Articles Posted in Surgery

SouthDakota-StateSeal.svgSouth Dakotans will need their state lawmakers’ help now to pry open physicians’ iron grip on secret decisions about which doctors get to practice in hospitals and why. That’s because the state’s Supreme Court ruled this vital information must be kept confidential, even if releasing it would serve a wider good of disclosing possible criminal or fraudulent conduct.

The high court ducked its potential role in helping more than 30 patients who claim they were mangled in excruciating, needless surgeries performed by Allen Sossan, an osteopath with an easily discovered criminal past and a checkered medical practice record in the area around Yankton, S.D. I’ve written about this case before.

Several South Dakota hospitals gave Sossan practice privileges after his credentials were reviewed by physician committees, which, since have fought mightily to keep secret what they knew and when they knew it about him. Sossan since has been indicted for providing false information to medical licensing authorities. The convicted burglar and check kiter apparently has fled the country and may be back in his native Iran.

heatercoolerPost-op heart surgery patients who experience night sweats, muscle aches, weight loss, fatigue, or unexplained fever should contact their doctors, stat, federal officials say. They’re warning that a medical device, designed to keep organs and blood at a constant temperature, was contaminated with nontuberculous mycobacterium (NTM). Officials already have confirmed more than two dozen NTM infections in open heart patients, and thousands more may be at risk.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention flagged the potential patient risks linked to the Stöckert 3T, temperature-regulating surgical devices made by LivaNova PLC (formerly Sorin Group Deutschland GmbH).

Temperature-regulating devices are common in the 250,000 open heart surgeries performed annually in hospitals, officials say, and 60 percent of the procedures involve the German-made model. NTM infections may not develop immediately, and some cases were confirmed as many as four years after surgery. They typically are not fatal but can be problematic for immune-compromised patients, such as many open heart patients are. They respond well to antibiotics if detected.

38_Special_mushrooming_side_viewA lethal epidemic is sweeping Baltimore neighborhoods, costing taxpayers millions of dollars, as well as demoralizing caregivers who struggle with its casualties daily. Researchers, tragically, are barred from developing detailed data about this scourge to try to curb its increasingly deadly harm.

Kudos to the Baltimore Sun and reporter Justin George for investigating for a year the gun violence that torments the city, sending at least 200 patients to area hospitals already just in 2016. The Sun says hospitals in the poor city have spent in five years more than $80 million caring for patients involved in gun crimes. Hospitals have seen their gunshot caseload double, and the costs of this care increase by 30 percent. Taxpayers end up footing most of the bill under Medicaid, the federal-state insurance for the poor.

The Sun’s multi-part series looks at gun violence from many aspects but the violence’s effects on the city’s health care is tragic and distressing.

aanningA conscience-stricken surgeon in South Dakota has publicly confirmed one of the great frustrations for patients pursuing medical malpractice claims after they have been harmed: He says doctors are too willing to lie in court to protect themselves and colleagues, as he did two decades ago in a case involving a partner in his practice.

Dr. Lars Aanning says he no longer could live with his lie. Because he is 77, retired, and cannot be subject to colleagues’ retribution, he decided to ‘fess up, and to help attorneys who represent injured patients. Aanning says he does not know whether his false testimony was decisive in his partner’s lawsuit. But he confesses that he knew his colleague’s patient had suffered because of the treatment this stroke victim received. He also had had doubts before about his partner’s work.

He tells a reporter for Pro Publica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning online investigative site, that he knew at the moment he uttered his untruths that his lying flew in the face of everything he thought he stood for. But he says, “I did it as a matter of course. And I did it because there was a cultural attitude I was immersed in: You viewed all attorneys as a threat and anything that you did was OK to thwart their efforts to sue your colleagues. I just accepted that as normal. It wasn’t like, ‘I’m going to lie. It was, ‘I’m going to support my colleague.’ ”

prostateA  study involving more than 80,000 men followed for 10 years gives some important clues, but no final answers, on what patients with a diagnosis of prostate cancer should do. It’s long been a puzzle because prostate cancer is one of the most common and deadliest cancers for men, yet in many cases it’s so slow to grow that men die with, not from, prostate cancer.

Here’s the bottom line, which the researchers emphasized needs to be continued for an even longer time for its findings to be more authoritative:

At a median of 10 years, prostate-cancer–specific mortality was low irrespective of the treatment assigned, with no significant difference among treatments. Surgery and radiotherapy were associated with lower incidences of disease progression and metastases than was active monitoring.

calpers-headquartersWith 450,000 California members, a giant public employee group in the Golden State has successfully found one way to curb medical costs, slashing prices for a set of common procedures by 20%, and saving its members millions of dollars.

It all starts with an idea radical in many parts of American health care: that hospitals should have to disclose their true costs up front so patients have a chance to vote with their feet.

As reported by health economist Austin Frakt in the New York Times’ “Upshot” column, the California Public Employees Retirement system, aka Calpers, in 2011 put in place a new payment plan for members hospitalized for knee and hip replacement surgery, colonoscopies, cataract removal surgery and other common elective procedures. Under this “reference pricing,” Calpers capped what it would pay to hospitals for the various operations, while still allowing its members to choose where they wanted to be treated; if patients picked pricier hospitals, they paid the difference. It could amount to thousands of dollars.

Operating_theatreIf the time in a doctor’s office or the hospital isn’t  frightening enough already for most patients, some recent publications by MDs in prominent, peer-reviewed medical journals may ramp up that anxiety to new heights: Just who is skulking around, with institutional blessing, when you’re getting your medical care? And what role are these official-looking people playing?

A tip of the hat to Morning Rounds, the daily newsletter from the health news site Stat, for pointing out a newly published study on PLOS One that details how sales people for surgical device makers conduct themselves when they are routinely allowed into operating rooms. They are gowned, often wear badges like hospital staff, and they consult with the surgical team, as doctors allow. They bring laser pens that they use to point out instruments and anatomical features. They never touch patients or handle any part of the surgery.

But, the study notes that the sales reps:

meniscusSurgeons’ propensity to perform a common procedure may transfer patients’ knee discomfort to their wallets.

The New York Times, in its Upshot column, pulls together a growing body of research that indicates that surgeries for meniscus tears are “useless.” The arthroscopic procedure, however, is popular with the middle-aged and older when afflicted with knee pain, and some 400,000 Americans annually go under the knife for tears to their menisci, two C-shaped pieces of cartilage that act like a cushion between the shinbone and thighbone.

Although patients complain that meniscus injuries leave them stiff, with pain, and a joint that clicks or catches, researchers in Boston looked closer and found that many people have similar tears with no issue; they also considered that many patients failed to improve after surgery. When they weighed the results of surgery versus physical therapy, the researchers concluded that the operation produced no better results.

DiceA globally renowned seismologist, weary of recent scaremongering reports that a major fault in California was “locked, loaded, and ready to roll,” offered a pointed scientific evaluation of risk: “You’re about as likely to be shot by a toddler than die in an earthquake,” she observed. She explained that, in geologic terms with earthquakes, imminent can mean centuries, not milliseconds. Further, over the last 100 years, there have been an average of 40 temblor deaths annually in the Golden State; in 2015 alone, toddlers with guns killed roughly that same number of Americans.

Suddenly, the media fascination with an impending seismic catastrophe receded to more normal concern.

This much publicized discussion of risk underscores the private complexity that many patients confront in harsh, short time spans when they get multiple surgeons’ opinions on whether they should undergo major procedures. Why does one surgeon tell a young patient and his family to wait and try a lot of other treatments for his brain hemorrhages but not an operation? Then why does a second neurosurgeon tell them the boy needs a procedure NOW to save his life?

Here are some fast takes on some developments in health worth watching:

Good news: Birth rates among teen moms have declined to historic lows, falling most sharply (by almost half) for blacks and Hispanics, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported. Many factors may have contributed to this important trend, including greater access by the young to contraception and shifting mores and behaviors that lead to teens having less sex. Even with this positive news about declining teen birth rates, those for blacks and Hispanic still are double those for whites. Taking care of young parents and their kids costs the country an estimated $9 billion annually. Teen moms and their kids suffer short- and long-term health and social well-being consequences, experts say.

Back-PainQuestions on a common, painful back procedure: When U.S. patients appear to suffer “degenerative disc disease,” a condition around which a $40 billion industry has sprouted, their doctors more than 70,000 times annually subject them to a painful, costly procedure called provocative discography. Materials are injected under pressure into several discs─both those suspect and some as experimental controls─as a diagnostic technique. But new research shows this invasive procedure has no proven benefit and may lead to faster degeneration of the injected discs, says HealthNewsReview.org, a health information watchdog site. The site asks why this study, praised by experts it quotes, was ignored by media. The study potentially opens the door to further, needed inquiry about questionable, costly, painful, and potentially ineffective care given for the millions who suffer from back pain, site experts write.

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