Ambulatory/Primary Care

The Dangers of Curbside Consults… and Why We Need Them

Everybody hates curbside consults – the informal, “Hey, Joe, how would you treat asymptomatic pyuria in my 80-year-old nursing home patient?”-type questions that dominate those Doctor’s Lounge conversations that aren’t about sports, Wall Street, or ObamaCare. Consultants hate being asked clinical questions out of context; they know that they may give incorrect advice if the underlying facts and assumptions aren’t right (the old garbage in, garbage out phenomenon). They also don’t enjoy giving away their time and intellectual capital for free. Risk managers hate curbside consults because they sometimes figure into the pathogenesis of a lawsuit, such as when a hospitalist or ER doctor acts after receiving (non-documented) curbside guidance and things go sideways. There is some evidence to support this antipathy. A recent study published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine examined 47 curbside consultations by hospitalists, in which formal consults by different hospitalists (unaware of the details of…

The Patient Will Rate You Now

These days, I’d never consider trying a new restaurant or hotel without reading the on-line ratings on TripAdvisor or Yelp. I seldom even bother with professional restaurant or travel critics. Until recently, there was little patient-generated information about doctors, practices or hospitals to help inform patient decisions. But that is rapidly changing, and the results may be every bit as transformative as they have been in traditionally consumer-centric industries like hospitality. Medicine has never thought much of the wisdom of crowds, but the times, as the song goes, they are a-changin’. Even if one embraces the value of listening to the patient, several questions arise. Should we care about the patient’s voice because of its inherent value, or because it can tell us something important about other dimensions of quality? How best should patient judgments be collected and disseminated – through formal surveys or that electronic scrum known as the…

A Pay Within a Play: The Awkward World of Private Insurance in the UK

I remember reading an article that observed that systems of universal insurance – which need to put their energy into providing a “decent minimum” for the masses – must also offer a “safety valve for the wealthy disaffected.” Canada bans private insurance for basic hospital and medical care services. So, when affluent Canadians want “the best,” some of them pop across the border to Cleveland or Ann Arbor. But from the time of its founding in 1948, the British National Health Service has allowed – and, depending on which party is in power, promoted – a private insurance market. Private insurance in a single payer, government run healthcare system is a funny animal: one part incest, one part conflict of interest, and three parts strange bedfellows. And it’s infinitely fascinating. Here’s how it works: The insurance part isn’t too difficult to understand. People living in Britain can obtain private insurance, and about…

“I’m the Main Breadwinner”: The British Primary Care System and Its Lessons for America

I’ve heard a lot of shocking things since arriving in England five months ago on my sabbatical. But nothing has had me more gobsmacked than when, earlier this month, I was chatting with James Morrow, a Cambridge-area general practitioner. We were talking about physicians’ salaries in the UK and he casually mentioned that he was the primary breadwinner in his family. His wife, you see, is a surgeon. This more than any other factoid captures the Alice in Wonderland world of GPs here in England. Yes—and it’s a good thing you’re sitting down—the average GP makes about 20% more than the average subspecialist (though the specialists sometimes earn more through private practice—more on this in a later blog). This is important in and of itself, but the pay is also a metaphor for a well-considered decision by the National Health Service (NHS) nearly a decade ago to nurture a contented,…

Summer in London: First Impressions

First of all, let’s get the important stuff out of the way. Mom, I’m fine. Thanks for your concern. Really. I’ve now been in London for about 6 weeks on my sabbatical. The recent riots here are all folks are talking about and the trauma is real. One wonders whether the inevitability of budget cuts, high unemployment, increased polarization and pent-up anger—on both sides of The Pond—will mean that London-style violence will soon be coming to a theater near you. I hope not, but the events around England this week illustrate how fragile this thing called civilization is. Still, I’ve been safe, lucky to be insulated in my lovely, upscale neighborhood of South Kensington. Even when I’ve gone afield, things seem pretty normal—the Tube is bustling, hot and sweaty, Regent Street is abuzz with shoppers. It’s all a little surreal. In this dispatch, I’ll talk a bit about the modern…
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