Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

Cape Cod

Posts Tagged ‘PAT’

White Flags Waving in the Breeze

Uncle. I give up. Full surrender. Total capitulation. I cannot beat the takers.

It’s funny because my first three drafts of this missive started out “stop the madness”, but I can’t. It won’t stop. The “Do-Gooders” and “We Shoulders” who make the decisions because “they think” or “we feel” have beaten me. Beaten everyone like me. The white flag is up. Turns out the windmill is really a dragon, and contrary to what it says in all the fairy tales the dragon always wins.

You see I, Dr. Quixote as it turns out, thought that being right made a difference. I thought that data, precedent, FACTS would rule the day. Silly me. Silly, sorry sad little me. I thought it was about patients, patient outcomes, statistics, but all along it’s been about the system and protecting the system, protecting it from the very possibility of theoretic risk, protecting it from…patients.

Here I was looking at yet another cost being added to the experience of my surgical patients and asking why a change was being made. Why were we opening a new bottle of $13.00 eye drops for each laser patient, when each bottle held enough medicine for 100 patients? Why were we using a new vial of antibiotic to be injected into the infusion bottle of each case, when each vial held enough medicine for 5 cases? Why, indeed, when there had never…not once…been a reported case of acquired infection, ever, from using one bottle or one vial. Ever. When eye doctors in their offices use and have used, bottles of eyedrops until they can’t squeeze our a single extra molecule. Why?

I blanched at the waste. Plastic baggies of bottles full of drops carted to the trash. Vials of man’s best antibiotics less the microliters used for one surgery crowding the sharps buckets. It was unconscionable, an insult to Puritan and non-adherent alike. The amount of waste nothing short of vulgar.Did no one else see this? I mean, here we are in the supposed throes of a healthcare crisis born of excess and waste, and yet I, Dr. Quixote, flailed alone?

Data…surely data would prevail. Look at the cost, I cried. Never mind the insult to the Puritan ethic, simply look at the cost! You can’t bill the patient, though Lord knows you’ve “mistakenly” done so innumerable times. It’s a cost. It decreases “revenue in excess of expenses” (you’re a non-profit…I get it…we can’t call it profit). I even understand why you’ve spurned my entreaties about Pre-Admission Testing even though there was an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that said PAT is unnecessary. The NEJM is the only medical journal that God reads, and even SHE knew I wouldn’t win THAT one because you can get PAID for PAT. I get that one.

You’ve beaten me. Today I see it. You sent in the REAL decision maker, one of the people who make the decisions in this new age of medicine. I was still under the illusion that maybe I, a doctor, was a decision maker. That I, a doctor who looked at and liked real data, had a vote, some skin in the game. No, today you sent in The One From Pharmacy. I have seen the One With Power and now I know that I am beaten.

The One From Pharmacy has all the words. He has all the weapons. “It’s only fair that each patient receive the same freshly opened bottle/vial.” “What if we have an infection and we re-used a bottle? How could we ever face that patient?” “Here’s an article by a pharmacist that says you could possible have contamination of an open bottle.” “Should we ignore this article that discusses the theoretic possibility of infection?” I also know from prior conversations with The Hospital Administrator that The One From Pharmacy cannot abide not knowing the destination of each drop, cannot abide not having the option of charging each individual patient (if only he could) for each medicine, and that a new bottle must be opened and assigned to each patient for this purpose. This I know.

Oh, I tried. I really did. I tried to point out that each of the articles the The One From Pharmacy shared with me were nothing more than opinion pieces, essays that were little more than editorials sharing one author’s thoughts. His or her feelings. “I think,” therefore it must be. But…but…but…there’s no DATA. No evidence. Nothing to refute decades of experience in the operating room. No results or reviews showing that the status quo is dangerous, only some somebody who managed to get what “they think” into some non-peer reviewed journal.

“Doctor, are you saying that we should just IGNORE these articles? You would have us simply continue with business as usual? The governing bodies ALL say this COULD happen. Are you saying that we should ignore what they THINK?” I confess, I had no answer. I was paralyzed, caught between my horror at the thought that decades of success, as well as common sense so obvious it made stomach hurt, were to be tossed aside because of some someone’s feelings, and my fascination at the sheer revulsion registering on the face of The One From Pharmacy. Funny, he wasn’t anything at all like what I thought the dragon would look like.

I stood there for a moment, bleeding, as the realization slowly came to me that I was defeated. Vanquished. It’s a shame, really, because doctors of my generation are the last, best hope for all of us. We bridge the divide between the ancients who lived through the Golden Age of Medicine–the Giants who cured polio, discovered antibiotics, replaced joints–and the moderns, the nextgen who will live through the silicon age of medicine–Dwarfs who will serve a system, cure the economics, replace care.

I felt small, diminished, inconsequential, a failure, a disappointment. It was hard, frankly, to haul my carcass to the operating room to begin my work day.¬†Yet that’s exactly what I did. I mounted my steed and raised my lance; slowly, ever so slowly, we rode alone to the operating theater.

A white flag, attached to my lance, waving in the breeze.