Concierge Medicine – My 15th Anniversary

I practiced general internal medicine from June 1979 until November 2003. Immediately after training I became an employed physician of an older internist covering my employer’s patients and building my practice for two years before embarking on my own.

I saw 20 or more patients per day in addition to providing hospital care and visiting patients as they recovered in nursing homes. As managed care made its clout felt by kidnapping our patient’s and trying to sell them back to us at 50 cents on the dollar, I helped form a 44 doctor multi-specialty group with its own lab, imaging center and after hours walk-in center. The hope was that a large group might have some negotiating leverage with insurers allowing us to take more time with our patients for more reasonable fees. They laughed at us.

Three years later, my associate and I went to the bank, took out a big personal loan and started our concierge practice. We did this primarily to be comfortable providing excellent care to patients. The system was broken and no medical leader, insurer, employer or politician was going to fix the broken system.

Year after year as our patient’s survived and grew older and more complicated, private insurers including CMS (Medicare) asked us to see them quicker, in shorter visits, but be more comprehensive. The insurers essentially wanted us to place a square peg in a round hole. Switching to a Concierge practice meant I would be caring for a small group of patient’s well at the cost of finding a new medical home for 2,200 existing patients. Switching to Concierge Medicine was our response to a broken system being pushed in a direction of more money and profits for administrators and insurers at the expense of patients and doctors.

In retrospect, I should have made this change five years sooner. The financial rewards are not very different – caring for a small patient panel that pay a membership fee as compared to an enormous panel of patients. The rewards to the patients’ and the doctor for doing a job well done are priceless.

We increased our visit time to 45 minutes from 10 minutes. We set aside 90 minutes for new patient visits. We made a point of continuing to care for our hospitalized patients while all our colleagues were turning that over to hospital employed physicians with no office practices. We provided same day visits and access to the doctor 24 hours a day, seven day a week with accessibility by phone or email. We had the time to advocate for our patient’s as they weaved their way through a bureaucratic mind numbing health care system that made filling a prescription as difficult as the science of launching a rocket into space.

The results of the change are striking. There are very few emergency admissions to the hospital. Falls and trauma, which are mostly not preventable, replaced heart attacks, strokes and abdominal catastrophes as reasons for hospitalizations. There are many fewer hospitalizations. There are fewer crises because we learn about the problems immediately and see the patient’s quickly. If necessary, we help them get access to specialty services.

We have the time and staff now to battle with insurers and third party administrators to get our patient’s what they need to regain their health and independence. When they need specialty care we get them the best; the people we go to ourselves both locally and nationally. We send them equipped with all the information and questions they need to ask about their health problem.

Concierge Medicine has additionally given us the time to teach future doctors. While this stewardship of the profession and launching of future physicians is immensely satisfying, it also makes us stay current and on top of the latest literature and advances.

I look forward to this coming celebration of my 15th year in concierge medicine. I see Direct Pay Practices developing which deliver concierge services to the masses for lower fees. It is a spin-off of “boutique “medicine” or Concierge Lite” as my advisor calls it. It is an attempt by young physicians to reestablish the doctor patient relationship and deliver care in a broken health system.

I am thankful to my patients, who took a chance and came on this journey with me. I look forward to caring for them for years to come.

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Tamsulosin and the Risk of Dementia

The journal Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety published and reviewed in the online journal Primary Care which examines whether men with enlarged prostates and symptoms of prostatism develop dementia more frequently if they take the drug tamsulosin to relieve the symptoms. As men age, under the influence of male hormones, the three lobed prostate normally increases in size. As the prostate enlarges, it impedes the flow of urine as it attempts to leave the bladder. Patients feel urgency, hesitancy, dribbling, sometimes leaking and a diminished stream. Sleep-awakening night time urination becomes an issue as well as difficulty fully emptying the bladder.  Minimal night time urine production produces the urge to void.

There are many non-pharmacological surgical treatments for this normal, age related, condition. Medications have been used for years to try to prevent surgery or defer it to a later date. tamsulosin works by inhibiting certain receptors on the muscle in the prostate causing relaxation of smooth muscle and increased flow of urine. The study authors used Medicare data to look at men aged 66 and older taking tamsulosin to reduce symptoms of an enlarged prostate. They compared these men to others taking no medication for BPH and to those taking medications that work by a different mechanism of action including terazosin, doxazosin, alfuzosin, dutasteride and finesteride. The data was collected from years 2006 – 2012.

The results showed that men taking tamsulosin had a propensity for negative changes in cognitive function at a higher rate than men taking other products. This was clearly not a straight cause and effect study proving that tamsulosin causes cognitive dysfunction. The authors and reviewers in accompanying editorials point out the many variables and flaws which may have contributed to the conclusion but emphasize that further defining studies need to be started to clear up the doubt raised by this review.

A VA study done years ago comes to mind in which Veterans who ultimately switched from medications for an enlarged prostate underwent surgery and were interviewed one year later about their feelings about the results and function after surgery. Almost 100% of the study group felt better after surgery and relieved that the side effects of their medications for an enlarged prostate were a thing of the past. They wondered why they waited so long to have surgery and felt they would have asked for it sooner had they realized the many ill effects the medication was causing. It may be time for a more aggressive approach to prostate surgery as opposed to medical treatment?

Experimental Drug Stops Parkinson’s Disease Progression in Mice

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine published an article in Nature Medicine Journal outlining how administration of a drug called NLY01 stopped the progression of Parkinson’s disease in mice specially bred to develop this illness for research purposes. The medication is an alternative form of several diabetic drugs currently on the market including Byetta, Victoza and Trulicity. Those drugs penetrate the blood brain barrier poorly. NLY01 is designed to penetrate the blood brain barrier.

In one study, researchers injected the mice with a protein known to cause severe Parkinsonian motor symptoms. A second group received the protein plus NLY01. That group did not develop any motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The other group developed profound motor impairment.

In a second experiment, they took genetically engineered mice who normally succumb to the disease in slightly more than a year of life. Those mice, when exposed to NLY01, lived an extra four months.

This is positive news in the battle to treat and prevent disabling symptoms in the disease that affects over 1 million Americans. Human trials will need to be established with questions involving whether the drug is even safe in humans? If safety is proven then finding the right dosage where the benefits outweigh the risks is another hurdle. The fact that similar products are currently being used safely to treat Type II Diabetes is noteworthy and hopefully allows the investigation to occur at a faster pace.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive debilitating neurologic disorder which usually starts in patient’s 60 years of age or greater. Patients develop tremors, disorders sleeping, constipation and trouble moving and walking. Over time the symptoms exacerbate with loss of the ability to walk and speak and often is accompanied by dementia.

More Good News for Coffee Drinkers

When I first started practicing, fresh out of my internal medicine residency and board certification, we were taught that consuming more than five cups of coffee per day increased your chances of developing pancreatic cancer. Thankfully that theory has been proven to be false.

Last week I reviewed a publication in a peer reviewed journal which showed that if you infused the equivalent of four cups of coffee into the energy producing heart cell mitochondria of older rodents, those mitochondria behaved like the mitochondria found in very young healthy rats. The authors of that article made the great leap of faith by suggesting that four cups of caffeinated coffee per day was heart healthy.

This week’s Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine published a study which said if you drank eight cups of coffee per day your mortality from all causes diminished inversely. Their study included individuals who were found to be fast and slow metabolizers of caffeine. It additionally made no distinction between ground coffee, instant coffee or decaffeinated coffee.

The research study investigated 498,134 adults who participated in the UK Biobank study. The mean age of the group was 57 years with 54% women and 78% coffee drinkers. The study participants filled out questionnaires detailing how much coffee they drank and what kind. During a 10 year follow-up there were 14,225 deaths with 58% due to cancer and 20% due to cardiovascular disease. As coffee consumption increased, the risk of death from all causes decreased. While instant coffee and decaffeinated coffee showed this trend, ground coffee showed the strongest trend of lowering the mortality risk.

This is an observational study and, by design, observational studies do not prove cause and effect. It is comforting to know however that having an extra cup or two seems to be protective rather than harmful. At some point a blinded study with true controls will need to be done to prove their point. If the caffeine doesn’t keep you up or make you too jittery, and the coffee itself dehydrate you or give you frequent stools, then drink away if you enjoy coffee in large volume.

Shared Decision Making. Science versus Art of Medicine.

My 80 year old patient presented with symptoms and signs of kidney failure. I hospitalized him and asked for the assistance of a kidney specialist. We notified his heart specialist as a courtesy. A complicated evaluation led to a diagnosis of an unusual vasculitis with the patient’s immune system attacking his kidney as if it was a foreign toxic invader.

Treatment, post kidney biopsy, involved administering large doses of corticosteroids followed by a chemotherapy agent called Cytoxan. Six days later it was clear that dialysis was required at least until the patient’s kidneys responded to the therapy and began working again.

You need access to large blood vessels for dialysis, so a vascular surgeon was consulted. He placed a manufactured vascular access device in the patient’s lower neck on a Monday in the operating room. The access was used later that day for a cleansing filtration procedure called plasma exchange. The patient returned to his room at dinner time with a newly swollen and painful right arm and hand on the same side as the surgical vascular access procedure.

The nurses were alarmed and paged the vascular surgeon. His after-hours calls are taken by a nurse practitioner. She was unimpressed and suggested elevating the arm. The floor nurses were not happy with that answer since they had seen blood clots form downstream from vascular access devices. They next called the nephrologist. He suggested elevation of the arm plus heat. This did not satisfy the charge nurse who requested a diagnostic Doppler ultrasound to look for a clot. The nephrologist acquiesced and it was done quickly revealing a clot or deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in an arm vein.

I am the patient’s admitting physician and attending physician (it is unclear to me what the difference is) but I was surprised I did not receive the first or second call regarding the swollen arm. I was the first however to receive a call with the result. My first knowledge that a problem was occurring came when an RN called, “Dr. Reznick, the patient in 803 came back from dialysis with a painful swollen right arm and hand. The vascular surgeon was called but his covering nurse practitioner wasn’t concerned. The nephrologist ordered the test after we encouraged him to. There is a clot in the right brachial vein. What should we do?”

This was a new complication occurring to a frightened patient just returning from surgery, plasma exchange and hemodialysis for the first time to treat a rare aggressive disease he and his children had never heard of. One of my cardinal rules of practice is when in doubt listen to the patient, take a thorough history of the events, examine the involved body parts, look at the diagnostic studies with the radiologist and explain it all to the patient and family. I changed my leisure clothes to my doctor clothes and headed to the hospital delaying dinner, something my wife is incredibly understanding and tolerant of.

One of the perks of teaching medical students is being provided free and total access to the medical literature using the school’s library and subscription access. I searched for anything related to upper extremity deep vein thrombosis after establishing vascular access and related to his vasculitis. Three items popped up including recommendations and guidelines for diagnosis and treatment from the American College of Cardiology and the American College of Thoracic Surgeons all within the last six months. They both suggested the same things, use intravenous blood thinners for five to seven days then oral anticoagulants for three to six months or until the vascular access is removed. The risk of the blood clot traveling to the lungs is lower than in leg and pelvic DVTs but it is still 5 – 6%.

I read this while the radiologist accessed the films and reviewed them with me. Next stop was the eighth floor where the patient and his out of town visiting adult child were. I asked them what happened. They showed me the warm swollen arm and hand. I checked for pulses which were present and then color and neurological sensation which were normal. I explained that when vascular access is inserted in the large neck veins it can increase the risk of a clot forming in the arm veins resulting in arm and hand swelling. I explained that the chances of a clot traveling back to his heart and out to his lung were 5 – 6% and significantly less than DVTs in leg or pelvic veins. The treatment was explained. His nephrologist concurred as did the cardiologist. Heparin was begun.

With elevation and soaks the swelling was down by morning. He returned from dialysis that afternoon with his chin and neck all black and blue. He was bleeding profusely from the upper portion of the surgical access site. Nurses were applying compression to the area after the blood thinner was stopped and it continued to bleed. Vascular surgery was furious that heparin or any blood thinner was used for the clot.

Repeated phone calls to the vascular surgeon resulted in him angrily arriving much later placing six sutures to stop the bleeding. Heparin can lower platelet counts when antibodies to heparin cross react with platelets. His platelet count of 80,000 was sufficient to prevent bleeding. A blood test for heparin induced thrombocytopenia was drawn and he received two more units of blood products to replace what he lost. After stabilizing the patient, we realized his drop in platelets was due to the Cytoxan having its peak effect not heparin.

The patient had no further bruising or bleeding. He was dialyzed or had plasma exchange on alternating days for another week. The nephrologist wanted this done in the hospital not as an outpatient. It took one week for the reference lab to return the negative HIT (heparin induced thrombocytopenia) results clearing the heparin of causing the bleeding and bruises.

Prior to discharge I reviewed the long term oral anticoagulation recommendations of the American College of Cardiology and Thoracic Surgeons with the patient, nephrologist, cardiologist and hematologist. The nephrologist was comfortable with administering a kidney failure lower dose of eliquis. The vascular surgeon and cardiologist felt it was not necessary. The hematologist initially agreed then changed his mind. I asked each of the naysayers to explain to me how this patient differed from the patients in the many studies who comprised the data for the recommendations? They said he did not. They said they had a feeling and discussed “the art of medicine in addition to the science”.

In a rare vasculitis disease which few of us have seen frequently, I prefer the data in multiple studies to one’s clinical intuition. At discharge, I prescribed the oral blood thinner. I reviewed the pros and cons of the drug. The patient and daughter told me that based on the ambivalence of the hematologist he would stick with his aspirin rather than the oral anticoagulant.

Shared decision making appropriately allows patients to decide for themselves. If the patient develops pleuritic chest pain coughing up blood with shortness of breath from a pulmonary embolus, I will be called to provide care not my colleagues because specialists don’t admit.

Coffee and the Healthy Heart

Two German biologists are stating there is sufficient data to claim that four cups of caffeinated coffee is the optimal daily dosage to maintain a healthy heart. Their findings were published in Plos Biology and summarized in Inverse Magazine. The scientists cite past warnings by public health officials of the danger of caffeine when given to people with heart conditions. Quite the contrary. They believe that up to four cups of coffee per day are actually therapeutic for the heart.

In their research they noted caffeine helps a protein called “p27” enter the energy producing mitochondria of heart cells making them function more efficiently. They experimented with rats comparing the mitochondrial function of old rats and young rats. When they injected the older rats with the caffeine equivalent of four cups of coffee, their aging mitochondria performed at the level of young rats’ mitochondria. They then experimentally caused the older rats to have a heart attack or myocardial infarction. Half of these heart damaged rats were injected with the equivalent of four cups of coffee and their heart cells repaired themselves at a far more rapid rate than those not exposed to that dose of coffee and caffeine.

The researchers conclude that four cups of coffee is probably the optimal daily dosage of coffee for a healthy heart. They caution that certain patients, especially those with malignant tumors, should probably avoid that much coffee because it may promote growth of blood vessels to the tumors. They additionally caution against using caffeine pills or energy drinks because their research was done with coffee.

Coffee in moderation is probably not harmful for any human adult.

Keep in mind, this biologic evidence was obtained in rats not human beings. Fortunately, I have not seen rats breaking into my local Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks craving a lifesaving nutrient.

Coffee has been associated with preventing cognitive dysfunction, preventing diabetes and now keeping your heart healthy. If you enjoy coffee, drinking it in moderation makes sense to me.

New Law Governing Prescribing of Controlled Substances in Florida July 1

There is an ongoing epidemic of addiction to prescription pain medications in our country. The death toll from opioid drug overdoses on a daily basis is now higher than loss of life through motor vehicle accidents and violence.

This spring the Florida Legislature passed Hb21, a new law that is meant to keep oral pain medications off the streets. Hb21 requires that when you are prescribed a controlled substance, the prescriber must first access the states Prescription Drug Monitoring Program website (Known as E-FORCSE) and review the recipient’s history of receiving prescribed controlled substances in the state of Florida. It is designed to make sure that drug seeking patients are not able to doctor or clinic hop to obtain narcotics.

Dispensers of the controlled substance such as pharmacies and pain clinics with dispensaries will be required to list the prescription on E-FORCSE within 24 hours. There are fines and penalties by the state for physicians and dentists failing to comply with access to E-FORCSE before writing the script. It is expected the Florida Board of Medicine will add penalties, license suspensions and revocations for noncompliance as well.

The law defines “acute pain” from an injury, medical procedure or dental procedure. Practitioners may prescribe three days of controlled substances for pain relief with no refills after accessing E-FORCSE. If they believe the procedure or injury are so severe that it requires more than a three day supply, they must write “Acute Pain Exception” on the prescription and they may request a 7 day supply with no refills. The prescriber will be required to document in the medical record why controlled substances are being prescribed and why there is an exception

The law additionally requires dispensers to complete a state mandated two hour course on safe prescribing of controlled substances. The course must be given by a recognized and accredited statewide professional association for a fee. The course will need to be retaken every two years before your license comes up for renewal. This course is separate and distinct from the course required to prescribe medical marijuana.

Our office has been registered with and has used E-FORSCE for several years now. It is helpful in tracking a patient’s ability to obtain controlled substance medications. It clearly adds additional time and labor to a doctor’s visit to comply with the new state regulations. Once again the Legislature has chosen to treat every patient as an addict and every dispenser as a criminal.

There is talk that in the near future we may be required to prescribe controlled pain substances electronically as opposed to the current requirement that a patient present a legible hand written or typed script. We have been told by our computer software maintenance vendors that there will be a significant charge to set up this service along with a monthly maintenance fee.

The law goes into far more detail than this synopsis permits me to go into. I suspect that, as we move forward, pharmaceutical chains may find it cost prohibitive to stock controlled substances and designate only certain locations as prescribing centers. This is what happened when the Legislature passed a 2011 law to deal with chronic pain and eliminate the “pill mills.”

If you have any questions or concerns feel free to call or email me and we will review your individual situation.