Tag Archives: Curiouser

Health Care Culture



I usually find a way to fit in a new job pretty quickly. Years of working as a locum tenens makes fitting in a survival skill.  I am surprised that I am feeling a little more guarded than usual. A friend of mine would call it “well defended”.

So much of healthcare is cultural. In some places every one handles colds in one way ( everyone gets a ton of medications) and in some places, we recommend tea, honey and rest.  In the first weeks I am in a new place, there are always folks who misunderstand my “style”.   With some patients I have to WORK really hard to convince them that I am really on their side.

Then, there is the whole culture of handling urgent issues.  Some places have protocols- anyone has a blood pressure greater than 180/90 gets the 911 treatment, no matter what the provider thinks is right.  Some place rarely send anyone to the ER and try to handle everything possible in the clinic.  Today was one of those days of explaining that I know what I want to do with this young patient, but I need to know how this clinic handles things. Labs/imaging and then to ER, or just skip it all and send to ER. Direct admit? What goes with her? Do I print the note, or write a new one on a script?

Some clinics work as a team, while some are just people in the same building without much interaction. Some folks are much more serious, some laugh and goof off all day between patients.  I am trying to find out where I will fit in this new place.  I feel “stressed out” trying to adjust. I am trying so hard not to be too much of me. I am working this time on having unspoken thoughts.

But, somehow it ends up like this…


( I am also trying to let go of wanting things to be perfect- like blogging.  )

Chronic Pain

Chronic Pain


I was half listening to my latest audible book on the way to my first day of orientation at the new job. I say half because it is probably the 3rd time through those last few chapters. It isn’t because the book isn’t holding my attention, it is just it is one of those books I am talking back to as I drive and listen. It is one of the books that I will order in print and highlight and take notes in the margins.  I will review the book in more detail in some future post.

But she said something that had me wanting to scream.  She said that not treating patients in chronic pain amounts to torture.  I may be assuming too much, but it seems she was overly emphasizing opioids as a treatment for chronic pain. Firstly, opioids suck at treating most chronic pain and cause many more problems that they solve most of the time. Secondly, no one has a right to a pain free life. No one.

I was getting all judgy, as I am wont to do. Talking back to the book.  Really? Torture?  How is it my fault that you smoke, don’t exercise, drink like a fish, are 75 pounds over weight and now your knees and back hurt? Really? Sounds like that chronic pain is on your side of the net that divides us in this debate over opioids. I am not going to continue every patient in pain on the unholy trinity of Norco, Soma, and Xanax.

Then, doing my best Tevye impression ( from Fiddler on a Roof), I said, “On the other hand”, What about the obese, sedentary smoker who needs medication to control their blood pressure and blood sugars both of which are out of control because of their lifestyle choices? Do I want to say, No more Metformin for you unless you start exercising? No. Of course not.  But on the other hand, I don’t see Metformin sending the patient down a slippery slope of every escalating medications with all motivation sucked out of them now do I?

I should hold off my opinion of this book until I finish it completely.  I am finding it to be a fascinating if not somewhat biased account of the state of chronic pain diagnosis and treatment.  As loud as I shouted in the car at the author, she did not respond, so I am just venting a bit here.  Torture and not giving opioids to every chronic pain patient are entirely different things. Seriously.

I am not just frustrated with the patient, I am more upset with the system that got us on opposing sides in the opioid wars.  We all know it doesn’t work to just give folks opioids. It is so much more complicated than that.  Pain management is always a trial with an “n” of 1.   Each person is different.  Even that one person is different on a day to day basis.  Not giving out opioids to every patient is NOT torture.  Please review the history of any war of your choice to get a much clearer idea of what torture is and is not.



In a few days I will start a new job in a new place. The focus in this clinic is patient wellness. Visits are 30 minutes. The people that I have met so far are amazing and we seem to be on the same page regarding patient care.


I am wondering if  guidelines are imposed in the same way they are by private insurance companies. Those crazy, meaningless guidelines that had the folks in charge of that non-sense talking to me about my “numbers”.  I need to put the overweight 18 year old girl on a Statin because her lipids are a little high. I tried explaining that there is really no benefit to that and only risk. If I remember, the number needed to treat was 2418 and the number needed to harm was 10-20.  It was explained to me that their reimbursement is based on the surrogate markers being at where the guideline de jour says it should be. The physician and the bean counter both told me that my concerns for the patient were good, but they get docked somehow if they miss the “Star” measures.

Why I didn’t  put that teen on an antidepressant if they had PHQ-9 that was worrisome. I quoted studies right and left and tried to explain the risks of psychiatric medications, but more importantly, the lack of evidence to support their effectiveness but  It looks like I am not treating “depression”.  I say, of course, I am just not with drugs. I don’t think she has a Prozac deficiency . She is sad and she should be sad given the current situation. I am working to find a counselor that takes her stupid insurance. I have appointments with her regularly, sometimes more often than you would like.

Guidelines? Which ones? The ones that say we need to do a DRE and PSA on every male over 50 ish. Oh, snap! All those exams and labs didn’t do a damn thing to improve the mortality rate.  Women who are sexually active or (was it when they reached menarche?), should have a PAP.  Oh, never mind. That caused a lot more harm than good, now didn’t it? Let’s get those A1Cs below 6.5 even if the patient feels horrible. The blood pressures in seniors ? Let’s get those down so low that they have no quality of life, or maybe with a little orthostatic hypertension they will fall and break a hip.

When I imagine the folks writing guidelines, I always get this image in my mind of Yul Brenner saying ” So let it be written, so let it be done.”  Or maybe the writers of guidelines are more like the Great and Powerful Oz.   I know that I don’t believe much of what they say anymore.  I want to direct my attention to the person in front of me and not their surrogate markers.

My vocation calls me to look into the eyes of the person in front of me and figure out together what they want to do about their health.  Most of the time those markers have little to do with what will decrease the chances of having something “bad” happen. We all know that. Well, those of us who work with people know that.  The folks that write many of those guidelines may have never interacted with an actual patient. Certainly, those “Star” measures don’t reflect good healthcare don’t reflect good patient care anymore than patient satisfaction scores do.

When you start a new job-what is important to you? Money? Culture? Philosophy?

Zebra Hunter

Zebra Hunter

zebraI am admittedly a Zebra Hunter.  In my defense, I worked acute care pediatrics in world famous children’s hospital when nearly all 300 of the kids were zebras of some sort. If not, they were more easily cared for in the community hospitals. For the years I worked there, I was surrounded by the most brilliant minds, amazing caregivers trying to puzzle out the most complex children. I had no idea that it was possible for so many chromosomes to be off just a little.

Everyday things were life threatening. Sinus infections and ear infections somehow had turned into empyema of the brain.  The rarest cancers, the most complicated neuro surgeries.  Once when Infectious disease and neuro surgery looked at images together, the neuro surgeon picked up that baby to RUN him to surgery.

So, when I first saw kids in the community with an ear infection or sinus infection, I would want to make sure it wasn’t going to be more serious.  Are those bruises on that toddler ” non accidental trauma.”?  In the hospital, everything was figured out immediately- it was like magic- Any image, MRI, MRA, or weird lab was just done almost immediately. Work ups were quick, often intense, but things were figured out before the child went home.

The “real world” isn’t like that at all. It is full of mostly horses. Sometimes some pretty fancy horses, but mostly mundane. Except for the past few weeks, when I have learned more about endocrine that I had no idea that I didn’t know. I am weirdly excited about it all. I mean, it is fascinating when it is something so unusual.

I think I find the weird stuff in part because I worry about missing something. I also tend to listen to patients.  I like to hear their stories. I like to try to put the pieces of the puzzle together.  I am endlessly curious about everything.

What is so very interesting these past few weeks is that these are things that one would think would be noticed long before I meet the patient. I don’t know how someone else didn’t think it odd that the 40 year old patient with palpitations was so weirdly bendy. Not yoga bendy but something unusual, that makes me ask if they can touch the floor with their palms, encircle their wrist with pinky and thumb, touch their thumb to their wrist. Can I see your palate?  Yeah, no one every asked or looked.

I am not a physician, so I didn’t have much exposure to radiology in school. Well, actually NONE. So I don’t just read the radiology report “impression” I read the whole report. I look up words. I pull out one of my radiology texts. I read, read, read. I question. I want the answers. I need the answers, so next time I will know. More times than I can count, what I read in the “Impression” doesn’t completely match what is in the body of the report. This is probably a reflection of those dreaded “pre clicks” on computer programs. I ask about that nodule or cyst mentioned.

These past few weeks I have been in the middle of a whole herd of Zebras!  Strange lung stuff that we are still working out. Pheochromocytoma in that “anxious” patient.  Some things that are so unusual that HIPPA’s ears will perk up if I think it too loud, but really, really strange endocrine stuff that is fascinating.

The term Zebra Hunter isn’t a compliment really. It would be more of insult, if I didn’t nearly always get that Zebra. As often as I might say that I long for less interesting practice,  I find the hunt makes me look forward to getting to work.  It is like turning the pages in a mystery novel. This next week, the pieces of at least 5 very odd cases will come together.