Vitamin D Supplements Do Not Reduce Falls, Fractures or Improve Bone Density

Much has been written about the benefits of supplementing Vitamin D in patients. The World Health Organization sets its normal blood level at 20 while in North America it is listed at over 30. Under normal circumstances when your skin is exposed to sunlight your kidneys produce adequate amounts of Vitamin D.

Over the last few years low vitamin D levels have been associated with acute illness and flare-ups of chronic illness. The Vitamin D level is now the most ordered test in the Medicare system and at extraordinary expense. Supplementing Vitamin D has become a major industry unto itself.

The October 4th edition of the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology contained an article written by New Zealand researchers that looked at 81 randomized research trials containing almost 54 thousand participants. “In the pooled analyses, researchers found that Vitamin D Supplementation did not reduce total fracture, hip fracture, or falls – even in trials in which participants took doses greater than 800 IU per day.” Vitamin D supplementation did not improve bone mineral density at any site studied (lumbar spine, hip, femoral neck, forearm or total body).

They concluded that there is little justification for the use of Vitamin D Supplements to maintain or improve musculoskeletal health, and clinical guidelines should reflect these findings.

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Sleep and Cardiovascular Health

Several recent publications and presentations of data on the relationship between sleep patterns and vascular disease occurred at the recent meeting of the European Society of Cardiology. The PESA (Progression of Early Subclinical Atherosclerosis) study performed by Dr Fernando Dominguez, MD, of the Spanish National Center for Cardiovascular Research in Madrid talked about the dangers of too little or too much sleep.

The principal researcher, Valentin Fuster, MD PhD, looked at 3,974 middle-aged bank employees known to be free of heart disease and stroke. They wore a monitor to measure sleep and activity. Interestingly, while only about 11% reported sleeping six or fewer hours per night, the monitor showed the true figure was closer to 27%. They found those who slept less than six hours per night had more plaque in their arteries than those people who slept six to eight hours. They additionally looked at people who slept an average of greater than eight hours.

Sleeping longer had little effect on men’s progression of atherosclerosis but had a marked effect of increasing atherosclerosis in women. Researchers then adjusted the data for family history, smoking, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, diabetes and other known cardiovascular risk factors. They found that there was an 11% increase in the risk of diagnosis of fatal or non-fatal cardiovascular disease in people who slept less than six hours per night compared to people who slept 6-8 hours per night. For people who slept an average of greater than eight hours per night they bore a 32% increased risk as compared to persons who slept 6-8 hours on average. Their conclusion was distilled down into this belief: “Sleep well, not too long, nor too short and be active.”

In a related study, Moa Bengtsson, an MD PhD student at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden presented data on 798 men who were 50 years old in 1993 when they were given a physical exam and a lifestyle questionnaire including sleep habits. Twenty one years later 759 of those men were still alive and they were examined and questioned. Those reporting sleeping five hours or less per night were 93% more likely to have suffered an MI by age 71 or had a stroke, cardiac surgery, and admission to a hospital for heart failure or died than those who averaged 7-8 hours per night.

While neither study proved a direct cause and effect between length of sleep and development of vascular disease, there was enough evidence to begin to believe that altering sleep habits may be a way to reduce future cardiovascular disease.

Shortening the Discomfort of Sore Throats

There has been a strong movement in the United States to limit resistance to antibiotics by insuring that we prescribe them appropriately for bacterial infections only and make sure we educate our patients to complete the course of the antibiotics to prevent the bacteria from surviving and developing resistance patterns. We have been taught that a “strep throat” is rarely seen in adults unless they are caring for children age 2-7 that are sick with a sore throat.

The patient should have a fever, swollen glands in the neck and an exudate on the tonsils or oropharynx. This constellation of findings and symptoms represents “Centors’ Triad” which conveys a high probability that a quick streptococcal assay or culture will be positive. For all other sore throats we are taught to treat it with lozenges, warm fluids and time. There is a definite and distinct effort to train doctors to not prescribe an antibiotic or a “Z Pack” for these non-beta hemolytic streptococcal sore throats.

It is with this background or preamble that I report on an article out of the October 17, 2018 International Journal of Clinical Practice that discusses the use of an experimental throat lozenge versus a placebo throat lozenge. The experimental troche contained a small dose of an antibiotic, tyrothricin plus benzalkonium chloride and benzocaine (an anesthetic). Tyrothricin is an antibiotic used overseas to treat gram positive organisms. It is incorporated into lozenges designed for children with non-streptococcal sore throats. This antibiotic has not demonstrated any issues with bacteria developing resistance yet.

In a clinical trial, patients 18 years of age and older with a painful sore throat which was not due to “strep” were randomly assigned to the study drug or placebo. The results were striking with more relief of pain at two hours in the study group than placebo, less difficulty swallowing and more resolution of symptoms at three days with the study drug than a placebo.

The medication used in the study is not currently available in the USA. If it is as successful as this study implies then when will it be introduced in the USA for symptomatic relief of those uncomfortable non-strep sore throats?

Office Hours, After Hours Phone Calls, E-Mail Communications

For clarity purposes, my office is open at 8:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday with staff present. The practice does not close for lunch. The telephone lines are open from 8:00 a.m. through 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

During normal business hours please call the office phone number rather than my cell phone number. My staff will answer the call and bring it to my attention immediately if it is an emergency, or in-between patients if it is not an emergency. Please know there may be times when a consulting physician or hospital nurse may call the doctor’s cell phone directly during your visit. I recognize this may be an inconvenience and will be as efficient as possible while on the call.

If you call before 8:00 a.m. or after 4:30 p.m. the calls are forwarded to my cell phone number if you choose option #2 when listening to the voice message. There is also an option to leave a message.

When calling my cell phone, I will answer immediately if possible. Otherwise, I will return your call within 30 minutes. If you do not receive a return phone call within 30 minutes please call back. There are areas in hospitals and the community that do not have adequate cell phone service so I may not have received your initial call.

If you are having a medical emergency (e.g., heart attack, stroke, major loss of blood, loss of consciousness, breathing difficulty or intractable pain etc.) call 911 immediately and if possible then notify me.

When feeling ill, sick or there is a change in your condition; please call 561.368.0191 rather than sending an email to inform us of the problem. Email communications do not meet Federal privacy law standards.

If your work hours or personal schedule are such that the normal business hours don’t work for you, please call my office manager, Judi Stanich, so we can make arrangements to accommodate your schedule.

Because I have to visit my hospitalized patients during the early morning, I am typically unable to offer appointments prior to 8:00 a.m.

Although I provide 24×7 direct access, you should use discretion when calling me outside of normal office hours. Generally, after hours calls should be when you have a real health concern or an emergency.

Inflammation and Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

For years, experts have noted that up to 50% of men who have a heart attack do not have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, do not smoke and are active. This has led to an exploration of other causes and risk factors of cardiac and cerebrovascular disease.

In recent years, studies have shown an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, in untreated psoriatic arthritis and in severe psoriasis. We can also add atopic eczema to the list of cardiovascular risk factors.

In a publication in the British Medical Journal, investigators noted that patients with severe atopic eczema had a 20% increase risk in stroke, 40 – 50% increase risk of a heart attack, unstable angina, atrial fibrillation and cardiovascular death. There was a 70% increased risk of heart failure. The longer the skin condition remained active the higher their risks.

The study looked at almost 380,000 patients over at least a 5 year period and their outcomes were compared to almost 1.5 million controls without the skin conditions. Data came from a review of medical records and insurance information in the United Kingdom.

It’s clear that severe inflammatory conditions including skin conditions put patients at increased risk. It remains to be seen whether aggressive treatment of the skin conditions with immune modulators and medications to reduce inflammation will reduce the risks?

It will be additionally interesting to see what modalities cardiologists on each side of the Atlantic suggest we should employ for detection and with what frequency? Will it be exercise stress testing or checking coronary artery calcification or even CT coronary artery angiograms? Statins have been used to reduce inflammation by some cardiologists even in patients with reasonable lipid levels? Should we be prescribing statins in men and women with these inflammatory skin and joint conditions but normal lipid patterns?

The correlation of inflammatory situations with increased risk of vascular disease currently raises more questions with few answers at the present time.

Bureaucracy, High-tech and a Day Rounding at the Hospital

We have a new electronic medical health record system at our hospital. It was introduced with what I believe is a short and ineffective training program for physicians followed by a far too short on-location use of experts to help the doctors and nurses learn the new system. It is frankly a pain in the neck to access the computer from outside the hospital due to the multiple layers of security and passwords you must use. It is simpler and less complicated at the hospital but the request for frequent change of the password for security purposes makes remembering the password problematic for me especially when I am sitting in the ER at 2:00 a.m. sleep deprived and wanting to get home.

On an average day the computer adds a minimum of 10 minutes of work per patient seen. We have electronic health records to comply with the massive number of Federal mandates requiring it and; to avoid the financial penalties for not complying. The Feds offered each hospital an 11 million dollar incentive for putting in these systems which made their decision to computerize far simpler.

Recently, when I made rounds and attempted to access the computer, a brand new screen greeted me. On the left-hand side it instructed me to tap my ID badge against the screen for an automatic log in access. On the right-hand side was the traditional log in screen.

I must be fair and admit the hospital did notify staff to stop by the Medical Staff Office to be issued a new ID badge which would provide easy access to the system. Since that office opens at 8:00 a.m., and I am usually there earlier than that, I had not yet picked up my new badge. So I used the right-hand side of the screen and accessed it the traditional way typing in my User ID and current password. A swirling circle appeared and swirled for three minutes. Then another screen appeared for two minutes. By this time I was annoyed and frustrated.  A kind nurse noticed my frustration and told me that when you attempt to log into the new screen the first time, it takes about 10 minutes to be logged onto the system. I sat patiently until finally I was let in.

The delay in access pushed me back 10 minutes.  By the time I finished rounds it was 8:00 a.m. I stopped by the Medical Staff Office on the way to my office and asked for my new ID card. I also asked if I could keep my old ID card as well because over the last 40 years I had become attached to it. We needed that ID card to swipe our way into the parking lot, into the building and onto the elevators and certain hospital floors and units.

I was told I needed to keep my old ID card as my new card was to be used only for computer access. It would not get me into the parking lot or the building or special floors and units. They gave me a fancy new ID card holder that accommodates two ID cards.

That’s the high-tech world’s idea of efficiency and progress – I suppose!

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.