Friday, November 20, 2015

A medical riddle: Where do incident reports go?

Incident reports are frequently submitted by hospital personnel. Did you ever wonder what happens to them? I have.

Over the years, I estimate that I’ve heard of hundreds of such reports being filed, but rarely have I heard of a problem being solved or for that matter, any action being taken at all.

In fact, I don’t even know where they went or who dealt with them. When I was a department chairman, I sat on quality assurance and risk management committees. Yet we never discussed individual incident reports.

The original intent of incident reports was to identify patient harms and increase patient safety.

According to a 2009 post by patient safety expert Dr. Bob Wachter, hospital incident reports are a spinoff from the Aviation Safety Reporting System which had successfully used them for identifying potential safety issues such as near misses.

At Dr. Wachter's hospital, San Francisco General, about 20,000 incident reports were filed every year. That is about half of what the Aviation Safety Reporting System receives per year, and San Francisco General Is only one of about 6000 hospitals in the United States.

Dr. Wachter feels that analyzing incident reports is not worth it. He estimates that each incident report creates about 80 minutes of work times 20,000 reports, which equals about 26,600 hours of wasted time. He also estimated that about one fourth of US hospitals do nothing with incident reports. That saves time but renders the reports useless.

He says an even bigger problem is that incident reports in his hospital fail to capture most events that harm patients.

That has also been my experience. I think most incident reports were filed by people wanting to "cover their asses" and most of the reported incidents were minor. A reference in Wachter's article states that most incident reports are submitted by nurses with only about 2% by doctors.

Incident reports can backfire too. From a 2002 Medscape article: "In some states, under certain conditions, the incident report is considered confidential and cannot be used against the nurse practitioner in a lawsuit. However, if copies are made or the chart reflects that an incident report was completed, the incident report can then be subpoenaed by the patient and used against the defendants in court."

And from the Louisiana State University School of Law: "The nonjudgmental nature of an incident report is very important because in most cases the incident report will be discoverable in litigation. An accusatory remark in an incident report may gain unintended weight in a legal proceeding."

Since incident reports generate a massive amount of wasted time, fail to identify most events that harm patients, are frequently ignored, and can possibly have a negative effect on lawsuits, why are they still being filled out by the thousands?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Telephone and television evolution through my lifetime

6-5-4. That was my home telephone number when I was growing up in the early 1950s. You may wonder how that was possible. I'll explain.

We lived in a small town. Telephones looked like this.
In order to place a call, you picked up the handset from its cradle, and an operator said "Number please."

You said the number, and she (operators were always women) made the connection for you via a switchboard.
Some folks in my town were on "party lines," which were less expensive but involved more than one household on the same line. If you picked up the phone in a home with a party line and it was being used by someone in another house, you could hear their conversation. You would have to hang up and wait until they were through before making your call. For incoming calls, the ring sequence was different for each household.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Is the surgeon still "captain of the ship"?

A Kentucky appeals court ruled that a surgeon was not responsible for a burn caused by an instrument that had been removed from an autoclave and placed on an anesthetized patient's abdomen.

According to an article in Outpatient Surgery, the surgeon was not in the room when the injury occurred and only discovered it when he was about to begin the procedure.

An insufflator valve had been sterilized and was apparently still hot when an unknown hospital staff member put it down on the patient's exposed skin. [An insufflator is a machine that is used to pump CO2 through tubing into the abdomen for laparoscopic surgery.] When the doctor saw the mild second-degree burn, he asked what happened, but "but no one in the OR claimed any knowledge or responsibility."

The hospital had settled the suit on behalf of its staff, but the surgeon, who as a private practitioner had his own malpractice insurance, held out. The original lower court ruling dismissing the suit against him had been based on the plaintiff's lawyer's failure to prove that the surgeon was responsible for the actions of the hospital staff.

In December 2012, I wrote a post stating my opinion that activities such as counting the sponges during an operation were not the responsibility of the surgeon. Many who commented on the post were highly indignant that I could suggest such a thing.

I wrote another post last year on the subject in response to another surgeon's blog entitled "Everything's my fault: How a surgeon says I'm sorry." I felt that many things that happened to patients were beyond the control of the surgeon. Most of the comments agreed with me.

I keep hearing that medical care has become a team sport. If that's true, then the surgeon, like everyone else, is simply a member of the team. People on teams have different roles and must execute properly for the team to succeed.

One of the most interesting things about the case in question was that none of the OR team members had any idea how that hot insufflator valve found its way to the patient's abdomen.

One thing we know for sure, at least in Kentucky, is that a surgeon is not legally responsible for everything that happens to a patient in the operating room, particularly when he is not even present.

Is this decision the first nail in the coffin of the "captain of the ship" doctrine?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Should I go to med school?

A young man writes

I am thinking about pursuing medicine as a career. However, it is not something that I am entirely sure of because of the changing healthcare landscape.

Suppose I enter medical school at age 26. Four years later I have my MD. Five or six years later I will be done with a surgery residency and two years after that with my fellowship. I will 37-38 years of age with kids, a wife, and most likely a home. My kids will be around 9-11 years of age. In addition, I will be near $250K in debt from medical school because of interest accumulated throughout my residency and fellowship. This is of course not including retirement, car, house, investment, and kids’ college savings.

My friends tell me not to think about it, but if I don’t, I can end up in a position that I don’t want to be in. Even if I pay off my debt at age 50, I still have all those other things to address. And even if I do, when will I enjoy my money? What is perhaps most important though, is the time component. I am essentially giving up my entire life to a profession that will not allow me to transfer laterally to other professions if I choose to. I can be pursuing my other interests in the time that I would be becoming a surgeon such as business or engineering.

Lastly, I grew up in poverty and have no financial assets. It will take me years to accumulate wealth. And once I do (at around age 60), that wealth will be passed down to my children.

Did I miss something? What are your thoughts? 

While rereading and editing your email, I realized you did miss something. What's missing is enthusiasm for becoming a doctor. You listed several reasons not to go to med school, but nothing about why you want to do it. If you don’t truly love the idea, you will be very unhappy.

I think you need to reassess your future.

For those who want more information, I have written a couple of posts about questions related to this one [links here and here.] The comments on the more recent post are worth reading..

Monday, November 2, 2015

Hospitals Mess Up Medications in Surgery—a Lot

Yes, that was the inflammatory headline on Bloomberg Business News last week. It is great click-bait, but factually off base because the research it refers to was done at only one hospital.

Here's what the study found. During 277 operations with 3,671 medication administrations observed at the Massachusetts General Hospital, 193 (5.3%) involved a medication error or an adverse drug event. One or more errors or adverse drug events occurred in 124 (44.8%) of the procedures.

In all, 40 (20.7%) adverse drug events were not preventable—for instance, an allergic reaction to a drug that was not known about before. Of the remainder, “32 (20.9%) of the errors had little potential for harm, 51 (33.3%) led to an observed adverse drug event and an additional 70 (45.8%) had the potential [emphasis added] for patient harm."

Sounds bad, but the Bloomberg article goes on to say "While all the errors observed in the study had the potential to cause harm, only three were considered [potentially] life-threatening, and no patients died because of the mistakes. In some cases, the harm lay in a change in vital signs or an elevated risk of infection."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Surgical training is different in Japan

Quite different than what we are used to in the United States as a paper published online in the American Journal of Surgery explains.

In the US, all residency programs are vetted by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). Japan has no central accrediting organization. Each hospital establishes its own training program without any national standardization.

Medical school graduates in Japan take a national practitioner examination and then complete a two-year rotating internship. Specialization in general surgery residency takes three more years after which the residents may obtain board certification.

The authors surveyed 76 teaching hospitals in Hokkaido, a prefecture in the north of Japan, and 49 (64.5%) responded.

Program directors were in place in 81% of the residency programs. Of that number, 79.3% devoted less than 5 hours per week to education [compared to an ACGME mandate that 30% of a program director’s time must be devoted to education], and 72.4% had dialogues with residents only when necessary.

Of those responding to the question, 31/36 (86%) "had teaching activities outside of clinical settings," but no program had protected time dedicated to teaching.

Fewer than half of the programs had skills or simulation laboratories, with 12.5% having formal simulation training as part of their educational agenda.

Only 55.6% of the programs evaluated the competency of their trainees in knowledge, skills, or scholarly activities.

Not surprisingly, only 8.6% of program directors were satisfied with the way their programs functioned.

To become board-certified in Japan, residency graduates must take a written exam for which the pass rate is 82.1% and an oral examination which has a pass rate of 100%. The pass rate for the oral exam has been an issue. A medical specialty board was established in 2014 and is preparing to oversee the quality of resident education and certification.

Lead author Dr. Yo Kurashima, Director of Surgical Education Research at Hokkaido University Graduate School of Medicine, answered a few questions via email. He said some of the hospitals limit resident work hours and allow residents to go home after call. However, "most do not define work hour limitations, so residents usually work from early in the morning to midnight every day."

No universal surgical residency curriculum exists in Japan, but a national surgical society recently listed criteria that must be achieved prior to board certification.

Dr. Kurashima did some training in Canada where he became familiar with North American residency methods.

For his next project, he said, "We are just starting a national survey which will investigate resident satisfaction regarding their residency.”

I suspect the residents might raise some concerns. I wonder if they will have time to respond.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Misconceptions about oxygen by alternative medicine practitioners

An article called “Simple ‘4-7-8′ breathing trick can induce sleep in 60 seconds” claims that this trick can get you to go to sleep within 60 seconds. All you have to do is the following:

♦ Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
♦ Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
♦ Hold your breath for a count of seven.
♦ Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
♦ This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths

An integrative medicine expert, Dr. Andrew Weil, said it works because it allows the lungs to become fully charged with air, allowing more oxygen into the body, which promotes a state of calm.

“Promotes a state of calm” is nonsense. Let’s concentrate on the science. Does it allow more oxygen into the body? Ich don't think so.

The air we breathe contains about 21% oxygen. Nearly all oxygen in the blood is carried by hemoglobin. No matter how many deep breaths you take, you cannot get the oxygen saturation of hemoglobin (normally > 92%, closer to 98% in healthy people) above 100%. This is explained in more detail in a previous post of mine about why athletes don’t benefit from breathing pure oxygen after exertion.

This simple trick would be hard to remember but might work through the power of suggestion. It doesn’t cost anything, and unless you hyperventilate and pass out (but you'll be in bed anyway), it is harmless.

The next misconception about oxygen is neither inexpensive nor harmless.

Two naturopathic “doctors” have been accused of injecting a woman with oxygen or perhaps purified water that had been taken from an Octozone machine. The oxygen was supposed to destroy any pathogens in the woman’s blood. In the process of trying to kill the pathogens, the injection killed the patient who paid $500 for the treatment.

The naturopathic duo left town and were at large for several months before eventually being caught and charged with homicide.

An autopsy found her death was due to an air embolism.

According to a recent review of the subject, “Traditionally, it has been estimated that more than 5 mL/kg of air displaced into the intravenous space is required for significant injury (shock or cardiac arrest) to occur. However, complications have been reported with as little as 20 mL of air (the length of an unprimed IV infusion tubing) that was injected intravenously.”

Pure water should never be injected IV either because it causes blood cells to die from hemolysis.

How about we just take our oxygen the old-fashioned way—normal breaths and never intravenously?