#AAMC13 #BeyondFlexner: Tweeting Back to the Future

5 11 2013

I am just returning from AAMC 13 in Philadelphia, which happens to be the site of the very first AAMC conference in 1876.  Perhaps it is this historic backdrop which made it more poignant when AAMC President and CEO Dr. Darrell Kirch charged the audience to rise to the occasion during our most challenging time, or our healthcare system’s “moment of truth.”  Between sessions on how academic health centers needed to evolve to survive healthcare reform and how medical students need to avoid the “jaws of death” from the Match, there was certainly much to fear and much to learn. In spite of this, there are always moments where it was undeniable that the future was bright.  But, the most interesting moments at this meeting where when it felt like we were going back to the future.

One of those moments was sitting in on the CLER (Clinical Learning Environment Review), or the new ACGME institutional site visit process which is not meant to be scary, but helpful!  As a non-punitive visit, its meant to catalyze the necessary changes needed to help improve the learning climate in teaching hospitals. This session was particularly salient for me as I transitioned from being an Associate Program Director into role of Director for GME Clinical Learning Environment Innovation about a month ago.  At one point, Dr. Kevin Weiss described the CLER site visitors observing a handoff- and in that one moment, they saw the resident bashing the ER, failure of supervision, the medical students left out, and an opportunity to report a near miss that was ignored.  Even though CLER is new, he made it sound like the site visitors were going back in time and nothing had changed.  Have we not made a dent in any of these areas?  I guess it’s probably safest to pretend like its 2003 and we need a lot more training in quality, safety, handoffs, supervision, fatigue, and everyone’s favorite…professionalism.

After being the only tweeter at times in the Group of Resident Affairs sessions, I ventured into the tweeting epicenter of the meeting at the digital literacy session.  There, I not only learned about a very cool digital literacy toolkit for educators, but also got to connect with some awesome social media mavens who use technology to advance medical education. While I have access to these technophiles through Twitter (you know who you are), it was NOT the same as talking about the future of social media and medical education face-to-face.  Call me old-fashioned, but connecting with this group over a meal was just what this doctor ordered.  My only wish is that we had more time together…

Lastly, we went back to the future in our session showcasing the winners of the Teaching Value and Choosing Wisely Competition at both the AAMC and ABIM Foundation meeting last week.   One of the recurring themes that keeps emerging in these sessions, in addition to a recent #meded tweet chat, is that the death of clinical skills (history taking and physical exam) promotes overuse and reliance on tests in teaching hospitals.  Could it be that by reinvigorating these bedrock clinical skills and bringing back the “master clinician”, we could liberate our patients from unnecessary and wasteful tests?  I certainly hope so…and it can’t hurt to be a better doctor.  Moreover, one of the most powerful tools that was mentioned was the time-honored case report!  In fact, case reports have been resurrected to highlight avoidable care in a new JAMA Internal Medicine series called “Teachable Moments.”

And lastly, in the spirit of going back to the bedside, our MERITS (medical education fellowship team) submitted a video entry to the Beyond Flexner competition on what medical education would be like in 2033.  While the impressive winners are showcased here,  our nostalgic entry was aptly titled Back to the Future and Back to the Bedside, and envisioned a future where all students, regardless of their year, are doing what they came to medical school to do, see patients.

–Vineet Arora MD





From Astronauts to Attendings: Workload, Duty Hours and July, Oh My!

31 07 2013

reposted from Academic Medicine’s blog

Every July, as academic hospitals welcome new interns, a flurry of activity ensues. While learning to care for patients and navigating the complex social territories of their new hospitals, interns also are worrying about “getting out on time” and making sure not to “dump” on their colleagues. This work compression, particularly among interns who are not familiar with the day-to-day operations of wards, can strain the learning environment. With the implementation of resident duty hours regulations, attending physicians are subsequently called to provide more direct patient care. Yet residency is a time for learning on the job, and part of that learning comes from the teaching attendings provide. In our recent study in Academic Medicine, we asked: “So what has happened to time for teaching?”

Given the recent changes in academic medicine, attendings’ workload needs to be examined, especially regarding their role as teachers. Previously, most studies of workload and work compression focused on residents. Moreover, these studies commonly focused on workload as it related to patient census. While patient census is one measure of workload, we all have had the experience of how one very complicated patient can add up to more work than 10 relatively straightforward patients. So, should we instead consider perception of workload rather than actual workload measured by volume?

Borrowing from methods developed at NASA to examine astronauts’ workload, we examined attendings’ perceptions of workload and the relationship of those perceptions to reporting enough time for teaching. In doing so, we found a steep relationship between attendings’ greater perceived workload and time for teaching. Additionally, we analyzed our results with respect to the time of year and to the implementation of duty hours regulations. Implementing duty hours regulations, not unexpectedly, reduced attendings’ time for teaching, but the magnitude of this reduction was humbling.  What was most surprising, however, relates to the time of year, specifically summer, which everyone fears because of the “July effect”.  Interestingly, more teaching occurs during summer than during winter and spring. We also found that attendings’ greater workload during winter and spring was more detrimental to their time for teaching than their workload during summer.

Certainly, having attendings provide more direct care when residents have heavy workloads improves patient safety. However, the cost to residents’ education and subsequent learning and growth is not trivial. Ensuring that teaching on the wards is restored should be a central focus of graduate medical education reform.  Moreover, while winter and spring should be times for continued teaching on advanced topics to ensure professional growth towards achieving competence, for some reason, we fall short. Meanwhile, during summer, attendings may cut back on their own busy clinical practice and/or administrative duties in anticipation of their role as teachers and supervisors. Regardless of the reason, to prepare for future changes to the accreditation system and attendings’ role in documenting progression through milestones, testing and implementing innovative ways of re-balancing workload to restore teaching and learning on the wards is imperative.

–Lisa Roshetsky MD MS and Vineet Arora MD MAPP 





Not Getting Sick in July

1 07 2013

Today is July 1st.  While everyone has heard the old adage about not getting sick in July because of new interns, the truth is that new interns nationwide have started already. Yet, you don’t hear much about the “late June effect?”  So is the July effect overblown or true?  Well, there have been many studies – so many so there was a recent systematic review co-authored by one of my own co-interns a long time ago.    While I am sure it was hard to synthesize the studies of often sub-par quality, the review does state “studies with higher-quality designs and larger sample sizes more often showed increased mortality and decreased efficiency at time of changeover.”  The study I recall best examined over 25 years worth of death records and found a pattern.  In the 240,000 deaths due to medication errors, mortality rates did increase in July, especially in counties with teaching hospitals.  I’m not sure death certificates are accurate as a way of diagnosing cause of death but that’s another story.

While it’s not possible for patients to time their illness, the question becomes what can be done to ensure July is as safe as possible? While there is scant literature on this topic, over the last several years, I have had the privilege of attending in July.  While I ended up attending in June this year before the interns switched, I was reminded of several ways in which July is different and can be made safer.

  • July requires more intense supervision.  Residency is a time of graduated supervision.  In June, a few weeks before third year residents graduate, it would be tragic or perhaps a sign of a problem if an attending had to oversee every little decision in the moment.  It would also annoy the senior residents to no end.  The senior residents have matured to the point that they are the team leaders and you are often the advisor and hearing about their decision-making and rationale and providing advice and guidance where needed.  That is certainly not the case in July.  In July, attendings often are hovering (even if they don’t admit it) or “epic-stalking” checking on every lab and medication.  Moreover, greater attending supervision is more commonplace since 2011 due to a huge push by accreditation agencies and in part due to shorter resident duty hours.   The truth is that interns are rarely acting alone and are often working in tandem with a more advanced resident and attending.  While a recent ICU study questions the utility of overnight attending supervision, a systematic review from our group found that enhancing supervision was associated with improved patient outcomes and resident education in a variety of settings.  Faculty can be more formally prepared for their bigger responsibility in July as it will not only require more time, but also more intensity of supervision. While this would include traditional in-person supervision, attendings can be taught to provide formal oversight of care through technology tools, such as the EHR, mobile computing, and yes, even Google Glass.
  • The residents are more eager to learn in July.  July is a time when interns and residents want to learn.  They are eager for feedback.  It is much harder to teach interns and residents in June since they have gotten good at their role…and picked up a lot of medical knowledge on the way.  Because of their umpteenth case of a certain disease, they may not find any additional learning in the case.  Of course, there are always more things to teach, but it is just a little harder than in July when your new interns are ready to soak up knowledge like a sponge.  You can also have a big impact on practice patterns before they form and cement best practices.  While some faculty shy away from signing up for July, many I know prefer to do July because of this reason!
  • Everyone is new in their role in July. July is a time of transition for all residents, such as senior residents, chief residents, not to mention new attendings.  Moreover, other health professional training programs are turning over too such as pharmacy residents.  One potential solution that has been mentioned is to stagger the start date of various specialties/professions so that not everyone is new in July.  While this is probably not as feasible as it sounds (and it doesn’t sound feasible), it is an interesting idea worth entertaining.
  • Anticipate the inefficiency. Because of the turnover in all staff, everything is a little less efficient.  While a little less efficiency may not seem like much, for a resident team, less efficient means likely higher census because of delayed discharges.  These higher patient workloads make caring for existing patients hard, and admitting new patients even harder, and of course all of this is under the pressure of the time clock.  Although not commonplace, I have heard of some programs lower workloads early in the year, anticipating this inefficiency.  Another way is to restructure teams so that there is more ‘redundancy’ on the team to help care for the patients.  Either mechanism seems like something to consider especially for teams that are struggling to get all the work done in time.
  • The patients seem to get sickest when the senior resident is off.  In the back of my head, I know this is probably some type of heuristic in which I am overweighting what the days are like when my senior resident is off….  Regardless, for some reason, it does seem like a good practice to anticipate patient illness on those days. And of course, extra supervision and assistance to the intern when the senior resident is a terrific idea.

While these observations may refer to July, just when the residents get accustomed to their role and rotation, its time to switch.  For this reason, it could be that August (and even September) is not that different from July…so while we focus a lot on July, it may be better to prepare for the Summer of Supervision.

Vineet Arora MD





Cultivating Creativity in Medical Training FedEx Style

14 01 2013

Over the holidays, I took full advantage of this opportunity to read a book from start to finish.  I chose Daniel Pink’s Drive.  It was actually recommended by @Medrants and I read it partly to understand why pay-for-performance often fails to accomplish its goals for complex tasks, such as patient care.  However, the thing I found most interesting about this book was the way in which creativity is deliberately inspired and cultivated by industry.

I could not help but think about why we don’t deliberately nurture creativity in medical trainees.  Why am I so interested in creativity?  Perhaps it is the countless trainees I have come across who are recruited to medical school and residency because of their commitment to service who also happen to have an exceptionally creative spirit.  Unfortunately, I worry too many of them have their spirit squashed during traditional medical training.   I am not alone.  I have seen experts argue the need to go from the traditional medical education that is fundamentally oppressive, inhibits critical thinking, and rewards conformity.   Apart from the criticism, it is of course understandable why medical training does not cultivate creativity.  Traditional medical practice does not value creativity.  Patients don’t equate ‘creative doctors’ as the ‘best doctors’.  In fact, doctors who may be overly creative are accused of quackery.

So, why bother with cultivating creativity in medical training? Well, for one thing, creativity is tightly linked to innovation, something we can all benefit from in medical education and healthcare delivery.   While patients may not want a ‘creative approach’ to their medical care, creativity is the key spice in generating groundbreaking medical research, developing a new community or global health outreach program, or testing an innovative approach to improving the system of care that we work in.  Lastly, one key reason to cultivate creativity in medical trainees is to keep all those hopeful and motivated trainees engaged so that they can find joy in work and realize their value and potential as future physicians.  In short, the healthcare system stands to benefit from the changes that are likely to emanate from creative inspired practicing physicians.

So what can we do to cultivate and promote creativity among medical trainees? While there are many possibilities including the trend to implement scholarly concentrations programs like the one I direct, one idea I was intrigued by was the use of a “FedEx Day”.  FedEx Days originated in an Australian software company, but became popularized by Daniel Pink and others in industry.  For a 24 hour period, employees are instructed to work on anything they want, provided it is not part of their regular job.  The name “FedEx” stuck because of the ‘overnight delivery’ of the exceptionally creative idea to the team, although there are efforts being undertaken to provide this idea with a new name. Some of the best ideas have come from FedEx Days or similar approaches, like 3M’s post-its or Google’s gmail.  I haven’t fully figured out how duty hours plays into this yet… so before you report me or ride this off, consider the following.  Borrowing on the theories of Daniel Pink, we would conclude that trainees would gladly volunteer their time to do this because of intrinsic motivation to work on something that they could control and create.  And to all the medical educators who can’t possibly imagine how would we do this during a jam packed training program, lets brainstorm a creative solution together!

Vineet Arora MD





What’s NEXT in Residency Training: Fighting off the Tick Box Zombies

11 06 2012

This weekend, an interesting article on the curent state of UK residency training crossed my Twitter feed.   Due to restricted residency duty hours in the UK (yes they have a 48 hour work week for residents aka junior doctors), they fear they are graduating “incompetent doctors who are putting patients at risk.”

This debate is not just isolated to the other side of the Pond.  In fact, a recent reports in the New England Journal of Medicine documented that nearly half of residents are OPPOSED to restricted resident duty hours, with another paper in Academic Medicine showing that many internal medicine residents were concerned about limited educational opportunities with duty hours.  Finally, in a recent study that we did with the Association of Program Directors of Internal Medicine and the Association of Program Directors of Surgery published in Academic Medicine, program directors feared specific consequences of duty hours related to faculty morale, patient continuity and resident education.

While I could go on, the reason I started to write this post was NOT to rehash the duty hours debate!  Instead, I wanted to highlight a very specific concern that is mentioned in this UK story.  One of the chief complaints in the UK medical training system is that junior doctors were being passed on the basis of dreaded ‘tick-box forms’.  (You gotta love the Brits for colorful names to what we simply call evaluations).

So now at this point, I feel like I am watching 28 Days Later, where all of London was quarantined and zombies took over.   Will the Tick Box zombies come to the United States and take over our GME system?  Have they already?  I hope not…but let’s face it.  Everyone is wondering what comes NEXT with milestones and GME.

The “Next Accreditation System” or NAS (not to be confused with the rap artist) is about documenting the achievement of specific milestones related to specific “entrustable professional activity” or EPA.  An EPA is “simply the routine professional-life activities of physicians based on their specialty and subspecialty.”  For example, for internal medicine, one of the end of year EPAs is “Manage the care of patients on general internal medicine inpatient ward.”  In this way, EPAs are more granular than the 6 “core competencies” and should in theory be easier to observe and evaluate.  Lastly, for each EPA, there will be a “narrative” that programs can select to describe how competent the resident is in that area.

While program directors and others involved in GME are all learning the new “compet-english” that has been developed, many are also concerned about the burden of evaluation in a system that is already overburdened.  In other words, will the Tick Box zombies attack us stateside?   Well, some of this is up to how the residency educator community responds to the charge.  To prevent tick box zombie attack, program directors must resist the urge to create hundreds of milestone evaluations and add them to existing evaluations.   The key is not to reinvent the wheel but to modify existing evaluations to link them to milestones and EPAs. In some cases, old evaluations that were not helpful should be re-evaluated to see if they are necessary.  Moreover, to prevent tick box zombies from striking, it’s important to design and implement ‘good’ measures of resident performance.  A good measure would adhere to some of the same properties of optimal National Quality Forum quality measures: reliable, valid, linked to meaningful outcomes, feasible to collect, and distinguish between good and bad performance.  When good measures of residency performance do not always exist, there is an opportunity to work together to figure out what they are.   While this is definitely a work in progress, one nice thing is that no one is alone.  In Chicago, a citywide meeting of residency leaders of over 10 programs was held to share how best to do this and learn from each other.   After all, to truly make our NEXT step in GME, we must all work together to prevent the tick box zombie attack.

Vineet Arora MD  

Special hat tip to @keitharmitage for inspiring this post with his tweet : )





The Social History: Going Beyond TED

7 02 2012

As I am on service, I realized that one thing that can be easily lost in the race to take care of patients with limited duty hours – the social history.  The social history is part of the admission “history and physical” that once included a myriad of information about the patient’s job, life, and habits has now “fallen into despair” becoming little more than “negative for TED”, or in other words “no tobacco, alcohol (ethanol) or drugs.”

But, there is so much more to it than that.   How do they afford to pay for their housing, food, and medications?  Do they have insurance?   Where do they live?  Who takes care of them or do they take care of someone else?  Do they have friends or family living nearby?   What do they like to do for fun?  Given that most of the ‘discharge planning’ focuses on these elements of the social history, it seems silly that we don’t include more than just no TED.

So, when I was asked by a very astute medical student if I preferred to hear more in the social history, I said yes.   The information that is usually discussed as the patient gets better and we wonder where they will go was now presented on admission, discussed as a problem just like any other medical problem.   In just a few short days, we discerned that a patient who had chronic hypoxia and shortness of breath worked in a factory which likely contributes to his interstitial lung disease.  Another patient who had been hospitalized for alcohol withdrawal recently broke up with a girlfriend which triggered this bout of drinking.   Another patient who was a Jehovah’s Witness would rather have IV therapy for his wound infection than surgery.  Another patient with repeated hypertensive crisis had skipped his medications since he could not afford them.

Given the tremendous burden of costs of medications and the complex interplay between social factors and health, it’s time that we start teaching people to take a thorough social history. Wondering what should go into a thorough social history, I first did what most physicians do – I went online.  It turns out that Wikipedia has an entry on social history for medicine that starts out with the same substance abuse history.  It also includes occupation, sexual preference, prison, and travel.   I stumbled upon another interesting piece by a medical student in the LA Times who admits that it is easy to skimp on the social history due to the time it takes to take a complete history.  After a brief foray in PubMed, A study demonstrated that internal medicine residents do not often know the social history of patients, and this worsens if the resident is more advanced in training and when the workload is higher.  Then, I recalled the seminal text that is still in use today.  According to the Bates Guide to History and Physical Examination:

The Personal and Social History captures the patient’s personality and interests, sources of support, coping style, strengths, and fears. It should include occupation and the last year of schooling; home situation and significant others; sources of stress, both recent and long-term; important life experiences, such as military service, job history, financial situation, and retirement; leisure activities; religious affiliation and spiritual beliefs; and activities of daily living (ADLs). It also conveys lifestyle habits that promote health or create risk such as exercise and diet, including frequency of exercise; usual daily food intake; dietary supplements or restrictions; and safety measures and other devices related to specific hazards. You may want to include any alternative health care practices. You will come to thread personal and social questions throughout the interview to make the patient feel more at ease.

There is another good reason to teach the social history – another study shows that those residents who took better social histories were actually perceived to be more humanistic.  As others stated, “By knowing patients better—and taking better social histories—we will provide better care and will be more fulfilled and energized in our work as physicians.”

–Vineet Arora MD





Whittling Costs in White Coats

10 08 2011

At the beginning of last week, I was excited to be invited to take part in the ABIM Foundation Summer Forum, where the who’s who in medicine convened to discuss how to create a sustainable healthcare system, where costs are controlled and quality of care is preserved.   We heard some bold vision and ideas, many of which were focused on badly needed policy levers or system redesign.  However, as I ended my week on Sunday with investing Pritzker’s new medical student class with their white coats, I was wondering how we can teach and empower individual trainees to do their part.  As our speaker highlighted so eloquently, the most powerful thing about the white coat is what and who is in it…and also the learning that takes place in it.  So, in that vein, here are some thoughts for what students and residents can do.

  • Read up on the topic – some excellent resources I heard about at the meeting
  1. Physician Stewardship of Health Care in an Era of Finite Resources– a recent article in JAMA by Drs. Chris Cassel and David Reuben regarding the various levels of stewardship
  2. Personal Reflections on the High Cost of American Medical Care – a recent article in Archives of Internal Medicine by Dr. Steven Schroeder
  3. The Pricing Of U.S. Hospital Services: Chaos Behind A Veil Of Secrecy – a classic by noted economist Uwe Reinhardt
  4. Less is More Series – a great resource in Archives of Internal Medicine edited by Rosemary Gibson and others.
  • Listen to the patient  Of course, this sounds simple…but the truth is that more times than not, the answer is in the patient history.   With duty hours and workload, taking a detailed history sometimes takes a backseat to reviewing the electronic iPatient.  One approach is to start with two open questions:  (1) Tell me about yourself; and (2) What are your healthcare goals?   Often, the key is to try to understand the baseline.  I once took care of an older patient who had abdominal pain and had received over 40 abdominal CTs over the past several years.  When we were able to gather more information from the patient and her family, it turns out that she has had bad abdominal pain for over 30 years that would come and go!   By working this information into her discharge summary and plugging her into primary care, our hope was to have her avoid future costly and harmful workups.  As I’ve mentioned before, students often have more time with patients than residents or attendings and can often take the most helpful and detailed history!
  • Learn the physical exam Often times, we rely on tests since we do not trust our physical exams.   It is too easy to get an echo when you are wondering if you are truly hearing a murmur.  The lore here is that you need to  listen to a lot of normals to be able to detect the abnormal.  Because of this, when I am on service, I usually invite the third year student to examine every patient with me so they can see a lot of exams.  Usually by the end, they are more confident in their ability to detect crackles or murmurs.  As stated by our white coat speaker, the stethoscope is indeed a powerful tool.  Interestingly, with the infectious increase in global health experiences among medical students and residents, working in resource poor settings requires ingenuity and reliance on the lowest technologically feasible solution.   Closer to home, volunteering in a free clinic is likely to provide one with the same experiences.
  • Don’t just check boxes but ask why the test is indicated Trainees can ask the difficult question – why are we ordering this test or medication?  Is it indicated?   An even better question to research is whether there is a CHEAPER (we can’t shy away from using that word anymore) alternative that would provide the same information?   For example, before every PE protocol CT or Doppler to rule out DVT, I always ask my team to calculate the Wells score so we understand if the test is indicated and what our pretest probability is.  In addition, every study has a downside, whether it be hospital-acquired anemia from phlebotomy or incidentalomas and pseudodisease from excessive imaging.  It is easy to check boxes, it is harder to question why you are checking them.
  • Try to find out how much the test costs While the answer is elusive, the goal is to start the conversation in your own backyard.  There are anecdotal reports of residents going back over 10 years who have tried to work with their hospital billing departments to find out how much things cost.  Moreover, greater knowledge of costs will change practice patterns as we’ve discussed before.
  • Counsel patients One impressive thing about the ABIM Foundation Forum was the representation of patient advocacy groups who were willing to partner with physicians and physician groups to reduce the costs of care.  While the image that may immediately come to mind most is of a patient coming in to request a test that is not indicated, engaged and informed patients expressed the desire to work together and that less is more.   In some communities, there is a lot of distrust of the medical care system and these conversations have to start one patient at a time.

Unfortunately, whittling healthcare costs is not as easy as teaching trainees.  As long as our systems and the faculty within them promote costly workarounds such as misrepresenting tests as urgent to expedite them, ordering tests as fast as possible for fear of discharge delay, or wasteful lab testing, trainees will be reprimanded for NOT doing something.  Therefore, to truly make change in our teaching hospitals, we must also ask that our faculty reach deep into their own white coats and find the courage to say “Don’t just do something, stand there.”

–Vineet Arora, MD








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