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Comment Re:Who still uses pagers? (Score 4, Interesting) 283

I'm a doctor, we still use pagers, and they suck. On the plus side, an AA battery lasts a month, and reception is not usually an issue. On the minus side, no one seems to be making pagers anymore, so we get reconditioned units. I long for my old indestructible Motorola pager. Buttons get jammed and latches fall off the "new" ones, the display is less than reliable, and I can customize the beeping to grating, annoying, and nerve-wracking.

We are beginning to investigate smartphone based solutions, which, in order to be compliant with US privacy regulations have expensive recurring monthly charges, and will involve installing and maintaining microcells in our hospitals.

Comment Re:Screw that (pun intended). (Score 4, Interesting) 287

Most vasectomy techniques involve tying (ligating) or fulgurating (burning) both ends. The vas doesn't seem to burst, but there is a complication called "sperm granuloma" where leaking sperm (often happens) can cause inflammation (also often happens) which can cause pain (doesn't happen that often) and in rare circumstances recanalization of the vas.

Granted, it's been a while since I performed a vasectomy but I was trained to ligate and cauterize/fulgurate both ends. Surgical implantation of this switch sounds tricky: the vas is a slippery little thing, the canal narrow, and the human body doesn't always take kindly to the implantation of foreign material.

FWIW, most of the volume of ejaculate isn't sperm, but prostatic fluid. Vasectomized guys are shooting blanks, but it's not easy to distinguish between the blanks and live ammo without a microscope. Check out the grin on this urologist as he explains the same.

Comment Re:We need technology like this... that works. (Score 1) 174

You may wish to pick up the microphone you dropped.

LabCorp, for example, is happy to take your money and have you order (and pay for) your own lab tests. Along with third parties using LabCorp and Quest.) Then you can bring in the results to your family physician, and spend 40 minutes browbeating them if you like about your insignificantly elevated white cell count and the normal thyroid level that the naturopath says is actually abnormal and your asymptomatic but positive rheumatoid factor because your feet are achy.

Your blood tests results aren't like the indicators from your car's OBD 2 port; people are complex meat machines with varying genetics (really amazing the more you think about it), and normal value ranges get interpreted as part of a broader clinical picture.

Not only doctors can give tests, but in my experience the more thoughtful ones order fewer tests and barely any "routine" bloodwork (whatever that is), and instead rely on a fairly complex set of heuristics from clinical experience, lengthy education, and a good understanding of underlying normal and abnormal physiology. The $40 I get for listening to your theories about chronic yeast is supposed to pay for a learned professional opinion, and hopefully you'll let me get in a word edgewise about how Panda Express doesn't really constitute 5 servings of vegetables and walking from your parking spaces isn't going to save you from diabetes and hypertension. Instead of having to order more tests to "prove" your potentially, well, crackpot theory. Not you personally of course. Just that guy who thinks reading the Internet and ordering his own blood tests == 7+ years of training.

On the other hand, there is potentially a fair amount of good you could do, if you had to, reading UpToDate and a few basic med school textbooks, and taking a little more care with the idea that a home pregnancy test is in the same ballpark as diagnosing lupus. Oh, and a statistics course — if I had my way, they'd be teaching that in high school instead of trigonometry.

Comment Re:Argle Bargle Morble Whoosh? (Score 4, Informative) 174

Theranos' "Edison" analyzer is purported to allow accurate, cheap testing with tiny sample sizes. They haven't revealed a lot about how it works. This is in contrast to standard analyzers which cost more (well, they charge more), need your typical 10 ml Vacutainer sample, and have lengthy turnaround times. It turns out Theranos has recently been using standard, commercially-available analyzers for most of its tests, and had to dilute its samples to do so, apparently compromising accuracy.

As the OP, I'm hopeful Theranos now can pull up out of this apparent nosedive, and publish controlled analyses in larger, controlled trials in a peer-reviewed journal. Then the real miracle will be integrating their results with everyone's frickin' EMR.

Submission + - Disruptive bloodwork startup may offer mostly vaporware

dmr001 writes: As seen previously, Palo Alto startup Theranos planned to put the power of affordable lab work directly in the hands of patients with tiny fingerprick samples taken at Walgreen's, with four hour turnaround. The company claimed their tests were "made possible by advances in the field of microfluidics." But they were cagey about methodology and didn't use FDA approved analyzers.

Now, the Wall Street Journal reports (paywalled) (among others) that all but one of Theranos' analyzers currently in use is off the shelf, and that their tiny samples may not always have been accurate. Typically cagey founder Elizabeth Holmes vigorously disputes the criticism of her $9 billion startup, but entrenched players like Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp (which do quite well charging orders of magnitude above Theranos' prices) are likely doing a happy dance.

Physicians worrying about patients bringing in their own carcinoembryonic antigen levels and Epstein Barr Virus panels to confirm their Internet diagnoses of cancer and chronic fatigue may also be breathing sighs of relief, albeit with bittersweet regret at the potential loss of the price advantage and milliliter samples.

Comment Re:Better (Score 4, Insightful) 86

Turns out going outside when it's cold and wet pretty much never makes a difference in the normal course of things. Hypothermia is the exception, and for the most part that means going outside cold, wet, and without much clothing for prolonged periods of time to the extent you're likely chattering the daylights out of your teeth.

This is an important finding since current parenting styles (at least in temperate areas of the US) often include keeping the kids inside much of the winter to prevent them from getting sick. The consequent lack of exercise and being in close quarters with disease vectors (other kids) yields the result of sick, fat kids. I tell my patients to send little Cindy and Juan outside with a good coat when it's cold and wet, unless the little buggers are going to slip on the ice or are shedding genuine tears of misery in a prolonged fashion, which I personally think is good advice for grown up nerds as well, present company included.

Comment Re:Not all Open source is good. (Score 1) 186

Guess which large-scale EMR physicians prefer above all others? That would be VistA. I've heard the same from colleagues, and found it reasonably sensible back when I rotated through the local VA as a family medicine resident. It was fast and fairly benign on the infuriation scale. Of course, the VA is apparently working with Accenture to update VistA, and are eventually looking to replace it with a commercial system. I have a feeling many VA docs will offer this to be prized from their cold, dead hands.

And for all the griping about MUMPS, whose syntax (especially in legacy code) I agree looks like a cat walking across the keyboard, in real life on our MUMPS-based EMR it is faster and far more reliable than the Oracle-based system we upgraded from.

Comment Re:UK NHS (Score 2) 186

I thought about the NHS program when posting this, described as "the biggest IT failure ever seen". After £10 billion+ was spent, Her Majesty's government largely abandoned the effort, though the linked article notes Computer Sciences Corporation declaring victory as 3 of 220 NHS trusts managed to use portions of the system. I first heard this story a couple of years ago on a shuttle bus to the headquarters of a large privately held EMR vendor in Wisconsin, when I noticed the accents around me weren't American (like me). I was sitting amongst a group of friendly pharmacists from Oxfordshire. They were going to adopt this proprietary system for their NHS trust (ignoring, I suppose, the large chunk of it that dealt with billing).

Besides the air of defeat of all those pounds sterling going down a lot of oddly designed British toilets, they had given up on the idea of interoperability with the systems of other NHS trusts adopting different systems from other proprietary vendors. Back in the US, we have all kinds of government prodding to promote interoperability and many self-congratulatory health IT standards organizations that have national meetings in sunny placed. But, the farthest we've got with inter-vendor communication in my medical office after 3 years of promises and finger-pointing is faxing documents to an image server from the speciality clinic 100 feet away into inscrutably named files. Then, I can hand transcribe the important bits by hand about my patient's heart conditions and colon tumors in order to have a hope of retrieving that information again when I need it.

Submission + - US Department of Defense shuns open source medical records in $4.3B contract 1

dmr001 writes: The US Department of Defense opted not to use the Department of Veterans Affairs' open source popular VistA electronic health record in its project to overhaul its legacy systems, instead opting for a consortium of Cerner, Leidos and Accenture. The initial $4.3 billion implementation is expected to be the first part of a $9 billion dollar project. The Under Secretary for Acquisition stated they wanted a system with minimum modifications and interoperability with private sector systems, though much of what passes for inter-vendor operability in the marketplace is more aspirational than operable. The DoD aims to start implementation at 8 sites in the Pacific Northwest by the end of 2016, noting that "legacy systems are eating us alive in terms of support and maintenance," consuming 95% of the Military Health Systems IT budget.

Comment Re:Better model? (Score 1) 245

We have one incident where a pilot crashed a plane, which doesn't seem to equate to the entire aviation safety system being irretrievably broken. We had people knowing that pilot was depressed, but I'm not aware of him repeatedly telling people he was going to do something terrible nd take the lives of innocents one day soon.

We also have evidence that enacting checklists in hospitals (a la the Checklist Manifesto) didn't actually change much in practice, at least as currently implemented, so what works for aviation safety may not be directly analogous to what works in hospital safety, which is a rather different question in any event as to how to provide safe, cost-effective care. (One could safely perform a lot of pointless knee and heart surgery, for example, with low complication rates, that didn't provide any significant benefit in the first place.)

I think the idea of paying physicians for quality rather than quantity is a good one. There are plenty of honest physicians who don't game the current system (and in the realm of primary care it's not easy - your pediatrician can't schedule too many extra checkups for profit) but there are others who convince themselves that offering patients what they want, even if it's expensive and the evidence isn't great is giving the customer what they want.

Developing accurate measures of quality and utility and risk adjustment is not going to be easy, and the pathway is littered with mistakes. Us primary care physicians were tasked up until the last couple of years to keep our diabetics in tight control, until we just recently figured out that probably did more harm than good for most people. That's science for you: the questions tend to stay the same, but the answers keep changing. We may be bumbling forward, but it does seem to be (generally) forward.

Comment Re:Why? (Score 3, Interesting) 166

As noted above, MUMPS (in the guise of Intersystems' Caché) is the database underlying both the VA's Vista and Epic Systems' Epic, which are probably the two leading large-scale EMR vendors on the planet. My 5 state hospital system uses the latter, having upgraded from a system that just handled part of one state and ran on top of Oracle and would regularly slow to a crawl. I don't know how much of Intersystem's marketing-speak to believe, but for a gigantic disparate database of branching nodes of something on the order of a million patients and all their chart notes, telemetry data for those who have been hospitalized, lab results and links out to everything from fetal heart tracings to MRI's, the thing is fast and seems to be close to bullet-proof. MUMPS itself is scary (to me, anyway) with its global variables and odd syntax, and I have a few bones to pick about the interface, but the database layer is really remarkable.

Comment Re:Which vaccines? (Score 1) 616

I didn't (initially) wish to comment on forcing anyone to use a vaccine, only to your contention that HPV is neither contagious or deadly, when it's manifestly both. As to whether sexually transmitted infections don't represent imminent threats, HPV is about as contagious and dangerous as other viral diseases with latent courses, such as hepatitis B (transmitted through sex, vertical transmission from mother to newborn, and shared needles - but not by coughing at Disneyland), vaccination for which has long been required in every state I've worked in.

Other sexually transmitted viruses (like HIV) can reasonably be construed to present imminent threats in areas and among populations where they are endemic.

I suppose it's reasonable to argue we should make a list of which vaccines are required for school entry and which aren't. You mentioned flu vaccine above, for example, which has varying efficacy depending on antigenic drift of the virus from year to year, though even in bad years the vaccine seems to be effective at preventing invasive (deadly) disease in high risk populations, which include young children. Should we cross vaccines off the list if they are periodically less effective (but still effective) some years even though the disease is still deadly and manifestly contagious? Should we eliminate hep A because even though it's contagious it's just about never deadly? Or do we keep things simple and state we should vaccinate kids against diseases that are either manifestly contagious and onerous, deadly, or both?

I've periodically have patients dying of HPV-related cancers - not a lot, but it's out there. I suspect they would have appreciated universal vaccination had it been available for them before their first sexual contact and while they were getting routine childhood doctor visits, after which the utility of the vaccine goes down substantially.

Comment Re:Which vaccines? (Score 1) 616

HPV prevalence is about 70% in sexually active young people. HPV causes about 6100 deaths per year, and about 26900 cases of cancer per year in the US. Most deaths, however, occur in low-income countries - about">270,000 per year worldwide in 2012 for cervical cancer alone according to the World Health Organization.

So, I think it's reasonable to conclude HPV is indeed contagious, common and deadly. Also, in my experience (as a primary care physician), most people are enthusiastic about the idea of making Pap smears obsolete, which is a distinct possibility with widespread use of HPV vaccine.

Comment Re:I got a butt chewing for giving my daughter hon (Score 1) 243

We hold off on cow's milk until 1 year not so much because of allergic reactions but because it's associated with iron deficiency anemia. (And increased renal solute load.) From Agostoni C, et al, J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2008;46(1):99: Cow's milk is a poor source of iron and should not be used as the main drink before 12 months, although small volumes may be added to complementary foods. Infant formula in most countries is supplemented with iron. Breast milk isn't exactly rich in iron, but harder for most babies to fall in love with and drink in unlimited amounts to the exclusions of everything else (a common happenstance) due to manufacturing limitations (which, granted, vary depending on the mom).

Comment Re:Not the real problem (Score 1) 1051

Taking care of quite a few un-documented immigrants in my medical practice, I find that vaccination rates are typically pretty good, and parents are thoughtful enough to bring in their immunization cards (and their vaccine schedule is similar to ours, only we vaccinate for chickenpox and they vaccinate for tuberculosis). The Mexican immunization program in particular (at least according to the Houston Chronicle) does significantly better than the US one.

MONTERREY, MEXICO – If parents here are late getting their child inoculated, a public-health nurse will come to their home, pull down the youngster's pants and give the vaccination right there in the living room. If the parents are away at work, the nurse does not wait for them to come home and give permission. Shots are given anyway, and the paperwork is left with the baby sitter. It is a paternalistic approach almost impossible to imagine in the United States - where privacy rights and other freedoms are highly valued and immunizations are increasingly feared - but it has proved remarkably effective: Mexico has a 96 percent vaccination rate for children ages 1 to 4, compared with an immunization rate of 79 percent for 2-year-olds in the United States.

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