We propose that devotion to the best interests of each individual be replaced with an ethic of devotion to the best interests of the group for which the physician is personally responsible."

Berenson and Hall  justified this  ethical sea change because the role that insurance contracts would  define for the physicians.Medical ethics must change to accommodate the bottom line of the third party payers.If traditional ethics were in the way,just change the ethics and that is exactly what the ACP and the ABIMF are attempting to do.Never mind that for the most part one of the characteristics of a profession is that it and not a third party defines its ethics.They seemed to either rewrite the definition of a profession or declare that the practice of medicine was not really a profession at all.

 Dr.Berenson Joined HCFA in 1998.His biography found at the ECRI website indicates that from 1987 to 1997 he was a Vice President at the Lewin Group.Lewin is part of Ingenix which is owned by United Health Care Group.Ingenix changed its name to Optuminsight in early 2011.(See here for details.)He is a fellow at the Urban Institute and in  2010 he became vice of  the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MEDPAC)

 In a recent NEJM roundtable, Dr. Atul Gawande, summed it up with this reference to "a new culture in practicing medicine"  in which physicians will "prioritize our responsibilities as shepherds of scare social resources  to the same extent that we've historically prioritized our responsibilities for providing benefits to our specific patients"  This, or course, is nothing new. The American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation (ABIMF) and the ACP has been promoting this notion of  physicians as stewards of resources as part of the new Medical Professionalism which debuted in prime time in 2002 in a well funded campaign. ABIMF received some $ 13 million from the ABIM  which apparently represented receipts well in excess of costs of the various testing programs ABIM administers to internists. Another $ 5 million was in the form of a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,

 The Choosing Wisely campaign is well funded and is in part funded ironically by thousands of internists who sent off their checks to take a certification exam likely unaware their payments to ABIM is used in part to  support a political, philosophical campaign  whose mission appears to be to usher in the medicine of the collective.

It gets ever worse.Consider the following comments of Dr. John Benson Jr,former CEO of ABIM and ABIMF: (my underlining)

" 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."

If a candidate does not learn the Choosing Wisely catechism or some other subjective view of what is and is not high value to the letter she would not even be "allowed" to take the certification exam. 

 You have to wonder  how the typical patient would  feel if he knew that his physician  was devoted to the best interests of some statistical aggregate, perhaps those who found themselves in some or other ACA or HMO or being treated in some large hospital system.It is not clear to me how many physicians have adopted that perverse devotion but it is clear that the caravan of the medical progressives is expending much effort and money to that end and I am afraid while some dogs  are barking objections the caravan will move on.

I still remember the elation and pride that I had when I learned I has passed the Internal Medicine examination ( I became board certified so long ago there was still a written and a oral exam). Now as I look at the efforts of the ACP and the ABIM to destroy the traditional medical ethics of devotion to the patient, pride is not the emotion I feel.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Is "low value [medical] care like Justice's Stewart's definition of pornography?

In a 1964 obscenity case, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart admitted that he might not be able to specifically define the parameters of pornography but " I know it when I see it".

I wonder if a similar situation exists with the concept of low value medical care (LVC) which is  a main talking point in a campaign spearheaded by the American Board of Medicine Foundation (ABIMF).

Surely this term is not just a floating abstraction. I thought I had  simply missed the definition in reading about LVC. Off to Google to enter "definition of Low value care". Neither Google nor Bing lead me to a generally accepted definition of low value care or for that matter value in health care in general.

In fact the literature of health care value is bereft of a general consensus as described in this quote from Dr.Scott D. Ramsey writing in the Oncologist :

"one of the most enduring and controversial topics in medicine is the concept of what constituents value in health care"

The concepts of the business management  guru, Michael E. Porter are widely quoted and for him value is defined as "health outcome per dollar spent" but he spends considerable effort in explicating how elusive and difficult that is to put into meaningful operational use.

Given that the term value lacks a clear definition and defined operational boundaries, how did the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation (ABIMF) expect many medical professional organization to conjure up a list of low value procedures? That initiative was part of their "Choosing Wisely " Campaign. Yet a list were generated  by some process or processes with some or other operational meaning of low value.I guest these medical thought leaders know it when they see it.

Professor Catherine MacClean of University of Pennsylvania gives this definition of low value health care, which seems to be close to if not on the mark and at least  is more substantive:

"any care for which there exists an alternative form of care this is both equally  effective and lower cost. In this regard no care or watchful waiting is eligible for the designation "alternative form" I wonder how many of the  "Choosing Wisely" campaign's wise choices  meet that definition.

 I think that more than a few writers who talk about low value care may be using  little more than Justice Stewart's ocular  technique.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Population medicine approach meets Public Choice theory and practice

What happens with the population medicine approach (PMA) when one considers how thing really work according to the insights of public choice theory (PCT). Spoiler alert-you get much more cronyism,favoritism,and focused benefits and diffused costs with certain special interest groups profiting greatly.

Considering what went on with the writing of ACA what groups would be likely to profit from a governmental run PMA? Big Pharma,big health care insurance , big hospital system,big prescription drug management companies,and lots of consultants who will claim to be able to explain it all.

Recall some of the details of the profitable,magical revolving doors that were prominent  in the creation and the subsequent development   of The Affordable Care act.

 Leading the list has to be Nancy DeParle.See here for Dr Roy Poses's comments on her travels in and out of business and in and out of prominent roles in government.

Senator Max Baucus's chief counsel,Liz Fowler, was singled out by the good senator for her important work in crafting the ACA. See here for my earlier comments about the ins and outs of her moving from health related business to  Baucus' influential  committee and back again.

More recently is the interesting matter of the new deputy administrator of CMS,Andrew Slavitt,who assumed that post fresh from his executive position at Optum/QSSI, a subsidiary of the country's largest medical insurer, United Health Group. Optum was hired by HHS to set up the internet hub for Obamacare.The ethics "rule" that a person leaving a private organization to a governmental agency cannot interact in an official capacity with that firm for one year was waived in the case of Slavitt . See here for details.

 Should anyone be surprised that a deputy administrator of CMS would become chairman of ABIMF Board of trustees.

Glenn M. Hackbarth ,JD was a deputy administrator of Healthcare finance administration (the precursor organization to Center for Medicare Services  and  until recently was the chair of the board of trustees of the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation (ABIMF).

Should anyone be surprised that Sam Ho, an executive Vice President of United Health Care, served on an Institute of Medicine Committee that was charged to devise recommendations to the administration regarding what elements should be included in the mandatory health insurance proposed under Obamacare?

Answer to both- of course not.

After all who should know better what coverages should be included in a program that forces everyone to buy health care insurance than the CEO of an insurance company who will make out like crazy when the bill is enacted?

After all why would  one  of  the hierarchy of the largest third party payer ( ie Medicaid and Medicare) not wish to associate with a foundation that strives to conserve the nation's health resources?

No, these are not instances of strange bedfellows but rather folks synchronizing and harmonizing  their mutual interests? All these folks are just dedicated to providing quality health care to everyone while wisely making choices that will preserve our finite medical resources.

Should anyone be surprised that a former vice president of a large medical insurer (WellPoint)  was the key author of the Obamacare bill as it came out of Senator Baucus's committee? Of course not. who would be better qualified for that task than Elizabeth Fowler who was also chosen by the administration to oversee the administration of the statute after it was passed?

So what does all of this have to do with PMA and PCT? The history of the cahoots and cronyism of ACA provides the answer.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Dr. Gruber-were you wrong then or are you wrong now?

The "were you wrong then.." question is a classic attorney question thrown at an expert witness who has been caught in a contradiction. It seems that would be an appropriate one for Dr. Jonathan Gruber, a MIT economist who is often cited as an architect of Obamacare.Actually he was the architect of the Massachusetts health care law on which Obamacare is said to have been crafted but apparently did play some role in giving advice re: ACA.

In remarks recorded and played repeatedly on the web Gruber make it clear that he believed that only states could issue the subsidies.His comments indicated that states who did not sign on to Obamacare would be doing a great disservice to the its poor citizens as that was, he said, the only way they could get subsidies.
When a Federal court rules that his view was correct he changed his view and claimed that of course the Federal Government could give the subsidies.

See here for an article from Reason which quotes his before and after comments (Before the Halbig decision).

As to how Gruber would answer the hypothetical lawyer question, he has said that he simply made a mistake when he made the earlier remark. You know sort of a "speak- o"similar to the "typo" in Obamacare legislative language  which he claims must have occurred because everyone knew what they "really meant" and that the D.C. court used in its decision.The above quoted Reason article references a second time that Gruber made the  same speak-o.

Speak-o s may have been the cause of his various pronouncements  over time as to if Obamacare would increase or decrease health care costs.

  Being a health care economist, like a public health czar or clinical guideline writer, means you don't not have to ever say you are sorry.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A physician does not need to be society's steward to "Choose wisely"regarding medical advice

Eliminating dangerous and unnecessary medical tests and treatments is the ostensible aim of the "Choosing Wisely" ( CW) initiative that is being promoted by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation (ABIMF).

I submit that is is not only unnecessary to evoke the principle of physicians as stewards of society's medical resources to accomplish that goal but it is a dangerous concept and promotes the idea that the individual exists to further the welfare of the collective or " society" Even the most cursory study of world history in the 20th century should disabuse one of the notion that such an approach works out well.

If a physician strives to do what is right for the patients,not to harm the patient and respects the patient's autonomy no other ethical principle is necessary to achieve what the choosing wisely campaign purports to accomplish. Following century's  old  medical ethics it all that is required. A physician so directed would not knowingly order tests or treatments that are harmful to the patient or useless and thereby waste the patient's money, whether or not all or most  of the reimbursement is from an insurance company or the government.The physician by choosing wisely is not saving some mythical society's resources but is spending less of a particular entity's money.

It is not necessary to compare  spending patterns per capita in various countries to cajole physicians to reduce or eliminate  tests or treatments that are useless and or harmful. It is not necessary to change the culture of medicine which has been the announced aim of some spokesmen for ABIMS and ACP to get doctors to do what is right in their best judgment  for their patients.

When my family or I go to a physician I want her to recommended a test or treatment based on her judgement as to whether that would be in the bests interest of her patient and not based on some imaginary role as a steward of some mythical collectively owned resource.

 The folks at ABIMF have been very explicit about linking their version of social justice with the Choosing Wisely initiative.See here.  I submit that physicians have attempted to do what in their judgment is right for their patients without evoking the notion of social justice and that includes not harming the patient by ordering harmful procedures and treatment.Social justice as the term is generally used involves redistribution from the better off to the most disadvantaged. ABIMF's version of social justice is based on utilitarianism keyed to QALY ( quality adjusted life years) per dollar spent and seems to be obsessed with spending less money generally on health care.Think about that for a moment. In what other profession is there a well funded campaign to spend less on what members of the profession have devoted much of their lives learning how to do? Cui Bono.

Being a physician is not the easiest job in the world.It continues  to be true that life is short,the art long, opportunity fleeting, experience treacherous and judgment difficult. My physician has enough to do without assuming the pretense of being a steward of anything-her fiduciary duty to her patient is more than adequate.

Addendum: 12/12/14 Minor grammar changes made.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The population medicine approach does not respect the separateness of the individual,traditional or Rawlsian social justice nor evidence based medicine

 The population medicine approach does not respect  the separateness and sanctity of the individual and individual liberty. It is antithetical to not only traditional medical ethics but also to the ethics of classic liberalism. Further, it violates a major element in the concept of evidence based medicine, patient autonomy. It is not compatible with the social justice concepts as formulated by John Rawls and does not conform with the generally accepted meaning of social justice as redistribution from the less to the more needy.

The population medicine approach is basically utilitarianism which champions policies and actions that are supposed to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number. I say "supposed" because even the founder of utilitarianism recognized that logically and practically determining the aggregate utility or happiness did not make sense.Jermey Betham realized that adding John's happiness and Mary's happiness and subtracting Fred sadness was nonsense.

Quoting Bentham  "Tis vain to talk of adding quantities which after the addition will continue distinct as they were before, one man's happiness will never be another man's happiness;a gain to one man is no gain to another;you might as well pretend to add twenty apples to twenty pears, which after you had done that could not be forty of any one thing  but twenty of each just as there was before. ( ref. pg 136, A system of Liberty, by George H. Smith.) . Bentham admitted his "hedonic calculus" was based on a fiction  but he felt it was a necessary framework to get things done or legislation passed or policies accepted.

His approach echoes the thinking of the man who approached a psychiatrist and told him that he was very worried about his brother. Why are  you worried? Doctor, he thinks he is a chicken. Well, that is very serious you need to get him hospitalized.No, the man replied, we can't do that, we need the eggs.

 Bentham also needed the eggs.

 Everyone make decisions in everyday lives.It may not involve a formal or explicit cost-benefit analysis but it often involves a trade off. Utilitarianism goes beyond  making a trade-off within a person's life to the making of trade- offs between persons' lives and without their consent throwing the discreteness of individual under the bus. The population medicine approach does just that.

Consider the following quote from Dr. Harold Sox writing in the November 13,2013 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association:Here he is  writing about allocation of funds occurring in the population medicine approach across patients and programs in which funds would be shifted to program in which the value was higher, as judged by QALY per dollar spent.

"It will take several generations to realize the full benefit of investments in disease prevention.In the short run,these investments draw resources away from tests and treatments from some sick people.In the long run, disease prevention and better low cost technology could reduce the outlay for treatment. In the interim, skillful clinical decision making can made the most of limited resources"
"Using the same metric of value and the same decision making principles for patients and for populations would be an important step toward a system that fairly allocates resources between the healthy many and the sick few."

The proponents of population medicine cavalierly admit there will be winners and losers. Dr. David Eddy in a series of articles In JAMA in 1995  said exactly that when he discussed the system that he proposed  as achieving better quality at lower cost. It was simply utilitarianism with cost effectiveness being a key metric in the allocations that would be made.Population Medicine is simply utilitarianism using quality adjusted life years (QALY) per dollar spent as the new metric of happiness or utility.

Sir J.A. Muir Gray writing in the Lancet (Vol 382,July 20,2013 ) in a commentary entitled "The Art of Medicine.The shift to personalized and population medicine" said in part:

'In the 21th century clinicians have a responsibility to the population they serves,to the patients they never see, as well as to the patients who have consulted or have been referred.,individual clinicians, while still focused on the needs of the individual in front of them when in the consultation, also make decisions about the allocation and  use  of resources to maximize value for all the people  the population they serve.This could be a decision that will reduce the amount of care that some would receive and increase the amount of resources for another group of patients,or perhaps put resources into education so that generalists can better manage the patient that specialists do not need to see."

Winners and losers but  more than that- Dr. Muir Grey would have the physicians also use their "charismatic and sapiential authority to promote health and prevent disease and encourages sustainable care , getting the best balance of benefit to harm, while minimizing the amount of carbon generated."

This is  a tall order- to balance care for your patient and everyone else and strive to save the environment.Medical schools will have to get even longer and harder to churn out docs with that skill set.Actually the rank and file docs will not have the allocation problem,the Platonic Guardians of Population Medicine will make the big decisions and the regular physicians will just adhere to guidelines.

The proponents of population medicine seem to think they have solved what Bentham thought impossible summing individual utilities by  using the QALY tool, quality adjusted life years which seem more scientific and objective that the "utils" of the early Benthamites.

 The ACP and ABIM Foundation are popularizing the new medical ethics. It appears that this new medical ethical system is an important prerequisite for population medicine  Here is how a former President of ACP, Dr. Harold Sox, ( ref. JAMA Nov.13.2013,vol310,no 8) explains it.

"Throughout history,codes of professional conduct have called on clinicians to make each patient's interests their highest priority.If resources becomes limited,clinicians will find themselves unable to adhere to that standard of practice for all patients.In 2002,a new code of conduct ,the Charter for Professionalism ,addressed this conflict by calling of physicians to consider the needs of all when treating the individual. While meeting the needs of individual patients,physicians are required to provided health care that is based on wise and cost-effective management of limited clinical resources.The provision of unnecessary  services not only exposes patient to avoidable harm and expense but also diminishes the  the resources available to others.
This remarkable passage indicates that the physician has an ethical imperative to balance the needs of the individual patient with the needs of society.With this foundational  principle of the population health approach, the Charter, in effect calls on clinicians to allocate resources. However, it does not provide specific advice. Recent programs such as the American Board of Internal Medicine  Foundation's Choosing Wisely campaign, are beginning to fill this knowledge gap, as do some practice guidelines." 

Dr. Sox speaks about "if resources become limited". By definition resources are limited. there has never been a limitless amount of medical care available.Apparently fiduciary duty to the  patient was acceptable as long as resources were not limited but by definition resources are limited.There has never been an unlimited amount of medical resources.

In this passage Dr. Sox ties together the Charter, the Choosing Wisely Campaign and the population medicine approach. Although Dr. Sox omitted mention, the Charter inserted a third ethical principle to the physician's ethical responsibility.It added to beneficence and non malfeasance, the furtherance of social justice which they stipulated was the fair and equitable allocation of medical resources which they later clarified  to mean that physicians should follow medical  guidelines based on cost effectiveness. But social justice as expounded by Rawls and as generally understood by many speople means redistribution to the advantage of the most disadvantaged and that is not what population medicine offers. Shifting of resources to one group from another based on comparative QALY calculations may or may not necessary benefit the most disadvantaged in society. The choosing wisely campaign began with a suggestion to which few physicians would object: eliminate tests and treatments that are harmful or wasteful. But it was not necessary to invent a new ethical principle for physicians to accomplish that goal. The ethical precepts of beneficence and non malfeasance covered that.One need not resort to claiming  that such act were required because physicians were the stewards of society's limited medical resource. It was sufficient to require that under the rubric acting a fiduciary agent of the patient.Further, the Choosing Wisely movement is morphing into something that some (see here) would want to be much more transformative.

Population Medicine approach is not compatible with the basic elements of evidence based medicine.Dr. David Sackett said:"Evidence based medicine is not “cookbook” medicine. Because it requires a bottom up approach that integrates the best external evidence with individual clinical expertise and patients' choice, it cannot result in slavish, cookbook approaches to individual patient care."

In the scenario described above by Dr. Sox in which funds might be diverted from someone's treatment to benefit some anonymous future person we hear no mention of consent of the patient.  Is it assumed that everyone will selflessly agree to sacrifice for the good of the collective.?Social and political schemes based on that principle worked out rather poorly in the 20th century.
The goal of EBP is the integration of: (a) clinical expertise/expert opinion, (b) external scientific evidence, and (c) client/patient/caregiver perspectives to provide high-quality services reflecting the interests, values, needs, and choices of the individuals we serv - See more at: http://www.asha.org/members/ebp/#sthash.4MOV9yTv.dpuf

The goal of EBP is the integration of: (a) clinical expertise/expert opinion, (b) external scientific evidence, and (c) client/patient/caregiver perspectives to provide high-quality services reflecting the interests, values, needs, and choices of the individuals we serv - See more at: http://www.asha.org/members/ebp/#sthash.4MOV9yTv.dpuHere is Dr. David Sacket's definition of Evidence Based Medicine (EBM) :"EBP is the integration of clinical expertise, patient values, and the best research evidence into the decision making process for patient care. Clinical expertise refers to the clinician’s cumulated experience, education and clinical skills. The patient brings to the encounter his or her own personal preferences and unique concerns, expectations, and values. The best research evidence is usually found in clinically relevant research that has been conducted using sound methodology". (Sackett D, 2002)What seems lacking in Dr. Sox commentary about population medicine is mention of the patient personal preferences and concerns and values. There is nothing said about how the patient might feel in the scenario Sox describes in which funds that could have been used to treat  some one's illness are diverted to some preventive program in which the result may take generations to be achieved. In a system in which its proponents admit there will be winners and looses we are not told to what extent if any will the values and wishes of the loser be considered .Drs Eddy and Muir Grey seem to assume that patients  will be just fine when funds are directed away from their or their children's or spouses  care to some other use judged to be more valuable or cost effective. Programs which depend on changing human nature have not worked out well.Look at the dismal history of collective planning in the 20th century.
The goal of EBP is the integration of: (a) clinical expertise/expert opinion, (b) external scientific evidence, and (c) client/patient/caregiver perspectives to provide high-quality services reflecting the interests, values, needs, and choices of the individuals we serv - See more at: http://www.asha.org/members/ebp/#sthash.4MOV9yTv.dpuf
I submit that population medicine approach and the usual notion of social justice and in particular John Rawls's definition of social justice are not compatible. In fact much of Rawl's magum opus ,A Theory of Justice,was  written at least in part to refute utilitarianism  which is  a principle on which population medicine depends. Rawls said the utilitarianism did not respect the separateness of the individual and argues strongly against treating people as means some social end,In the case of population medicine , this would be optimizing the QALY or QALY per dollar spent.

To mix the concept of social justice and population medicine as done by spokesmen for the ACP and ABIMF is  a masterful muddle of mixing incompatible concepts and stirring it up with platitudes,gratuitous assertions and non sequiturs.

So, other than  that the population medicine approach contradicts traditional medical ethics,does not further social justice as it is commonly understood, flouts a key element of evidence based medicine,and requires individuals to sacrifice  themselves to some alleged greater good, it seems like a  pretty good idea.

Addendum: Minor editorial changes made 12/14/14.