Category Archives: Generic

Racism in Medicine

Infant mortality for black babies in US double that of white babies.

Newborn mortality in Florida for black babies under care of black doctors 58% lower than those under white doctors. No difference for white babies. Still not as good as white mortality though.

Confidence as a doctor

As a doctor, you want to feel confident in your abilities and your diagnosis, you certainly don’t want to question yourself constantly. Equally, your patients want to feel confident that you know what you are talking about, and will probably get better more quickly if they do (placebo effect).

Most people can smell bullshit from a mile off if you try to say something you don’t actually think or believe. Typically, your words (vague) and body language (evasive) will give you away.

At the same time, the over confident doctor is dangerous. Arrogance is also very unattractive. So there is a balance.

What do we mean by confident?

Confidence is a sense of belief in one’s own abilities, but of course you can have a strong belief in your own ability when you have no talent at all. So the kind of confidence we want to have is probably the sense of certainty that you can do something, to the degree that you can then do it without really needing to think too much about it at all.

It isn’t really a character trait. And of course there isn’t such a thing as a “confident person”, because it depends on the skill being considered. Great athletes can be terrible public speakers, for example.

How do get more confident?

It’s cultivated by early childhood experiences of course. How were you encouraged to think about your own efforts and abilities? But no reason you can’t gain in confidence, or at least make your confidence commensurate with your competency. Some people may have more baggage to deal with, of course.

So first step must be to gain competency – which means understanding the basics, practising the skills, and recognizing when things fall outside what you have seen so far. Repetition is key, clearly.

Secondly – if you feel you are straying outside your comfort zone, is there any way to get more information? Do you have notes you can check? Do you know which are the best resources? Do you have a person you can ask safely?

Thirdly – can you see what factors are hindering you from performing at your best? Tiredness? Distraction?

The story you tell yourself

Of course you are not perfect. You will make mistakes. You will forget something. You cannot know everything. But is there anyone other than yourself who expects otherwise?

So rather than concentrating on the negatives (which is probably natural, given that in the evolutionary survival game, you really don’t want to end up wounded, poisoned, lost or dead as often as you get lucky), can you tell yourself that you are ready for this, that you are trained for this, you have worked for this, you work reasonably well in almost all conditions?

That mistakes do not cancel out everything you get right the rest of the time?

Although there is a time to be self critical, there are definitely just as many times if not more to be self friendly, and this can be hard for us if never modelled.

You need to practice positive self affirmations, if you want them to count when under stress. Confidence is like a bank balance that needs constant deposits. List the things you have done well in the past. Spend time each day reflecting on what went well. Spend time looking ahead and envisioning where you want to be. This should be the movie playing in your head.

The “shooter’s mentality” – any missed shot is a temporary slip, and just means the next shot will be successful. Any successful shot confirms that you are on a roll of consistent success.

And how do you think of other people’s success? Do you always equate confidence with arrogance, laziness, complacency?

Stand up straight with your shoulders back

Rule 1 of Jordan B Peterson’s 12 Rules for living.

“Standing up straight with your shoulders back is not something that is only physical, because you’re not only a body. Standing up means voluntarily accepting the burden of Being. You see the gold the dragon hoards, instead of shrinking in terror from the Dragon. It means deciding to transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order. It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality.

“People, including yourself, will start to assume that you are competent (or at least they will not immediately conclude the reverse). Strengthened and emboldened, you may be able to stand, even during the illness of a loved one, even during the death of a parent, and allow others to find strength alongside you when they would otherwise be overwhelmed by despair.

“Then you may be able to accept the terrible burden of the world, and find joy. Look to the victorious lobster.”

See also the benefits of the Superman pose.

The cherry on top

Put in the work – the studying, the practice, the questioning, the reflection.

Then decide to tell yourself – “I’ve done the work. I know what I need to know. I’m going to deliver now. I am enough for this time and this place.”

Shared Decision Making

[NICE guidance 2021] See also participatory medicine and family centred care.

First bullet point is that this should be embedded at organisational level! Includes:

  • provide access to patient decision aids (PDAs) or information about risks and benefits
  • review how “information systems” might help record discussions and decisions, for example through patient held record
  • prompt patients (through media, posters, letters) to ask questions about options, and “making the decision that’s right for me

Staff training:

  • evidence based model eg three-talk model (introduce choice, describe options, help explore preferences and make decision)
  • communication skills – avoiding jargon, explaining technical terms
  • communicating with families and others the patient would like involved

Note that NHS England has “accessible information standards”.

In practice:

  • Agree an agenda
  • Ensure the person understands they can take part as fully as they want in making choices about their treatment or care
  • When it comes to tests or treatments, explain what the health care aim is of each option, and discuss how that might align with patients “aims, priorities and wider goals”
  • chunk and check information
  • check understanding eg teach back
  • Give information away at time of discussion or very soon after, including contact details
  • Write letters to the patient rather than to their doctor, in line with Academy of Medical Royal Colleges’ guidance on writing outpatient clinic letters to patients (and to patient, unless they don’t want a copy).

Communicating risk:

  • Make clear how information applies to them personally, and how much uncertainty applies
  • Use mixture of numbers, pictograms and “icon arrays” (repeated icons, with different colours, to see proportions), to allow people to see both positive AND negative framing
  • Be aware that different people interpret terms such as ‘risk’, ‘rare’, ‘unusual’ and ‘common’ in different ways
  • Use absolute risk rather than relative risk. For example, the risk of an event increases from 1 in 1,000 to 2 in 1,000, rather than the risk of the event doubles.
  • Use 10 in 100, rather than 10%
  • Use the same denominator
  • State both positive and negative framing

Participatory medicine

Patient led campaign for better involvement of patients in their own care.

Manifesto has 5 principles:

  • Share and listen – acknowledge patients are experts in their own lives and bodies, use plain language.
  • Respect one another
  • Share information responsibly – help patients access the information they need, and respect confidentiality
  • Promote curiosity – be clear even when it is difficult to explain, encourage patients to do their own research and get involved in patient communities
  • Be a teambuilder – treat patients as collaborators, respect their goals, values and preferences

These are shared responsibilities, the patient has their own duty to be honest, ask questions, advocate themselves.

Institute of Medicine describes a continuously learning system (in respect of healthcare in the US), the second feature of which is Patient-clinician partnerships. This is explained as “engaged, empowered patients – a health care system anchored on patient needs and perspectives, and promoting the inclusion of patients, families and other care givers as vital members of the team“.

Unclear this happens on any significant level, especially when it comes to communication outside the hospital or clinic room. Studies have found that when patient portals or messaging systems are used, patients often respond with further questions or comments, which suggests unmet need and desire to engage further. Other studies have found that only a tiny minority of messages in such systems are initiated by the health care team, which suggests a reactive rather than active contribution to the partnership.

History of Medical Failures

Where to start!? Leaches, blood letting, pretty much everything doctors did in the pre-modern period…

Thalidomide and birth defects, of course. But unforeseen.

X-rays for pregnancy monitoring. Took years before people paid attention to the alarms. X-rays were also used for tinea capitis – not just brain tumours, strokes and ischaemic heart disease about 30% higher too.

Ribavirin (via SPAG machines) for RSV. Not harmful, just useless and expensive.

Iron supplements for preterm babies – increased sepsis.

Expert patients

Idea came from Prof Kate Lorig, rheumatologist in US. Trained lay educators had better outcomes than conventional clinic appointments. In 2001, became an NHS programme, aimed at cutting costs of chronic disease.

Technology has aided this massively – see “E-patients“. But of course variations in access to technology and tech literacy.

Patient centred networks not well understood. Can have links to health professionals, but can also be tied to industry/commercial interests, may even be driven by industry.  Online resources scored higher with e-patients for convenience, emotional support, empathy, death and dying, in depth medical information, practical help.  Specialist physicians rated highest for diagnosis, technical knowledge (just), managing condition after diagnosis.  So online resources score highest where medics poorest and vice versa.  So combination of both ideal!  Also, medics come and go.  Some patient groups have published their own research eg GIST group.

But behaviour change, specifically when talking about self-efficacy, is very individual and psychology focussed. Less exploration of social influences, other than focus on peer modelling.

Foucault, of course, was fascinated by how people can become obedient, self governing, and how this is produced by the efforts of “pastoral power”, in a similar way to the Christian church and the process of confession.

Trisha Greenhalgh would say that although collaboration between patient and doctor is important, it’s still just one aspect of a whole system that includes community, material conditions, law/policy, social deprivation, cultural norms etc.

Brutalist medicine

“Architecture of medicine” a better metaphor than “art of medicine”, as it has a clear purpose? 

So Brutalist medicine: where so intentionally functional that it erects its own barriers. Eg protocols, scoring systems, electronic records that become monuments to themselves. But you can perhaps defend Brutalism’s desire to avoid unnecessary adornments.

[Benjamin Mazer, Yale-New Haven school of medicine]

Clinical teaching techniques

Set expectations – that most learning happens during daily patient care as part of the team.

Modelling – think aloud, to externalize reasoning (in short spells!)

1-2 minutes direct observation.  Feedback perhaps after a number of episodes – one thing done well, one thing that could be done differently?

Send student ahead (“scouting“).

Self- explanation – without any instructions, student finds own explanations for results, obs, management plan etc.

SNAPPS – summarize case, narrow differential, analyse differential, probe [ask questions] where uncertain, plan, select an issue related to case for self directed learning.  1-2 mins only.

Tell me story backwards – Diagnosis, then supporting evidence, then why other diagnoses excluded.  Only then plan.

Contrastive example – ask student to give alternative diagnosis and balance probabilities.

Post it Pearls – record thoughts (not just pearls!) during clinic/ward round, review at end.

Diagnostic challenge – one person/team defends working diagnosis. Other asks about worse case scenario, or alternative diagnosis, investigations done or not done, and checks with patient themselves!

[Operation Colleague, from University of Glasgow; HPE Bytes]

GIRFEC

Getting it right for every child. A framework for dealing with children and young people, looking at a range of values (SHANARRI).

Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 made provision for Named Person and Child’s plan, but after review in 2019, amid privacy concerns (brought by Christian Institute, among others), government decided not to pursue legislation. Supreme court found that “duty to share information”, although well intentioned, was potentially at odds with article 8 of European convention on Human rights (“Privacy and family life”).

[https://www.gov.scot/publications/getting-right-child-practice-development-panel-report/]

Remote consultations – use of images

Clinical images are part of the medical record. Especially when they are being used to make clinical judgments, they should be retained, which means discussing transfer, storage and use of images.

Transfer – not subject to information governance and data protection rules until received! Whatsapp automatically uses end to end encryption.

Storage – needs to be deleted from your phone/device. NB Whatsapp has option to automatically save to phone. Arrange storage with NHS approved service, or else ask family to retain.

Use – needs specific consent to reproduce in any form, for specified purpose.

Document verbal consent.

If patients are unsure of sharing images, you could try sending illustrative images of the suspected condition.