Monthly Archives: September 2014

Unnecessary Tests

So something a lot of patients ask me is “Is this test really necessary?” The majority of the times a test is ordered it is necessary, but there are times when they are not. Let me define what I mean by necessary and unnecessary. Necessary, to me, is any test that will rule in, rule out, or confirm a diagnosis. Necessary tests guide treatment, letting the doctor know the next step in treatment, how to alter treatment, or when to stop.

Unecessary tests are tests that don’t really give me any new information that would help determine a diagnosis or change my treatment plan. Here are some of the reasons these tests are ordered.

1) Patient demands it. There are times when I know the XRay isn’t going to show anything because what they have is not something that can be visualized on XRay, but despite my best efforts to explain reasoning and the risk of radiation, they still demand it. It’s horribly uncomfortable to argue with a patient, and when they don’t get what they want, they just go down the block to the next doc. The practice loses business, and the doctor gets in trouble with the administration or suffers low survey scores which can lower reimbursements.

2) To cover our butts. Sometimes we simply have to do it to ” just make sure” and protect ourselves. And we also want to make sure we are doing everything we can for our patients. Better to be safe than sorry.

3) For documentation purposes. Sometimes insurance companies need proof in the form of lab/ imaging results that the patient indeed needs this treatment. Also, sometimes insurance companies won’t cover a certain test or referral that I deem necessary until another test is done beforehand.

4) And, I’m embarrassed to say it, but ┬ásome doctors do it for money. Not all doctors do this or want to do this but sometimes we are forced to do so. The last company I worked for wanted me to order sleep studies and ultrasounds on every patient as they were procedures that were done in house and could be billed. My constant refusal caused me a lot of humiliation and reprimanding. Other doctors do them to make up the difference in what they are being reimbursed by insurance. I am not justifying this behavior in any way and I believe that it is a very small percentage of doctors that do this.

Hope  this sheds a little light into the issue of unnecessary testing.

“Work is killing me.”

So I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. The other doctor in my office was out of town so I was covering for him and then I got sick last week and am still feeling pretty crappy.The weather went from a blazing eighty five degrees to a rainy, dreary seventy in just a day and I had patients coming in with coughs and colds and sore throats for a week.

A few days later I started feeling chills and general fatigue. I figured it was a viral upper respiratory infection and started taking vitamin C. I had an appointment with my rheumatologist, who ended up doing a throat culture and nasal swab. I didn’t think anything would come up positive and figured I’d be feeling better by the weekend.

Over the past weekend, I developed a horrible cough, and it got me thinking. The purpose of my lupus treatment is immunosuppression. I take Imuran, and my last white blood cell count was about 2. This makes me really susceptible to catching some nasty bug. I should be avoiding sick people but instead I’m surrounded by them all day. They cough and sneeze all over me. I look inside their mouths and noses while taking swabs and cultures.

I remember when I worked in the hospital during residency. Any time there was a suspected case of tuberculosis or meningitis in the ER, I was warned to steer clear. I couldn’t even go into the ER to see my patients who were there for noninfectious illness, because everyone who went into the ER was at risk of contracting the highly- contagious disease and had to be given prophylactic antibiotics.

I work in an outpatient office now, so the likelihood of having an extremely sick patient is not as common, but it’s still a risk. I could never work in a hospital again.I could wear a mask at work, but that would make my patients uncomfortable, and make my staff suspicious. After getting sick this last time, it made me wonder how at risk I am putting myself everyday.

My throat cultures came back positive for bacteria, most likely strep. I’ve started antibiotics, but I’ve been so short of breath that my doctor ordered a chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia. I should get my results back today, which hopefully will be negative. I’m still going to work this week because I don’t get any sick leave (doctors aren’t supposed to get sick) and I shouldn’t be contagious anymore. I’m exhausted and weak from coughing all night, but I still have to keep going.

I’m optimistic that I will get better soon, and I am going to take better precautions to prevent getting sick again but this gives new meaning to the phrase “Work is killing me.”

The Day of the Visit

We discussed how to be prepared for your doctor’s visit in my last post. Today I will discuss what to do on the day of.

First thing is try to be 15-20 mins early. They may need you to fill out new paperwork, or re-run insurance. I know every time I see my Rheumatologist I fill out a health questionnaire.

In the waiting room, find a way to pass the time. Bring a book or read a magazine, or what I like to do, play a game on the phone. I find doing this not only makes the wait time seem shorter but also helps decrease any anxiety I may be feeling about the appointment.

While your waiting in the exam room, take a minute to relax and clear your mind of other distractions. I know sometimes I go in and I am worried about something and work or home. I can’t focus on what my doctor is saying when I’ve got other things on my mind. Get your paperwork and notes ready. Think about what you want to say.

And most importantly, turn the phone on silent and put it away. As a patient and doctor, I find it to be a huge distraction. I will ask something and the phone rings and both of us I lose our train of thought. Plus, it’s simply rude. It gives the doctor the impression you don’t care when you are texting/checking emails/ playing games during your visit. I find they are not paying attention, and I have to repeat myself multiple times.Sometimes I’ve had patients answer their phone and start having full conversations while I’m waiting to finish interviewing/examining them. This is a patient’s special time with a doctor and it should be dedicated solely to determining the best plan of care.

During the visit, let the doctor guide the visit. When I see my doctor, I have my own questions and concerns I want to discuss but I usually wait til the end. I let her ask her questions first, because I know she is trained to gather the important information necessary to coming up with a good assessment and gameplan. Usually throughout the course of her interviewing me, I get my questions answered anyway.

Be honest with your doctor. I’ve had a lot of patients try to hide information because it’s embarrassing, or illegal, or simply cause they did’t feel it was important. Doctors keep everything confidential, and are not there to judge you personally. The more information we have, the more we can help.

Take notes. Write down things so you don’t forget once you get home. I don’t know about you, but somedays it’s a lot of info all at once. Also ask about getting any test result reports you need for your other docs.

Don’t be afraid to voice your questions or concerns. You are your best advocate. Also don’t be afraid to ask for something to be repeated or explained again. Sometimes us doctors talk to fast or accidentally use language that others are not familiar with. I usually ask my patients to repeat the plan back to me, to make sure they really understood what I said. I know I’ve misunderstood what my doctor has said to me a couple times.

I really believe that these doctors visits are really important. With the confusion of this disease, I feel like my doctor and the time I spend with her is what really gets me through. I know a lot of people hate going to the doctor, but I actually look forward to it. All in all, these tips should be useful in making your appointment go smoother.