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Fish, Fish Oils and Cardiovascular Disease

Years ago the scientific researcher responsible for the promotion of fish oils as an antioxidant and protector against vascular disease recommended we all eat two fleshy fish meals of cold water fish a week. He continued to endorse this dietary addition and included canned tuna fish and canned salmon in the types of fish that produced this positive effect.

Over the years I heard him lecture at a large annual medical conference held in Broward County and he fretted about the growth of the supplement industry encouraging taking fish oils rather than eating fish. He worried about the warnings against eating all fish to women of child bearing age because of the fear of heavy metal contamination and knew that the fish oils and omega 3 Fatty Acids played a developmental role in a growing fetus and child.

I then attended lectures, in particular one sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic, during which they promoted Krill oil as the chosen form of fish oil supplements because it remained liquid and viscous at body temperature of 98.6 while others solidified. I listened to this debate only to hear the father of the science speak again and this time advocate that one or two fleshy fish meals a month was adequate to obtain the protective effect of Omega 3 Fatty acids. He felt that the supplements did not actually provide a protective effect as eating real fish did. Since I love to eat fresh fish I had no problem with this message but others are not comfortable buying and preparing fish at home or eating it at a restaurant. Supplements to them were the answer.

Steve Kopecky, M.D. examined the question in an article published in JAMA Cardiology this week. He looked at 77,917 high risk individuals already diagnosed with coronary artery disease and vascular disease who were taking supplements to prevent a second event. His study concluded that taking these omega 3 supplements had no effect on the prevention of recurrent cardiovascular events. The study did not discuss primary prevention for those who have not yet had a vascular illness or event.

Once again it seems that eating fish in moderation, like most anything, is the best choice. I will continue to eat my fresh fish meals one or two times per week, not necessarily for the health benefit but because I enjoy eating fresh fish.

I advise those worried about preventing primary or secondary heart and vascular disease to find a form of fish they can enjoy if they want this benefit. If you really wish to reduce your risk of a cardiovascular event; I suggest you stop smoking, control your blood pressure and lipid profile, stay active and eat those fresh fish meals.


Cleaning Is Hazardous to Your Lungs and Overall Health

In an article published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine it was shown that women who regularly clean homes show a marked decline in pulmonary function. The study looked at 6,230 persons participating in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey over a period of 20 years.

Normally lung function declines as we age but women who were professional home cleaners, and who used cleaning sprays, declined at a far faster rate than women who did not clean at home or professionally. For unclear reasons in this study cleaning did not appear to effect the measurements on men. The study authors were quick to point out that there were very few men in the study making their conclusions on men less meaningful.

The authors looked at two main parameters, Forced Vital Capacity (the maximum amount of air exhaled after a maximum inspiration) and Forced Expiratory Volume in one second. They noted that decrease in Forced Vital Capacity is associated with decreased long term survival in patients without known pulmonary disease. They additionally noted a slight increase in the development of asthma in the home cleaners.

The authors postulated that cleaning products were “low grade irritants” and chronic exposure could lead to remodeling of the airways and resultant decline in pulmonary function. While reading this article I thought about how infrequently we read labels on the products we use to clean our homes, cars and elsewhere before using them. How often do we actually follow the health advice listed on the bottle? Should we be wearing N95 respirator type masks when using cleaning sprays and working in sparsely ventilated areas? What about children and their exposure? Should we be using these products around them and or our pets? Is it the actual spraying that exposes cleaners or does the products effects linger well after use?

These are all questions that few, if anyone, looks into or answers but certainly need to be addressed now that these findings have been published.

Cigar and Pipe Smoking Significantly Increases Mortality Risk

My male patients express to me on a regular basis their desire to continue to smoke a few cigars per day. They are quick to point out that they do not inhale the smoke like cigarette smokers do. They also point out that their use of cigars is far fewer in number than cigarettes. They all discount the risks of the smoke, its byproducts, carbon monoxide, etc.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has just published a research project which looked at that subject. They followed cigar and pipe smokers from 1985 until 2011 looking at the mortality rate and the cancers they sustained. Of the 357,420 participants in the study, 51,150 died. The death rate of cigar and pipe smokers was much higher than nonsmokers and those who never smoked. There was also a much higher likelihood they would sustain a tobacco related cancer such as lung, throat, esophagus, oral cavity and bladder cancer which would eventually kill them.

It was clear the risks were higher for cigarette smokers than pipe and cigar smokers. As a physician, I will continue to encourage smoking cessation of all tobacco products.

Tobacco smoking ruins your health and kills people. Let there be no confusion about that fact.

On Loss, Death and Dying

As an internist with “added qualifications in geriatric medicine” I care for a great many elder individuals. In most cases these are individuals I met 20 or more years ago and have been privileged to share their lives with them as they aged.

The circle of life is relentless and unforgiving so there comes a time when these relationships end. In some cases it comes when they can no longer care for themselves and I suggest they move out of the area to be closer to a loved one who will provide support and care. In some cases the patient moves from their home into a senior assisted or skilled nursing facility out of the area.

There have been a few situations where an adult child from out of the area shows up on the scene and transfers their loved one’s care elsewhere. These are the most difficult situations because the children are stressed and put out by the responsibility and inconvenience of suddenly having to care for their loved one. They do not have the longstanding professional relationship with me that I have with the patient. They expect quick and simple answers and treatment plans in most cases when for the most part we are dealing with complex issues involving many professionals and treating one condition fully often exacerbates another.

Then of course there are the patients who pass away. As detached as you try to be, those of us who care invest a bit of our heart and soul in each patient who comes to us for care. I see that investment made in the vast majority of my colleagues across all the disciplines and specialties. When you lose someone, even an ancient senior citizen, it takes a piece of your being with it.

I too am no spring chicken. I talk about Medicare from experience now. Morning stiffness is a shared experience, not a term in a medical textbook. Male urinary problems, once something you treated in older guys is now a way of life. My older colleagues are retiring. When making hospital rounds I notice the prevalence of younger physicians.

My beloved pets age too. For the last 16 years my Pug (Pugsly) and my mixed-breed sweetie (Chloe) greeted me at the door, took long walks with me and provided fur therapy after a stressful day. Pugsly expired a year ago. His mate Chloe left this world in November. For a clinician well versed in Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s book “On Death and Dying” and dealing with life and death daily, the loss of a beloved pet should be easier. The pain is palpable. The sadness recurs and the heaviness on the shoulders, eyelids and heart wears you down.

I have several younger patients valiantly battling against horrible malignant diseases. Their drive and courage to overcome illness and enjoy the time they have with family and friends is inspirational. They do not know it but they are my role models for how to deal with the adversity of losing loved ones, human and pet, and sharing the diminishing independence and health that my long time patients now experience.

Large Health System Care in the 21st Century

My 74 year old obese, poorly controlled diabetic patient with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, asthma, obstructive sleep apnea has been difficult to motivate to improve his lifestyle and his health. He is bright, sweet and caring but just not very disciplined.

At each office visit we review his medications, review his dietary habits and go through the check list of checkups for diabetic complications including regular ophthalmology exams and podiatric exams to prevent diabetic retinopathy and foot skin breakdown and infection. His spouse is always present and we discuss seeing his endocrinologist regularly and a dietitian who specializes in diabetes care all the time. To no avail, I have suggested seeing a psychologist.

Three months ago, two weeks after his last office visit, his wife self-referred him to our local community hospital Emergency Department for a small ulcer at the base of his toe. He was seen, treated and referred to that hospital’s therapy and wound care center. I was listed as his primary care doctor. He was seen by the ED but I was not called or informed of the visit. He has continued to see wound care regularly but, to date, I have received no notification of the problem, the visits, the ongoing therapy, the prognosis and/or the results.

I became aware of the situation when at the end of a long day an emergency department physician contacted me. “Dr. Reznick, we have your patient here. He was seen in the wound care center earlier today for ongoing treatment of an enlarging diabetic foot ulcer. The podiatrist debrided the wound surgically then put a bandage on it and a fiberglass cast. One hour later the patient called the wound care center complaining of shaking chills and rigors. He was told that no one was available at wound care to see him and was referred to the emergency department. He is currently running a low grade fever of 100.8 with a mild elevation of his white blood cell count and says his leg feels the way it did when he had a cellulitis infection. His blood sugar is 256. He is well hydrated. I plan to culture him up, start him on oral antibiotics and refer him back to you for follow up tomorrow if that is ok.”

I suggested he open the cast, take down the bandage dressing and observe the wound and culture it first. He told me he would call the podiatrist from wound care because he didn’t want to “mess with” the cast.

Twenty minutes later he called back, “The patient is refusing to go home. He wishes to be admitted to the private suites section of the hospital. When I told this to the podiatrist, he said he would come in tomorrow to look at the leg.” I asked the ED physician to cut off the cast and remove the bandage and I was on my way in to see the patient. I asked him if he felt the patient needed to stay. He replied, “The patient wants to be admitted and I do not want him to give me a poor patient satisfaction report, so yes he needs to be admitted. The patient satisfaction report may not be important to you private physicians but it could cost me pay and my job.”

There is nothing like assuming the care of a problem that occurred within a large health care system that is clearly interested in generating revenue for services rendered but not necessarily providing continuity of care and communication with its staff so that the patient is treated well. It is irritating and frustrating to not be included in the health care process but called in out of the bullpen after hours for something that should not have occurred in the first place.

When I arrived in the ED and went down to the patient’s room I was greeted by the patient’s wife. The cast was still on. I paged the podiatrist and reached him ultimately by cell phone. I politely made it clear that I expected him to come in now, remove the cast and take the bandage off so I and the infectious disease expert I was consulting could observe the wound, culture it and make a gram stained slide so we could choose the correct antibiotics for this situation. “Why,” he asked suggesting that the culture would show a conglomerate of multiple organisms. “Because infectious disease will want a culture and a gram stain unless they suddenly have started to operate differently and because it is good medicine.” I took a thorough history using my office notes as well and was disappointed and surprised to learn that although at each visit he confirmed that he was seeing his endocrinologist and spoke to him, he actually had not been to his office in over a year.

The admission process takes well over an hour for me. Writing an admission note and entering orders and medications on the hospitals computer order entry system is slow and cumbersome.

At the completion of the process I walked into the room and reviewed my findings and suggestions and asked if the patient had any questions. His wife had one question. “Three months ago at wound care I showed” the doctors an article about the benefits of using a product called Duoderm on diabetic foot ulcers. I asked if it would be helpful for my husband. They said it would be beneficial but it was too expensive and they were not allowed to use it.” She asked them to write out a prescription for it and she would pay for it privately if they would use it. They refused saying they were not allowed to use non formulary items. I told her I was sorry and suggested that in the future if she runs into a roadblock she should call me.

I admitted the patient to the hospital, cultured his blood and urine and asked for help from an experienced endocrinologist and infectious disease expert with his antibiotics and diabetic care. I returned several hours later to find the cast off, the wound bandaged but no wound culture obtained by the podiatrist from our hospital wound care center. I asked the nurse for sterile gloves, supplies to create a small sterile field and culture tubes when the infectious disease physician walked in and relieved me of the task. We used the gram stain of the specimen to help direct initial antibiotic choices while awaiting the culture results. A subsequent MRI of his foot revealed that the infection had spread to the base of the bone in his big toe. This will now require 6-8 weeks of intravenous antibiotic therapy to try and save the foot.

I had been a patient at the same not-for-profit local hospital several weeks before for an inpatient urologic procedure. When I woke up from anesthesia with an indwelling urinary catheter in place, the surgeon was there to report on the procedure. “It went well “he said, “but the damn cheap products the hospital is supplying us with make it highly likely that the catheter will kink up on you and put you into urinary retention. I should have brought some supplies from my office because this doesn’t occur with the products I buy and the hospital used to buy.” The catheter did kink numerous times requiring intervention and eventually a late night visit to his office for him to change catheters and leg bag so that the urinary drainage was not obstructed. When it is kinked and urinary flow is obstructed and your bladder fills, it is very uncomfortable.

As a board certified internist with experience in geriatrics and hospital staff privileges for 38 years it is disconcerting and frustrating to see the direction of hospital medicine. It is unclear to me if using Duoderm on my patient’s foot ulcer would have prevented his failure to heal and bone infection. It is clear that his wound caregivers thought highly of the product but were clearly intimidated to write a script for it even if the patient paid for it themselves.

It is sad that the ED physician wouldn’t justify his decision to admit the patient to me by simply saying his clinical situation warrants it. To be afraid of patient satisfaction rating as the reason for suggesting he stay is disheartening. To purchase less expensive urinary catheters which the surgeons clearly know is problematic and add pain, discomfort and additional costs for physician and nursing time is inexcusable.

If this is the direction hospital care is travelling I feel sorry for our patient population. I will address these issues with hospital administration and our medical staff officers directly for whatever it is worth.

Treatment of Gastroesophageal Reflux with Magnet Device

Gastroesophageal reflux disease causes heartburn and regurgitation of food and digestive enzymes. Treatment includes weight loss, wearing loose clothing not binding at the waste, dietary restriction and medications. The main class of medications used have been the protein pump inhibitors (PPI’s) such as Nexium, Protonix, Aciphex and Pepcid. Most recently this class of medications has come under major criticism from researchers believing they may be responsible for increased risk of community acquired pneumonia, malabsorption of nutrients resulting in bone disease and even dementia and cognitive decline. Physicians have been trying to limit the use of these medications but recurrent and persistent symptoms have made that very difficult.

Last month at Digestive Disease Week, a meeting sponsored by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, The American Gastroenterological Association, The American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy and the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract; a paper was presented demonstrating the success of a magnetic band placed with laparoscopic surgery around the lower esophageal sphincter (the juncture of the esophagus and stomach).

Reginald Bell, MD of the SurgOne Foregut Institute in Denver, Colorado along with MedPage reported that at six months post procedure, 92.6% of the patients with the magnetic device LINX, had relief of regurgitant symptoms compared with 8.6 % taking a double dose of PPI’s. Only one surgical complication had occurred and it was corrected. The research was done at 22 different locations enrolling 150 patients with moderate to severe regurgitation despite once-daily use of a PPI treatment.

The improvement numbers are dramatic and if this stands over time will change the way we treat this disease. The publication did not reveal the cost of LINX and we certainly want to observe these patients for more than six months before endorsing a new and promising treatment.

Telemedicine and Acute Stroke Treatment

My community hospital is holding its quarterly physician staff meeting and one of the items on the agenda will be a bylaw change which will permit outside physicians, not credentialed or vetted by our hospital credentials committee, to perform video consults on patients within our hospital. Hospital administration is pushing this bylaw change, and since there has been a quiet coup which has transferred medical staff power from the community’s practicing physicians to the hospital employed and paid physicians, it is a foregone conclusion that it will easily pass.

The bylaw change is being requested because the hospital would like to continue to reap the benefits of being an ischemic stroke comprehensive treatment center and offering the health benefits to the community despite not being able to meet the criteria. If a patient presents to the emergency department within four hours of developing ischemic stroke symptoms they must be offered the administration of a “clot busting “drug Alteplase (t-pa). The patient must not have any bleeding tendencies and no evidence of active bleeding or a mass or tumor on head CT scan and must be examined by a neurologist within 45 minutes of arrival.

The problem is that most community based neurologists with outpatient office practices and hospital staff privileges cannot and will not drop everything they are doing and run to the emergency department to evaluate a new patient each time a stroke protocol patient arrives. When given an ultimatum by the hospital administration, that they must take call and be available within 45 minutes, our community neurologists en masse relinquished their hospital privileges.

The hospital countered by bringing in several research oriented academic neurologists and neurosurgeons to man the beautiful new Neuroscience Institute and provide coverage of the ED for the stroke protocol. Few if any of these physicians were able to develop and maintain a practice within the community and they have since left. The Emergency Department is staffed by employed board certified emergency physicians who are well qualified to diagnose an ischemic stroke and administer t-pa. They refuse to do so citing the liability of a poor outcome as the reason. Despite data indicating the benefits of t-pa administration in these situations, the 6 out of 100 chances of a bleed in the brain plus the 1 in 6 chance of death is enough to deter their participation.

You would think that since the hospital hires these physicians the logical choice would be to fire them and hire a group that will provide the state of the art care in a timely fashion. This has not occurred. You would think that the state legislature would grant the ED physicians sovereign immunity from medical malpractice suits if the patient meets the criteria for the ischemic stroke protocol and the patient is given appropriate informed consent for the procedure but this common sense legislation has not been developed or passed.

The hospital has chosen a different pathway. They are opting to hire neurologists from a university medical center who will provide video consults on ischemic stroke patients from an offsite location. Robots will actually examine the patient and televise the data back to the telemedicine center after an emergency department physician performs a brief initial evaluation. The neurologist off site will then provide the needed neurology consult to proceed with the injection of the clot buster.

I suspect the mechanism will work like this. A patient or family member will call EMS via 911 and be taken to the Emergency Department. A triage nurse will ask all the questions to qualify the patient for the t-pa protocol; a robot will examine the patient and transmit via TV the data to an offsite neurologist while an ER physician does an exam. A CT scan of the head and brain will be performed. If no bleed is discovered or tumor or mass that could bleed, t-pa will be administered by the pharmacy and nursing staff. Further intervention by an interventional radiologist and or neurosurgeon may then occur.

At no point in this protocol does it call for the patient’s primary care doctor or cardiologist or usual neurologist to be called. We will be called once the procedure is complete because neither the ER physician or the neurosurgeon or the interventional radiologist will want to admit the patient to neurology ICU. While our surgical ICU and Medical ICU/CCU are covered 24 hours per day by an outsourced hired intensivist group, the neuro ICU does not have that type of coverage.

I can hear it now, my phone ringing and upon picking it up I hear the voice of a clerk in the Emergency Department, “Hello Dr Reznick, Dr. Whateverhisorhername wishes to speak to you about patient Just Had A Stroke.” I get put on hold for five minutes and then in a flat nasal voice, “Hello Steve your patient came in earlier by EMS with symptoms of an acute ischemic stroke. They met the t-pa ischemic stroke criteria and were treated. Unfortunately, they had a major hemispheric bleed with mass effect and edema and are now unresponsive and intubated on a ventilator. We need you to come in and admit him and care for him.”

I will vote in protest against this bylaw. I will lobby for recruiting neurologists who are hospital based who will actually see the patient and care for them. I will lobby for a new state law to provide sovereign immunity for ED physicians treating ischemic strokes according to the internationally recognized protocol. I will lobby for our medical and surgical residents on site and in the hospital to be permitted to administer t-pa after meeting the appropriate criteria. I will not support out of the area physicians making the final call and leaving our local physicians to deal with their results.