Thursday, July 31, 2014

Doctors and their beliefs

As usual I am a little behind the news cycle but two interesting stories have recently come up in Canada.

In the first two women in two different cities went to walk-in clinics to get their birth control pills filled.  They were either told by the physician they saw or in one case by reading a sign posted that the physicians would not prescribe birth control because of their personal beliefs.  There are two ways you can deal with this.  You can come back another time, go to another walk-in clinic, or get a family doctor.  You can also if you want post a nasty review on Rate MDs.   Or you could go to the press which is what both of them did.

This caused a big uproar with multiple stories and letters to the editor.  Many lay people felt that the physicians should have prescribed the BCP and that the women's rights had been violated.  Issues like the public funding of medicare, and  the subsidization of their education were raised.    Physicians who did comment sort of stickhandled around the whole issue.

There are several moral reasons why one might not prescribe birth control.  The Catholic Church prohibits it all together so if you are a devote Catholic physician you probably shouldn't prescribe it.  Some extremists believe it may lead to sex outside of marriage and refuse to prescribe it on that basis (if you went to medical school and haven't figured out that a lot of unmarried people are having sex, maybe you are a little dense).  There is also the whole abortion issue.   While the pill is believed to work by inhibiting ovulation, I seem to remember that another proposed mechanism was that it inhibits implantation which is technically abortion.  Another doctor I know claims he won't prescribe because it is too risky a drug to prevent what he believes is a normal physiological event (pregnancy).  

It is not therefore a new thing for physicians to refuse to prescribe birth control.  The general practitioner who delivered our second son refused to prescribe it.  He and his wife also a physcian, taught natural birth control.  They weren't terribly good advertisements for it as they had about 6 kids.  Not prescribing birth control wasn't an issue for us, he was otherwise a really good doctor.  

Now personally I think the two physicians in this case were being a little stupid and I can't believe that this happens in the 21st century.  (Actually much of what has happened in the 21st century I can't belive happened in the 21st century.)  Medicine is however an art not a science, most of us go on our beliefs which hopefully are formed on science.

Family docs have a lot of stupid beliefs.  Many of them believe that upper respiratory infections are caused by bacteria and must be treated by the most expensive broad spectrum antibiotic around.  Others believe that codiene will work for all pain no matter how severe.  Others believe it is not necessary to examine patients in order to arrive at a diagnosis.  I could go on.  These beliefs are at least as bad as not prescribing birth control. 

But I wonder if during the physicians in question's family practice "residency", did anyone point out the obvious economic benefits of prescribing the birth control pill to young women.  It has been a while since I was in primary care and I last wrote a prescription for the birth control pill in 1986 but here goes.  I used to love when women came for a refill of their birth control pills.  Even one counselled them about safe sex and warned about signs of DVT, we are talking about a 5 minute visit.  True you should probably do a Pap smear and cultures for STDs (actually they can test urine for it) but you can get them to schedule another appointment.  Young women on the BCP make great patients because they are mostly healthy.  Eventually they will get pregnant, if you do obstetrics you can follow their uncomplicated pregnancy; or you can refer them to OB.  After the birth you will get several years of well-baby care.  In addition by default, you get their husband who is also healthy and will present every couple of years for some minor problem.  It will be about 20-30 years before they will make you think.   This is exactly the patient a young family doctor wants in his or her practice.

In Canada the morning-after pill can be dispensed without a prescription by a pharmacist.  Shortly after the law came into effect a "researcher" for the CMAJ visited several pharmacies in rural Alberta posing as a patient trying to get the morning-after pill and was turned down by most of them.  This "study" was published in the CMAJ, incurring predictably the wrath of the Pharmacy community and when the editorial board stuck by their story the Board of CMA who charge me hundeds of dollars to belong fired the editorial board.  I don't recall being asked whether I wanted the board fired (or which board I wanted fired).

Abortion is of course another issue.  We used to do the odd abortion at the Centre of Excellence.  We had at least two anaesthesiologists wouldn't do the anaesthetic.  That was no problem, we simply swapped lists for that case.  Now our health authority contracts them out to private facility where they are done under local.  When I was in general practice, I worked briefly at an office in Northern New Brunswick.  The first thing I noticed was that the waiting room was plastered with anti-abortion posters.  The clinic did prescribe the pill, there were lots of samples around.  One day a distressed university student came to see me.  She was pregnant and adamantly wanted it terminated. I then and now support the right to abortion but I was in a quandry where I was in what I thought was an anti-abortion clinic.   Just to show how old I am, at that time, if you had money it was easier to get an abortion in the US than in Canada.  It was in fact not possible for patients from our community to get abortions in our province (the hospitals that did them, would only do them for their immediately catchment area)  so it was necessary to refer her to a clinic in Bar Harbour Maine.  I realized if I phoned from the clinic, it would appear on the long distance bill and I might be in trouble.  So I went home at lunch, phoned the clinic from home (long distance was not cheap then) and arranged the abortion.  A couple of months later when I knew one of the docs in the clinic better, I asked him what he would have done.  "All of us in the clinic send patients down there," he said.  The anti-abortion posters were in the waiting room because these are the type of people you don't want to say no to.

The hospital where I interned in OB did abortions.  Most of these were first trimester abortions done as day surgery but they did the odd second trimester abortion by saline induction which as I found out is quite unpleasant.  These patients usually generated a few calls to the intern for various problems.  The other two interns on the service refused to see abortions which meant I ended up dealing with the problems.  As I told one of them when she told me she didn't feel she had to see patients having an abortion, "I can't believe you would refuse to see a patient in distress".

The second issue involved a Caucasian woman who visited a private fertility clinic in Calgary to get inseminated.  She asked to be inseminated with the sperm of a non-Caucasian patient.  The doctor refused stating, "we don't do rainbow babies".   This caused the predictable storm, most fertility programs in Canada stated they don't have such a policy and the clinic in Calgary has back-tracked; they are now saying it was just a misunderstanding.

I think most of us would think, it the lady wants a mixed race baby so be it.  I am sure an ethicist can probably take this simple quandry and make it much more complicated.  

I sometimes think the world would be a happier place if we were all encouraged to mate with somebody of a different skin colour so that in several generations we were all the same shade of brown  .  Having said that I married a women with similar skin colour to mine and am quite happy with my marriage (not because of her skin colour),  

I wonder how the non-white sperm donors who perhaps donated sperm intending it to go to somebody with their skin colour and who now find out it is going to help white women make designer babies feel about all of this?  Of course most sperm donors don't really want to come forward or attract attention to what they do.  

When artificial insemination was in its infancy, our of our Obstetricians was a local pioneer.  He collected a lot of his sperm from medical students who we all know are genetically superior.  He paid $70 for a course of two donations two days apart which in 1980 was serious cash for a student.  I never did it, nor and nobody I knew admitted to it;  there were rumours about some of our class who were making big bucks in the insemination game.  (We did a skit about it at skits night)  Donors were matched with the spouse of the recipient by "race", blood type and eye colour.  We were assured that the process was anonymous, the identity of the donor would be kept in case of genetic problems later but that there would be no way of the recipient or offspring ever finding out.  That promise was of course not worth anything, about 20 years later, some of the offspring started to want to know who their natural father was.  I am not sure of the outcome of that one.  I can just imagine  at 42 years of age, a 20 year old showing up claiming to be my son after I joylessly inseminated his mother 20 years earlier.   Imagine explaining to my 8 and 10 year old children where their half brother came from.  

Saturday, May 3, 2014

It's tough killing somebody when you really want to.

When I like to impress people about my job, I tell them that I have enough drugs in my anaesthetic cart to kill somebody several times over.  The last person I told this to said, "Thanks for not doing that."

This is why I read with interest and quite a bit of disgust about the series of botched executions in the US.

As a disclaimer I oppose all killing including by the state.  There is no question that what murderers have done is beyond reprehensible.  I feel that killing somebody years or decades after the actual event lowers our society to a place lower than the murderer.  As a teenager I read Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood".  The theme of the book was that while what the two murderers did was wrong, so was their execution many years later.  That's what I think Capote was getting at, he could have just been trying sell a lot of books.  There are some murderers for whom I wouldn't lose a lot of sleep seeing them executed but it is a question of degree and how heinous does a crime have to be before deciding to execute somebody.

Canada has not to its credit executed anybody since 1962 and abolished the death penalty in 1976 replacing it with life with no parole for 25 years for first degree murder.  Between 1962 and 1976 many murderers were sentenced to death, the government let them sweat while their appeals were exhausted, then commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment.  Prior to 1962, Canada had an automatic death sentence for murder and strung people up with great gusto.  The reason for relaxing the death penalty originally was not out of concern that it was wrong but rather that there was concern that juries were acquitting defendants rather than see them face the death penalty.  Canada started sentencing people to 25 years before parole 38 years ago which means that there are a significant number of people convicted of first degree murder walking the streets in Canada.

Periodically one of our right wing politicians brings up bringing back the death penalty.  The common theme is, "but we won't hang people anymore, we will just execute them by lethal injection."

So while large percentages of the American and Canadian population support the death penalty, their support is hinged on the perception that that actual execution  is humane and most importantly it is done out of sight.

Our forebears on the other hand treated executions differently.  They were painful and  long, usually occurring  within hours to weeks of the actual sentence.  They were also for the most part done in public.  There were also no appeals.

As society changed fewer crimes were punishable by death, executions were moved indoors, viewed by only a few witnesses and replaced by methods thought to be more humane.  Methods like the electric chair, the gas chamber and lately lethal injection were all felt to be more humane. (Actually Thomas Edison invented the electric chair to demonstrate how dangerous AC electricity was; Edison favoured DC current.) Appeals were added to make sure the judge and jury actually got it right.  And along the line, most countries and quite a few US states banned the death penalty.

About 30 years ago when some US states started contemplating lethal injection, I suspect most anaesthesiologists thought very hard about just how much drug it would take to kill somebody and what combination would they use.  I suspect some anaesthesiologists were asked formally or informally what they would recommend.  The combination of pentothal, pancuronium and potassium was arrived at.  I am still not sure what doses they used.  Pentothal on its own as many anaesthesiologists have found out is lethal on its own, however the pancuronium and potassium provide the coup de grace.

This seemed to work quite well until pentothal was no longer available in the US (or for that matter Canada).  As I have blogged in the past, pentothal was a perfectly good drug, not as good as propofol still a drug a lot of us would still like to have the option of using.  This caused a problem for executioners in the US because the only source of pentothal is from the EU, all of whose governments have banned capital punishment are not enthusiastic about supplying a drug whose only purpose is to kill people.  Pentobarb widely used in euthanizing animals has been considered but it is not approved for use in humans (it might kill them?) plus nobody knows what dose is lethal or even amnestic in humans.

This lead to an attempt to get propofol which apparently is no longer manufactured in the US with almost disastrous results as the EU threatened to cut off the supply to the US until the supplier begged the state which had obtained the propofol thru underhanded methods to return it.  Propofol which is more cardiostable and less of the respiratory depressant than pentothal might not even be that good a drug.

Therefore I gather midazolam which is still made in the US has been used in at least two botched executions, one execution in combination with hydromorphone.   The touted advantage of the the midazolam/ hydromorphone combination is that it can be given IM if venous access is a problem.  Of course IM injection is unpredictable especially in someone who is peripherally shutdown because they are after all about to die plus to give a lethal dose you would have to inject large volumes.  Combinations of benzos and narcotics are as we all know frequently lethal when you actually aren't trying to kill somebody but apparently work less well when you are trying to.

But it would seem that as soon as it was apparent that getting a good execution cocktail was no longer easy, that state legislatures would just say, "look we've tried as hard as we can to find a pleasant way to kill people but we just can't so why don't we just get rid of this death penalty thing and lock them up for life without parole."   Aside from the fact that the death penalty isn't a deterrent (murderers either don't expect to get caught or don't care if they get caught) and the fact that by conservative estimate 1/25 persons on death row is actually innocent, would this make sense?

Lost in this whole discussion is why the US with a population of 317 million has to import drugs?  If this leads to anaesthetic drugs once more being manufactured in North America and we can start to forget about shortages or impending shortages I just might not be that opposed to capital punishment. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bloody stupid

About 2 or years ago a patient, lets call him Patient A was having surgery at the Big Downtown Hospital (BDH).  For various reasons intraoperatively it was deemed that he needed blood and so the anaesthesiologist drew blood for cross match.  This was put into the appropriate tube and handed to the nurse.  Shortly after, things got better and it was decided that Patient A didn't need blood after all.  The nurse put the tube on a ledge in the operating room.

The next case was Patient B.  Intraoperatively it was decided that Patient B also needed blood.  The nurse (maybe the same one or a different one) saw the tube of blood on the ledge, assumed it had been drawn from Patient B, put Patient B's sticker on it, filled out the appropriate forms and sent the sample to the blood bank.

Fortunately for Patient B when the blood bank ran the blood sample they checked against Patient B's records and discovered that Patient B had not only been typed in the past but that his blood type was different from the sample that was sent to the blood bank which was of course Patient A's blood.

A certain tragedy was averted.

Now there were obviously a few procedural issues about collecting blood samples in the operating room at the BDH that needed to be addressed and certainly the nurse(s) and the anaesthesiologist involved in this case needed to be taken out to the woodshed on this.  Unfortunately we don't take people out to the woodshed anymore when they screw up.  Instead we get bodies like this involved.

Therefore instead of meeting with the individuals involved, presenting this at the local QA committee and developing or reconfirming a policy of properly identifying blood samples drawn in the OR, multiple high paid individuals, mostly removed from clinical practice got to pontificate about this for several weeks and finally arrived at policy, which we we all learned of for the first time when it was announced as a fait accompli.

Henceforth a type and screen done must have a second confirmatory blood sample drawn to check the blood type if the patient has not previous had a blood type. This doesn't just apply to samples drawn in the operating room where this event occurred, but also to samples drawn by the lab, who already have fairly rigourous procedures for identifying patients and labelling samples.  Hematology also announced that rather than routinely collecting this second sample in elective cases that needed it, they would not because they were too busy and that it would anaesthesia's responsibility to collect the second sample (not withstanding the fact that it was anaesthesia drawing a blood sample which caused this problem in the first place).  But don't worry said hematology, if because of time pressure it was not possible to send the second confirmatory sample they would send O negative blood.

This is somewhat moot in that many patients have had a blood type done in the past including every obstetrical patient who has had prenatal care.  Further as the hematologist pointed out to me only a small fraction of patients who get a type and screen actually ever get transfused.  And as he kept repeating, it is not like the patient will not get blood, they will just get O negative blood.

This was not reassuring for me or my colleagues.  Most of us feel that we have enough to do at the beginning of the case without having to check whether the patient has had a previous blood type, draw the blood and fill out the forms.  With newer transfusion guidelines, we let patients bleed down to what were previously considered dangerous hemoglobins which means when we need blood, we need it now.  Most of us consider giving O negative blood a sign of failure, an admission that we were not properly prepared or vigilant enough.  There is also of course the issue of the supply of O negative blood if we are going to be giving it out willy-nilly for purely bureaucratic reasons.  Being O negative myself, I wonder what happens if I get into a car accident driving home from work and there is no O negative blood available because they gave it to other patients.  (The hematologist assured me that as a man it would be perfectly same for me to get O positive blood).

I have never seen an ABO transfusion reaction in my career, nor am I aware of any in any hospital where I worked.  I have however been in multiple situations where blood was needed and was not immediately available for various reasons and it is sickest feeling mainly because even if it wasn't your fault, you always blame yourself, you should have called earlier etc.

Our hospital's hematologist was very good during all this.  This policy was arrived at with minimal if any consultation of front line physicians.  I watched him come to our department meeting and patiently explain the policy which I could pretty much see he didn't agree with but had to implement.  Some of our guys gave him a rough ride.

Things seemed to have calmed down now after months of shouting matches over the phone between members of my department and the blood bank and we are finding a way to work with this policy.  (I seem to spend a significant amount of time as department head figuring out how to do end runs around stupid policies.)  No one seems to be harmed by it (except for patients getting an extra stick) and nobody seems to be benefiting from it.

Monday, March 31, 2014

This is what happens when anaesthesia doesn't control who sets up their machines.

Somebody sent me these photos of ET CO2 tubes gone astray.  OR administrators think that anybody can set up an anaesthetic machine.  Usually this means the nurse who is orienting to the OR, the casual who works once a month or quite often the student nurse gets to attach the circuit to the anaesthetic machine before the case.  

Hmmm what's this little tube with a female Luer lock on the end.  Where does it go?  No problem just find a male  Luer lock to attach it to.  Doesn't really matter where.  Just attach it.

ET CO2 tube connected to anaesthetic mask.

ET CO2 hose connected to Sevo drain.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

We agreed to work stupid hours, they agreed to pay us stupid amounts of money

I recently posted on this.

As it happened I attended a recent meeting of our provincial medical society and this whole issue was front and centre.

At the meeting the deceased father gave a moving but rational presentation on the events following his son's death.  He has tried to put a positive face on his son's death that maybe this can prevent other events or near events.  We learned that his son was an engineer and a pilot in other words an intelligent individual not some yahoo.  Not that that should have made any difference to how he was treated.  We also learned that he did indeed die of a pulmonary embolus.  What he didn't say was what the emergency room doc who saw him the day before did to rule out a DVT.

Their take on the whole mess can be found here.

This generated much discussion.  Much discussion was of course on looking for passive ways of improving communication and what almost nobody wanted to say was that unless we go back to the way we practised 20-30 years ago, we can expect similar events.  One younger doctor did say that the doctors who graduated with him, universally expect to make large amounts of money for as little work as possible.  That was when the President, an old GP came up with the statement in the title, which is essentially the social contract between doctors and society.  His point was that you can't get rid of one stupid without getting rid of the other stupid.  Part of the problem is the fact that 100 or so years ago we did agree to work so hard, which is why we have never set up systems to deal with problems during the day and after hours because there was never any need to because the hard-working doctor was always available.

In face as people started to want to work less stupid hours they were able to do so because other people were still willing to work stupid hours and pick up their slack.  GPs got our of the emergency rooms because other doctors were willing to work there leading in time to the specialty of emergency medicine.  They got out of hospital medicine because specialists were willing to look after their patients for them.  They got out of obstetrics because obstetricians could do normal deliveries for them.  As specialists got sick of working, the hospitalist was invented meaning that really two doctors are now getting paid for what one doctor used to do.   Medicentres enable docs to see large number of patients over a fixed shift with no long term follow-up.  Specialists started to hive off the lucrative and easy parts of their practice, leaving the rest of the work for their not so smart (or more ethical) specialist brethren.

Remuneration is not a problem.  We now have after hours premiums and retainers for being on call that I could only have dreamed of 30 years ago.  

Not to complain but anaesthesia is one of the few specialties that actually works harder now than they did 30 years ago and we haven't figured out how to get hospitalists to do our work for us.  A lot of us feel guilty the odd time we have to let a resident do an after hours case by himself (those of us who have residents).   

The interesting thing about this case is that 30 years ago, not being able to contact his urologist would have been moot.  He would have called the hospital switchboard or visited the emergency and would have been seen by the urology resident or by the rotating intern on the surgical service.  Rotating interns are of course extinct and urology residents now take call from home.  House staff worked really stupid hours for not so stupid money in the old days.  Not saying that that was right and I support to a degree the more relaxed lifestyles residents have today.  Problem is that as residents eased out of the medical workforce, especially the after hours work force, nobody thought who was going to pick up the slack and it certainly wasn't going to be the consultants.

Interesting times and it will be interesting to see how the medical profession in Albertafigures its way out of this problem or whether it is forced to do something by outside forces.  It is again quite possible that we will just weather the storm until the next outrage.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Working 9 to 5

This is a very long document however the chronology is summarized on Page 6.

This unfortunate,now deceased, man developed a mass in his testes for which he consulted a physician at a walk in clinic on two separate occasions months apart.  On the second occasion he was referred to a general surgeon.  After 3 months he had not heard from the general surgeon's office but developed back pain for which he consulted the same physician (you know where this is going).

He was sent for a battery of tests which showed something ominous.  An urgent CT of his pelvis was ordered and performed.  When he didn't hear about the results he went back to the walk-in clinic but was told that the doctor who ordered the test no longer practised there and he was given an appointment to see another doctor who at the radiologist's suggestion ordered an ultrasound of the scrotum, making the diagnosis of testicular cancer.

He was referred to a urologist who worked in a multi-urologist practice grandly called an Institue of Urology (this seems to be an affectation of urologists, our city's group also calls itself an institute).  Unfortunately far from being an institute, this institute, like the one in our city is just a bunch of doctors who share office space.  It turns out that the urologist he had been referred to was on a long vacation and nobody was looking at his referrals to see if there might be something urgent like a testicular mass.    This, our patient found out when he phoned the urologist's number and got a recorded message.  Another urologist was located and surgery was performed urgently with follow up scheduled at the local cancer centre.   Two months passed between the presumed diagnosis of testicular cancer and the actualy surgery.

Two days later our patient noticed swelling of his legs.  After not being able to reach his surgeon (or presumably whoever was on call for the Institute) he went to the emergency where the ER doc ignorred the red flags of leg swelling in a post-op patient with cancer and sent him home where he died suddenly the next day.

The report doesn't say what the autopsy found,  My money is on a pulmonary embolus but what do I know?

I can be a little smug about this because I am an anaesthesiologist and we don't have to deal with patient care issues like this.  Trust me, if there was a way to blame anaesthesia for what happened here, we would have been blamed.

This report hit the press a month or so ago and generated some outrage until people forgot about it and started worrying about important things like Justin Bieber and the Olympic Games.  

Like most catastrophes there was a chain of small mistakes resulting in a huge fatal mistake.

1.  The patient went to a walk-in centre.  This may be because he didn't have a family doctor or maybe just because his family doctor wouldn't give him an appointment when it was convenient for him.

2.  Instead of thinking, "hmmm testicular swelling in a young man... rule out testicular cancer", the walk-in doctor referred him to a general surgeon.  Now in the old days, some general surgeons did urological procedures and this is probably still the case in the developing world which is where the walk-in doctor is most likely from.

3.  Presumably instead of having his receptionist call the office to arrange an urgent referral, he just faxed an illegible referral form which the general surgeon's secretary couldn't read and so just put it on the pile with the rest of the illegible referral forms.

4.  After discovering that the man probably had (mostly likely) metastatic cancer, instead of then getting on the phone to a urologist or an oncologist, walk-in doctor #2 faxed in an illegible referral note to the a urologist at the Institute.  Presumably nobody was looking at this fellow's referrals.  On the other hand did they even have a mechanism for triaging really urgent referrals.  Probably not.  And of course trying to get any specialist on the phone is next to near impossible.

5.  Not knowing exactly how he presented to the ER and what degree of leg swelling he had or what investigations the ER docs did, it is hard to comment on what happened there.  At the very worst,the ER doc may have just thought, "OK he is seeing the oncologist tomorrow, he will take care of this."  Because you know, getting a venous doppler, phoning the urologist or starting someone on heparin is a such a drag.

Canada has socialized medicine.  What we really have are hundreds of physicians practising independently, the only commonality being the single payer.  While the government and individual physicians are spending milions on EMRs, these unfortunately do not talk to one another.  It is quite likely that even if the emergency room doctor worked at the same hospitall where the surgery was done, the operative report might not have been available to him on the computer because it hadn't been typed yet.  The urologist's consult would definitely not have been available.

The headline above was that our registrar reminded doctors that medicine is not a 9-5 job which unfortunately may come as a surprise to many doctors.  He also took the time to reminisce about his long ago career as a general surgeon and the excellent coverage he provided.  I actually worked with him 15 years ago, before he bailed for what lead to his  current job, and for a general surgeon he did provide pretty good care to his patients.  He didn't mention however, that he worked in a teaching hospital where his house staff fielded, screened and triaged all his calls for him.  He might have seen into the future how house staff coverage was going be eroding and that might have been why he bailed.
I have been practising for 31 years now and maybe I am looking back at the past with rosy glasses but it seems that we used to communicate better and actually try to serve our patients a little better.  There may be reasons for this.

There is the whole boomer, Gen X and Gen Y thing and how they look at life differently.  I could expound on this but others have done so more eloquently.

More and more there has become more of a divide between primary care docs and specialists.  Primary care docs used to work in hospitals, they largely don't now.  Primary care docs and specialists used to train together at least as junior staff.  Now primary care docs and specialist train in their individual silos with no interraction.  There used to be more respect between the groups.

Finally the licensing bodies have gradually over the years lowered the bar in what is considered standard on communication between doctors and after hours coverage.  While I suspect most people are already in the process of changing this, I can predict pretty safely that if I call most family doctors' and quite a few specialists' phones after hours, I will get a recorded message directing me to call 911 or go to the emergency.  Further many patients that I see in the pain clinic tell me that their doctor has gone on vacation with no replacement.  This used to be only patients from rural areas with small numbers of doctors, increasing I see it in patients from the city.  A couple of summers ago, one of the medical clinics in the town where I have my dacha placed an ad in the local paper announcing they were closing their office for all of July and August.  There was no suggestion where their patients would be going.  Who can blame them, when you live in a resort community what a drag having to work?  Likewise patients have told me that they have shown up at their family doctors office, only to find he has left town permanently.

Further complicating matters is the fragmentation of care.  Patients have slices of their care provided by various specialties and subspecialties.  There is very little communication between them.  They obtain their urgent care from a walk-in clinic where they see a different doctor every time.  It may be fine to parcel out pieces of the patient but conditions overlap and who is in charge when the shit hits the fan?  I am guessing the answer is "not me"

We talked about this at our Medical Advisory Committee meeting last Friday.   A couple of the surgeons stated that their patients had been admitted to hospital with complications of surgery and they had never been notified.  They only found out when the patient showed up for a follow-up visit or didn't show up because they had died.  A pulmonary specialist complained that patients he was following would be admitted to internal medicine and he was not called.   A lady from admin who was there, stated that yes, they had known for years it was a problem and that not calling a doctor who might actually know something about the patient's condition frequently prolonged the patient's hospital stay.  She didn't say why admin had not tried doing something.

Anyway it strikes me that the horse has long left the barn on this and I am interested in how our licensing body is going to play this out.  I am attending the semi-annual representative forum of our provincial medical society this weekend and it should be interesting.