Posts Tagged ‘patient advocate’

Asthma News: Parents Underestimate Children’s Symptoms, Placebos Effective in Improving Patient’s Subjective Improvement but Not Objective Health

Monday, July 25th, 2011

image from consumerreports.org

A couple of months ago, one of my colleagues, Jon Stefanuca, wrote a post for Eye Opener entitled Four Tips For Getting the Medical Care You Need When You Are Having An Asthma Problem. In that article, he explained the importance of patients proactively knowing and explaining their asthma symptoms to healthcare providers. He focused on some of the key features of asthma and the unique symptoms that each individual may experience. If you have not already read that article, I highly recommend it as a great way to become a better advocate for yourself or someone in your life that suffers from asthma.

Over the last few months, I have been thinking about Jon’s advice in relation to some work I have been doing. It makes good sense and hopefully will help people receive better care when they are having exacerbations of their asthma. However, I was disheartened to read a recent article from Reuters about how frequently parents underestimate their children’s asthma symptoms.

Parents Underestimate Their Children’s Asthma Symptoms

I am always a little leery of studies that are drugmaker-funded, particularly when the study suggests that perhaps more medications are needed to combat a problem. However, taken at face value, this is a pretty frightening idea given how many children now suffer from asthma and how serious a condition it can be for those children and families. The article points to a disconnect between the parents’ description of their child’s asthma and whether the asthma was actually being adequately treated:

While more than seven out of every 10 parents interviewed described their child’s asthma as “mild” or “intermittent,” the disease was adequately treated in only six in 10 kids.

A doctor who was not involved in the study explained it this way:

“Parents are only aware of asthma when the child is more severely ill,” Dr. Gordon Bloomberg…

“Physicians cannot just ask the parent ‘how is your child doing?’ The physician will get a global answer that doesn’t reflect the child’s quality of life,” said Bloomberg, of Washington University in St. Louis.

Poor treatment may influence asthmatic children’s quality of life, as well as that of their families.

In the survey, more than four in 10 parents reported missing work because of their child’s asthma, and similar numbers of parents regularly lost sleep for the same reason.

Children are Better Reporters Than Their Parents of Symptoms

Interestingly, “[t]he study also found children tended to be better than their parents at determining how well their asthma was being treated.” So, clearly, doctors must take the time to discuss the asthma symptoms and treatments not only with parents but also in a sensitive and appropriate way with the children patients themselves in order to receive a better indication of the disease status. The doctors interviewed for the Reuter’s article had different opinions on what this means for asthma treatment:

According to a new report, this suggests parents need more education about asthma medications.

But one expert said more medication is not the be-all and end-all for children.

“The idea of total control…is not where we should be putting our energy,” Dr. Barbara Yawn from Olmstead Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota, told Reuters Health in an email.

Instead of just giving children with stubborn breathing problems more medication, she said better communication is needed to determine how children’s lives are affected, and what it will take to prevent their symptoms.

New Study Shows Receiving Treatment, Even with Placebo, Important for Asthma Patients – But Does not Improve Objective Health

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In another recent study, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers looked at how asthma patients responded to a medication (bronchodilator), two different types of placebos (fake inhaler or fake acupuncture), or no intervention at all. An objective measure was taken of the patient’s ability to exhale after each intervention (or lack of intervention) and the patient’s own rating of improvement was noted. What was so interesting about this study were the different outcomes between the objective (spirometry) and subjective (patient’s self-reporting) measurements of improvement.

The bronchodilator provided markedly better objective treatment over the placebos or no treatment – a 20% improvement rather than 7% for the placebos or no treatment. However, the subjective measure of improvement found that patients were almost the same, 45-50% improvement, whether the patients received the actual bronchodilator (50%), the placebo inhaler (45%) or the sham acupuncture (46%).  All of which were higher than the 21% improvement reported by those who did not receive intervention.

An article about the study in medicalnewstoday.com explains the outcome this way:

Now a study of asthma patients examining the impact of two different placebo treatments versus standard medical treatment with an albuterol bronchodilator has reached two important conclusions: while placebos had no effect on lung function (one of the key objective measures that physicians depend on in treating asthma patients) when it came to patient-reported outcomes, placebos were equally as effective as albuterol in helping to relieve patients’ discomfort and their self-described asthma symptoms.

The study’s senior author, Ted Kaptchuk, Director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School explained it this way in the article:

“It’s clear that for the patient, the ritual of treatment can be very powerful…This study suggests that in addition to active therapies for fixing diseases, the idea of receiving care is a critical component of what patients value in health care. In a climate of patient dissatisfaction, this may be an important lesson.”

However, I wonder if it cannot also be understood another way – which is that patients are likely to feel like their symptoms have been improved after a visit to a doctor, even if objectively their airway is still compromised.

How Should this Impact Asthma Treatment?

So what can be done with this new information? I think that Jon’s advice about patient’s knowing their own symptoms and expressing them clearly to their doctors is critical. I also agree completely with his advice that patients should ask for an objective measure of their respiratory improvement before leaving a health care facility. These two steps seem key to making sure that patients objective health is being improved – not just their subjective opinion of improvement. Finally, I think that it is critical that parents act as the best advocates possible for their children – which may include making sure that the children are heard on their own symptoms since parents are not the most reliable reporters.

What do you think? Are there other tips for asthma patients and their parents out there? How do respond to these new studies?

Related Videos:

Videos about Asthma

Related Articles:

Four Tips For Getting the Medical Care You Need When You Are Having An Asthma Problem

Asthma – How to Protect Your Child When the Steroid Inhaler Fails

Use Of Acetaminophen In Pregnancy Associated With Increased Asthma Symptoms In Children

The Reality of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits: Demystifying and Dismantling the Medical Profession’s Arguments

Monday, December 20th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Kevin Pho published a blog in which he argued that medical malpractices lawyers do not help improve patient safety. My mentor and good friend, Brian Nash, (a medical malpractice lawyer) posted a counter-blog, disputing the validity of Dr. Pho’s conclusion. As a result of these two postings, the two author’s agreed to post Brian Nash’s piece on Dr. Pho’s website – KevinMD.com. This posting, Open dialogue on medical malpractice and patient safety led to an amazing, extensive, thought-provoking and still ongoing public discussion about the role of physicians, lawyers and patients in promoting patient safety. The last time I checked, this discussion generated just over 190 comments

Although many topics were addressed during this discussion, I could not help but notice an underlying sentiment of distrust with respect to lawyers in many of the comments posted in support of Dr. Pho’s blog.  Statements like “lawyers don’t care about the quality of their cases as long as they make money,” or “the medical malpractice system is failing because most cases are filed over bad outcomes and not medical negligence.” Such comments reflect an overall attitude that medical malpractice lawyers are the reason why there is an alleged nationwide medical malpractice crisis.

This argument is terribly misguided and, frankly, based on a number of false assumptions about the practice of law. In part, the misunderstanding stems from the fact that most critics are not lawyers and, thus, not familiar with a lawyer’s everyday incentives, interests, limitations, and obligations. Although a law review article would be more befitting this subject, the following discussion outlines a few considerations that should hopefully illuminate what drives a lawyer’s analysis with respect to the type of cases that should be pursued.

Ethics

Let me begin with the consideration that is most important to me. Lawyers, unlike most other service providers in the workforce, are bound by a code of ethics.  If they don’t follow it, they can be disciplined and even disbarred.  It is as simple as this: in each state, lawyers are subject to a plethora of proscriptive and prescriptive rules. For example, in Maryland, each lawyer must comply with the rules of professional conduct. These rules govern virtually every aspect of legal practice (i.e. conflicts of interest, acting in good faith, etc). In addition to these rules, Maryland lawyers must also abide by local rules of court, the rules of civil procedure and a plethora of cases dictating how lawyers should act.  In this matrix of Rules, many rules directly or indirectly prohibit a lawyer from making frivolous claims, pursuing claims without a good faith basis, and taking unsupported positions during the course of litigation, among other things.

In the District of Columbia, relatively recent legislation requires the giving of a substantive (i.e. not just – I’m going to sue you) notice to the potential defendant(s), which outlines the essential theories of the claim. Failure to give some notice in timely fashion can – and often does – result in the dismissal of a lawsuit in which this notice was not given. Once filed, a patient-plaintiff is, in essence, bound by the same requirements of proving his/her case as in Maryland, but more on that later.

A cynic may argue that the rules are no good if lawyers are not willing to live by them. The assumption that most lawyers don’t care about the rules of professional conduct is just that, an assumption – and a misguided one at that! Most of us care deeply about our clients. Most of us are very proud to be lawyers, and the vast majority of us diligently and religiously comply with our ethical obligations.   You don’t have to believe me; call your state’s bar association for studies directly on point.

As in any other profession, a few bad apples give us all a bad name from time to time.  When this happens, other lawyers are quick to initiate disciplinary actions. In medical malpractice cases, the persons with the greatest incentive to report unethical behavior are the defendant health care providers and their lawyers.  As you may suspect, reporting bad behavior in an adversarial system is a bit more incentivized when compared with reporting among physicians, who practice in a collaborative and non-adversarial environment (i.e. the same hospital, practice group or health care system).

The Financial Realities

In addition to various ethical constraints, I am convinced beyond all doubt that a lawyer would have to be completely out of his/her mind to pursue a meritless medical malpractice case. Don’t forget that a law practice is a business just like any other business. The vast majority of plaintiff medical negligence lawyers practice in small firms. Operational and the litigation costs are very high (if you know physicians who testify as experts in medical malpractice cases, for plaintiffs or defendants, ask them what their hourly charge is to review medical records, give depositions and testify in court. It would be enough in an of itself to make you reconsider your career choice). Generally speaking, most medical malpractice cases (conservatively estimated) require between $50k and $100k to bring to trial. Additionally, each lawyer can only pursue a small number of cases to insure diligence, and yes, compliance with the ethical rules of professional conduct. Keep in mind that the vast majority of medical malpractice cases are contingency fee cases, which means that the law firm (where permitted by law and ethics) advances all of the costs. None of these costs are recouped if the case is lost.

The obvious question – or at least what should be an obvious question is: why would a lawyer want to invest his/her money in a meritless or questionable case?  The simple economic reality of a medical malpractice firm is that it can never afford to pursue frivolous or meritless claims.  Pursing even questionable cases is a good way to go bankrupt. When a frivolous case is filed, guess who is waiting on the other side of the aisle ready to devour it and the lawyer who filed it? Unlike plaintiff lawyers, defense lawyers get paid by the hour. Their spending power on litigation is enormous since they have the financial backing of multi-million dollar insurance companies and/or self-insured institutions.  Because defense lawyers get paid by the hour, they have every incentive in the world to use every known legal tool and maneuver to increase the costs of litigation and defeat the claims against their clients.

Simply put, survival of the fittest (and the smartest) is the name of the game when it comes to choosing cases for litigation.  Every plaintiff’s lawyer asks this question more than any other before signing a case: just how strong is the evidence of negligence? The last thing a lawyer wants to  do is spend thousands of dollars on a case that is frivolous and destined to fail.  When handled by lawyers who are experienced in handling cases of medical negligence/malpractice, if case is in litigation, believe me, it is as far from being frivolous as it can get. This doesn’t mean the patient/plaintiff always wins. It simply a matter of common sense – experienced medical malpractice lawyers screen cases vigorously and don’t (and certainly can’t) make a living out of filing non-meritorious lawsuits.

Procedural Requirements

Assuming that a lawyer foolishly chooses to represent a client with a weak or meritless claim, there are still a number of procedural requirements that are purposely designed to prevent such claims.  In most states, a number of procedural/jurisdictional thresholds must be met before a case can even be filed in court. Such requirements are specifically designed to weed out non-meritorious cases.

For example, in Maryland, a lawyer must obtain a very specific certificate and report from a qualified physician, specifying that the defendant health care provider breached the standard of care (failed to act reasonably under the circumstances) and that this breach of acceptable medical standards of care caused the patient-plaintiff’s injuries.  The case must first be filed with a special arbitration commission and have certifying expert certificates and reports before it can be filed in court.  Throughout litigation, a plaintiff is required to obtain supportive, competent opinions from a number of medical experts. These experts cannot just generally or vaguely support the patient-plaintiff’s claim. They must specifically establish 1) what the defendant  health care provider should have done to comply with the standard of care, 2) that the  defendant health care provider breached the standard of care, 3) that the breach in the standard of care caused Plaintiff’s injuries, and 4) what patient’s injuries actually are – not just sheer speculative damages. Such testimony can not come from the lawyer, his/her client, or a lay person; it must come from other physicians. Medical malpractice litigation is not possible without the participation of health care providers, who are willing to testify as experts on behalf of the patient. As if this was not enough, an expert’s testimony cannot be based on a guess, speculation, or conjecture. Each expert opinion must be expressed to a reasonable degree of medical probability, and it must have a scientific basis. These procedural requirements are just the tip of a very large iceberg designed to prevent meritless cases.

Don’t Buy Into the Myths

The simple truth is that real (those who know what they are doing in this specialty area of law) medical malpractice lawyers have very little – if any – incentive to pursue frivolous, weak or questionable cases. Such cases are expensive, they must be supported by other physicians, and they must survive the rigor and scrutiny of litigation.

I often hear people say that most medical malpractice cases are filed because of bad outcomes and not because of real medical malpractice.  I am utterly convinced that such a statement could not be further from the truth. If it were true, most, if not all medical malpractice lawyers would be out of business. That’s the hard, cold reality. Don’t buy into the myths that are many times at the core of this s0-called medical malpractice crisis debate.

Have you been a party in a medical malpractice/negligence lawsuit? Have you been a juror in a medical negligence case? Even been a witness in these cases? What has been your experience? Share your story – let’s get to the real truth of issues that should be at the core of the “discussion” – “debate.”

Image from procrastinationgods.wordpress.com

Related Posts:

Every Bad Outcome Does Not a Malpractice Case Make! Some Practical Advice

Malpractice System Doesn’t Improve Patient Safety – Oh Really?

Tort Reform or Just Plain Medical Care Reform: the debate continues as thousands are injured annually in US

Many Doctors Don’t Blow Whistle on Colleagues



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Why don't patients ask questions of their doctor?

Monday, May 31st, 2010

My wife came back from a doctor’s appointment the other day, and immediately, I noticed that she looked puzzled and somewhat confused. So, I asked her about her appointment.  She went over her discussion with the doctor as I kept probing with questions about their conversation.  I found myself asking the following question more than any other: “Well, did you ask him about…?” Before too long, doing what I do for a living, I could not help but wonder why patients aren’t more inquisitive. Is there something about the patient-doctor relationship that makes patients not want to ask questions of their physicians?

Surely, the primary responsibility for gathering information about the patient’s medical conditions is and should be with the physicians. After all, their knowledge of medicine is vastly superior to that of the average patient. Still, when a patient has questions, there is often no good reason not to ask them. Consider a physician who orders hormone replacement for a female patient with a history of blood clots or hypercoagulability of which the physician is unaware. Consider another patient who develops a series of complications after a surgical procedure but who decides to tough-it- out and not ask any questions during follow-up appointments with the physician. In both of these examples, the patient risks developing potentially life-threatening conditions, and, if the patient knows or suspects that possibility for whatever reason, it is probably not a good idea to assume that the doctor will be the one to ask the right questions. So, why are patients sometimes reluctant to ask more questions about their medical care or condition?  I don’t presume to know the answer, but I suspect, in part, it has to do with the patient’s expectations.

For example, when I am pain, I don’t really want to have an extensive Q & A session with my doctor. I just want treatment!  It is simply mentally relaxing to just let go and have someone else take care of me. In addition, my knowledge of medicine is superficial at best. I don’t feel comfortable asking questions if I don’t know what I am talking about. My ego would rather have me in pain than allow me to question a doctor at the risk of looking like a fool.

On a subconscious level, I am probably also dealing with preconceived notions about doctors.  As long as I can remember, I have been told that doctors are intelligent and in control. After all, who else is capable of getting into medical school and then have the stamina to survive some seven to ten years of medical training? All of this makes me think that my doctor can only make the right decisions about my medical care. And then there is the medical office or the hospital. The smells, the patients (most with problems far worse than I have), the complicated machines that look like they belong in a sci-fi movie don’t exactly add-up to a familiar, comfortable environment.  I am in pain, uncomfortable, and somewhat intimidated – not exactly an environment conducive of critical thinking.

Well, if this is how other people feel, I think that might explain why patients are sometimes not as inquisitive as they should be.  What do you think?  If you are a patient or a physician, your feedback is much appreciated. Of course, everyone is welcome to comment.

Contributing author: Jon Stefanuca

Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Jon Stefanuca. My own wife has an advanced degree in pathology, did surgical pathology and autopsies. She DOES ask questions! Do you really need a medically-related degree, however, to ask the basic questions so that you have a clue what you’ve just agreed to by way of medical care? I think not. Moral of the story: be your own patient advocate! If you need help, then have a family member or a close friend accompany you if you have any doubt.

Actor Dennis Quaid sues drug maker

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Last month, we reported in a blog through our website, how actor Dennis Quaid is involved as a patient advocate, after his newborn twins nearly lost their lives back in 2007, from a medical error that could have very easily been prevented.  Put simply, the precious twins were given two doses of Heparin instead of Hep-lock (an anti-coagulant medication widely used for children).  Why is this significant?  Heparin is a drug one thousand times stronger than what the twins were supposed to have received.

Earlier this week, it was reported in the Contra Costa Times, that Mr. Quaid has filed a lawsuit on behalf of his children.  As far as the extent of his children’s injuries, the article states “The children suffered internal injuries and shock, but the extent of what happened to them will probably not be known for years, according to the suit.”  The lawsuit alleges that vials of the 10,000 unit Heparin should have been recalled previous to what happened to his children, because other infants had already died from similar medication errors.  The suit also claims that the company responsible for making the drug, Baxter Healthcare, “was obligated to warn healthcare providers of the previous medication mistakes.”

We wish the best for the Quaid family, and hope that the discovery in this case shines a light on not only finding out exactly what happened in this case, but also makes information available that may be able to save the lives of other children from future similar medical errors.  We will continue to monitor the course of this case.

How Dennis Quaid Became a Patient Advocate

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

On Monday, Dennis Quaid appeared on “The Early Show.” He talked about how he and his wife almost lost their newborn twins in 2007 as a result medical negligence.

According to Quaid, Thomas and Zoe Quaid were supposed to be given the anticoagulant drug, Hep-lock soon after their birth.  Hep-lock is a widely used anticoagulant designed for children. It is not nearly as potent as its adult counterpart, Heparin. By mistake, the newborns were given two doses of Heparin, which is 1,000 times stronger.  Quaid noted that the Heparin administration reduced the consistency of the newborns’ blood to that of water.  There was no justification for administering Heparin instead Hep-lock.

While the newborns managed to survive this ordeal, this experience has transformed Quaid into an active patient advocate. The actor helped create the Quaid Foundation, an organization dedicated to reducing medical errors. According to the article by CBS News:

Quaid has testified to Congress on behalf of patients’ rights, and Monday, he was to speak at the National Press Club to address the problem of dangerous medical mistakes.

The article further notes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that approximately 99,000 deaths every year are due to preventable medical errors. This is shocking to say the least.

Contributing author: Jon Stefanuca