Archive for the ‘Residency’ Category

In the interests of full disclosure, I acknowledge with delight that I have a non-time limited board certificate from the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA), issued before the year 2000. I can just say “no” to recertification.

The more I learn about the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) and its highly paid board members, the more disillusioned I’ve become. It’s easy to see why so many physicians today have concluded that ABMS Maintenance of Certification (MOC) is a program designed to perpetuate the existence of boards and maximize their income, at the expense primarily of younger physicians.

Lifelong continuing education is an obligation that we accepted when we became physicians, recognizing that we owe it to ourselves and our patients. That is not at issue here. We have an implicit duty to read the literature, keep up with new developments, and update our technical skills.

The real danger of MOC is this:  It is rapidly evolving into a compulsory badge that you might soon need to wear if you want to renew your medical license, maintain hospital privileges, and even keep your status as a participating physician in insurance networks. If physicians don’t act now to prevent this evolution from going further, as a profession we will be caught in a costly, career-long MOC trap. The only other choice will be to leave the practice of medicine altogether, as many already are doing.

What can be done?

The American Medical Association (AMA), to its credit, passed a resolution this year calling for the “immediate end of any mandatory, recertifying examination by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) or other certifying organizations as part of the recertification process.” Further, AMA policy states:

Any changes to the MOC process should not result in significantly increased cost or burden to physician participants (such as systems that mandate continuous documentation or require annual milestones).

The MOC program should not be a mandated requirement for state licensure, credentialing, reimbursement, insurance panel participation, medical staff membership, or employment.

Many physicians have rebelled against compulsory MOC and have succeeded in getting the attention of their state legislatures. The state of Oklahoma passed a law in April, 2016, stating that nothing in its laws concerning medical practice shall be construed to make MOC “a condition of licensure, reimbursement, employment, or admitting privileges at a hospital in this state.” Kentucky’s governor signed a more limited measure that forbids making MOC a condition of state licensure. Other states are considering joining Oklahoma as “Right to Care” states.

The California Medical Association (CMA) considered but didn’t pass an anti-MOC resolution at its October meeting. However, there is enthusiasm for pursuing the resolution again in 2017, and it appears to have a strong chance of passing. The title of the resolution is, “Maintenance of Certification should not be used as criteria to assess physician competence”, and it would direct CMA to work with the Medical Board of California to promote legislation prohibiting MOC “as a mandated requirement for physician licensure, credentialing, reimbursement, network participation, or employment.”

NBPAS: An alternative to the ABMS monopoly

If there were unquestioned proof that the MOC process improves patient care and outcomes, then the expense and time would be more justifiable. However, no such data exist. Initial board certification is associated with higher-quality practice, but recertification with MOC programs is not. As Paul Mathew, MD, commented in the November/December 2016 issue of Practical Neurology, “Literature regarding the evidence supporting recertification with MOC programs is weak at best, and most is written by conflicted authors who are executive board members of ABMS boards.”

A good example proving Dr. Mathew’s point is a recent editorial defending MOC in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). The co-authors have close ties to the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) and its foundation, which have been mired in financial scandal. It would be hard to defend a claim to scholarly objectivity.

Dr. Mathew and I are both unpaid, voluntary board members of the National Board of Physicians and Surgeons (NBPAS), an organization founded two years ago by Paul Teirstein, MD, a cardiologist at the Scripps Clinic in La Jolla. Dr. Teirstein’s frustration with ABIM’s expensive MOC requirements led him first to create a web-based petition that rapidly accumulated more than 19,000 physician signatures. He then founded NPBAS as a grass-roots physicians’ organization, offering a cost-effective alternative pathway for board-certified physicians to demonstrate their commitment to continuing medical education (CME) while bypassing the ABMS and MOC.

The challenge, of course, for NBPAS is to achieve recognition by hospitals and insurers, which is a slow process. But progress has been made, as thousands of board-certified physicians (myself included) have earned two-year NBPAS certificates, and thousands more are in the process.

The anti-MOC movement shows no signs of abating. An October, 2016 article in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings concluded that only 24 percent of physicians agreed that MOC activities are relevant to their patients, only 15 percent thought they were worth the time and effort, and 81 percent believed that they were a burden. These results were “pervasive, and not localized to specific sectors or specialties.”

The ABA and MOCA 2.0

To the credit of the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA), it was one of the first boards to pay attention to the discontent of its diplomates. In May, 2015, it convened a two-day summit to consider redesign of its Maintenance of Certification in Anesthesiology Program (MOCA), and concluded that its ten-year “high-stakes MOC exam is not the most effective way to help its board-certified physicians learn and retain medical knowledge.” The ABA decided to embrace “multiple learning techniques”, and introduced the “MOCA Minute” program, where physicians must answer 30 online questions each calendar quarter or 120 questions annually. This new approach has not brought with it any decrease in cost to participants.

I might be tempted to enroll in the “MOCA Minute” program if I didn’t think that it would be equivalent to stepping in quicksand, and that extrication would be impossible.

After watching residents doing practice multiple-choice questions for years, I’ve reached the conclusion that their time would be better spent reading a good basic anesthesiology textbook and review articles in major journals. The inherent problem with all the multiple-choice questions is that the resident ends up reading three or four wrong answers for every correct one. No wonder they become confused. They would be better off reading only correct information.

I have a fundamental objection also to the ABMS “Six Core Competencies” as the bedrock of the MOC program. Some of them – practice-based learning, patient care, procedural skills, medical knowledge – are fine. But the last two are another matter:

“Interpersonal and Communication Skills: Demonstrate skills that result in effective information exchange and teaming with patients, their families and professional associates (e.g. fostering a therapeutic relationship that is ethically sound, uses effective listening skills with non-verbal and verbal communication; working as both a team member and at times as a leader).

Professionalism: Demonstrate a commitment to carrying out professional responsibilities, adherence to ethical principles and sensitivity to diverse patient populations.”

These are qualities that we all needed to learn and incorporate into our daily practice long before we were board-certified. If you didn’t have an inherent sense of ethical conduct and personal responsibility before you left elementary school, nothing the ABA does is going to change you. If you can’t communicate, a multiple-choice test won’t help. These topics are not properly the business of continuing medical education.

If MOCA is truly valuable, then the ABA should have enough confidence in its product not to make it mandatory. It should compete in the CME marketplace with meetings, journals, online materials, and every other CME product. Board-certified physicians should be able to choose among all these to demonstrate “lifelong learning” and renew their time-limited certification.

It’s time to make it clear to the ABMS that we’re not its indentured servants. The time to do that is now, before it gains any more ground in making our right to work dependent on surrender to MOC.

This column ran first in the online magazine for medical students, “in-Training”

In case you were wondering — robots won’t replace anesthesiologists any time soon, regardless of what the Washington Post may have to say. There will definitely be a place for feedback and closed-loop technology applications in sedation and in general anesthesia, but for the foreseeable future we will still need humans.

I’ve been practicing anesthesiology for 30 years now, in the operating rooms of major hospitals. Since 1999 I’ve worked at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, a large tertiary care private hospital in Los Angeles.

So what do I think today’s medical students should know about my field?

A “lifestyle” profession?

For starters, I have to laugh when I hear anesthesiology mentioned with dermatology and radiology as one of the “lifestyle” professions. Certainly there are outpatient surgery centers where the hours are predictable and there are no nights, weekends, or holidays on duty. The downside? You’re giving sedation for lumps, bumps, and endoscopies a lot of the time, which can be tedious. You may start to lose your skills in line placement, intubation, and emergency management.

Occasionally, though, if you work in an outpatient center, you’ll be asked to give anesthesia for inappropriately scheduled cases on patients who are really too high-risk to have surgery there. These patients slip through the cracks and there they are, in your preoperative area. Canceling the case costs everyone money and makes everyone unhappy. Yet if you proceed and something goes wrong, you can’t even get your hands on a unit of blood for transfusion. To me, working in an outpatient center is like working close to a real hospital but not close enough — a mixture of boredom and potential disaster.

The path I chose is to focus on high-risk inpatient cases. I especially enjoy thoracic surgery, with the challenges of complex patients and one-lung ventilation. You can bring me the sickest patient in the hospital setting — where I have all the monitoring techniques, resuscitation drugs, blood products, bronchoscopes, and anything else I might need — and I’ll be perfectly happy. The downside: a practice like mine tends to be stressful and tiring, and I never know the exact time that the day will end. Hospitals that offer Level I trauma and high-risk obstetric care are required to have anesthesiologists in house 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There’s no perfect world.

What type of person is happy as an anesthesiologist?

Even though women comprised 47% of the US medical school graduates in 2014, only about 33% of the applicants for anesthesiology residency were women. I’d be interested to hear from all of you as to why fields such as pediatrics and ob-gyn tend to be so much more attractive to women, because I genuinely don’t understand it. But I do have a few thoughts as to the type of person who is happy or unhappy as an anesthesiologist.

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We’ve run amok with wearing gloves in the hospital.  And by “we” I mean every healthcare worker in sight.  I see people putting on gloves before they’ll give a patient a clean warm blanket.  This is not only ridiculous, it’s actually harmful.  Here’s why.

We learned the hard way in the 1980s, during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, that the HIV virus and other potentially lethal microorganisms are carried in blood and body fluids. The Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization developed the concept of “universal precautions”, which applies during all patient-care activities that may involve exposure to blood, body fluids, mucous membranes and non-intact skin.  Observing “universal precautions” means that you always wear gloves in those situations because you may not know ahead of time if a patient carries HIV, hepatitis, or any other infectious disease.  You don’t want to get infected yourself, or inadvertently infect another patient.

But when did “universal precautions” come to mean that you have to wear gloves before you touch your patient at all?

The downside of hand hygiene campaigns is that they discourage us from normal human contact with our patients.  If you’re worried that the hand hygiene police will detect a deviation from protocol and report you to your hospital’s Infectious Disease authorities, there’s an easy way to avoid the problem. Steer clear of the patient.  And with the advent of the ubiquitous electronic health record, doctors and nurses are under tremendous time pressure to complete all the required data entry fields and move patients through the system.  When you think about it, not touching the patient saves time that could be more efficiently spent at the computer keyboard.  There’s a win-win situation, you might think.  But is it really?

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Wait. Who’s burned out?

How the Affordable Care Act is worsening physician burnout, and why women physicians may be at even higher risk

To the literal-minded, burning out is the fate of light bulbs and matches.  But whether you read the popular press or medical journals today, you’re likely to find writers who are deeply concerned about “physician burnout”.

What defines “physician burnout”, and who exactly is suffering from it?  Is burnout an actual clinical syndrome, a slang term connoting fatigue and boredom, or a hazy combination of the two?  Which medical specialties have the highest rates of burnout, and are men or women physicians more susceptible?  The more you read, the more you realize how much pop psychology and sloppy language are clouding an important issue.

A perfect example of murky logic comes to us courtesy of Dr. Danielle Ofri, who wrote a recent piece for Time called “The Epidemic of Disillusioned Doctors”.  She claims that young women physicians who work in salaried primary care positions are more “resilient” than other doctors, and less likely to become disillusioned about medicine.

Now disillusionment and burnout aren’t identical concepts.  You can be quite disillusioned about the politics of medicine, and pessimistic about the future of private practice, while you take care of your patients every day with dedication and enthusiasm.

But in Dr. Ofri’s view, disillusionment and burnout are twin states of mind, and they are the harbingers of medical errors, substance abuse and depression.  The doctors she considers least likely to suffer such problems are those in her own demographic subset.  “The newer generation of female, salaried, primary-care doctors have the most optimistic outlook on medicine,” she writes.  “This bodes well for patients.”

Wait a moment.  May we see the data to back up this claim?  The source that Dr. Ofri refers to is a 2012 publication from The Physicians Foundation, a nonprofit organization that surveyed more than 13,000 physicians.  The survey addressed professional satisfaction and morale, among other issues, and reached conclusions rather different from Dr. Ofri’s.

“The majority of female physicians, employed physicians, and primary care physicians, though less pessimistic than their male, practice owner and specialist peers, are nevertheless pessimistic about the medical profession and express low levels of morale,” the report concluded, wryly noting that younger physicians “simply may not have practiced long enough to become disaffected.”

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This column was featured on KevinMD on August 13, 2012, and on the California Society of Anesthesiology website as an “Online First” selection on July 16, 2012.

Unless you’ve lately returned from a retreat at a remote Cistercian abbey, if you’re interested at all in women’s issues you’ve probably read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent article in the Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”.  The author eloquently tells how she left her dream job in the State Department as the first woman director of policy planning in order to return to her husband, her two adolescent sons, and her tenured professorship at Princeton University.  The weekly commute to Washington proved impossible, and her family needed her.

Professor Slaughter’s article is well worth reading for its meditations on how difficult it can be to combine motherhood and a challenging career.  Her conclusion is that work practices and work culture need to change.  Unfortunately, her take-home points have little application to the life of a physician.  She quotes from Republican political strategist Mary Matalin, who wrote, “Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.”

That certainly leaves me out.  If there’s one thing I don’t have as an anesthesiologist, it’s control over my schedule.

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