The outrage! The scandal! The fraud! The malpractice! Man, for newsprint, does it get any better than this?
But if we stop and think about it, unless doctor overreads of the interpretations made by skilled echo techs actually found errors on the initial interpretations made by the echo technicians, it might call into question the need for doctors to view echos that have been pre-screened by the technicians.
Thank goodness this morning that we learned that a few mistakes were found! Thank even more goodness that a nearly-retired renowned cardiologist was more than willing to step up to the plate and reaffirm the outrage:
Having 4,000 tests done and unread is unheard of, and is “unconscionable and unacceptable and malpractice as far as I’m concerned,” Dr. Douglas Zipes, a cardiologist at Indiana University Medical Center, past president of the American College of Cardiology and editor of HeartRhythm, said on Wednesday. “I can’t use more adjectives than that.”But before we dismiss this case nothing more than pure malpractice, we should ask ourselves if this might not be the health care model for our future.
We are very aware that nurse practitioners and nurse coordinators (whatever those are) have become the new model for health care delivery espoused by Washington to address the primary care crisis in America. After all, now that primary care has been thrown under the bus by our own physician leadership on the Hill to the point where mom-and-pop private practice offices are nearly extinct, we see the evolution to corporately-run health care. And corporately-run health care means shift work. This means working as employees. This means trying to maintain work/life balance. This means health care responsibility for patients can be offloaded on to groups of "health care providers," rather than a physician.
Why should echo technicians be any different in this new shared responsibility model of patient care?
The truth of the matter is that doctors are finding incentives to work like dogs at the expense of their personal lives are dwindling. Pay cuts are constantly threatened. Debt burdens for medical schools ridiculous. The truth of the matter is that we are about to add millions and millions of people to our health care system without increasing the doctor pool. And guess what? In inner city hospitals, the understaffed hospitals had to get resourceful and triage the work volume using technicians instead of doctors. The results were interesting:
Ana Marengo, a spokeswoman for the hospital system, the Health and Hospitals Corporation, said that despite the abnormal results, a cross-check of medical charts had not shown that anyone did not get needed treatment.Now I know people are ready to pounce on the hospital because insurers, states, and patients PAID for a doctor overread that was never forthcoming. But this is not my point. My point is that creative solutions to an overburdened health care system will require creative non-physician-directed solutions for health care going forward.
If we're not going to insist on more doctors, we'd better study, and study carefully, the incidence of echo misreads (and their severity) in this first creative solution to our looming doctor shortage.
And guess what?
It might just save some money without affecting outcomes. That is, of course, if our liability system could make the same dramatic change.