Monday, May 8, 2023

Does AI Know The Difference Between Anesthesiologists and CRNAs?

The latest tech catchphrase is artificial intelligence, or AI. Everybody is predicting that AI will either be the savior that helps humankind become more efficient and potentially save the planet from destruction or it will be the computer technology that dooms Earth like SkyNet. In Hollywood, there is a writers strike taking place right now and a large part of the negotiations involves the use of AI to write scripts, possibly putting thousands of writers out of business.

But do we really have that much to fear from AI? Perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves a bit with this current generation of computer smarts. Will AI actually put millions of people into unemployment because computers can do the work better than humans? Exactly how smart is AI? 

As a quick test of the potential of AI, I went to the Microsoft Bing Image Creator and asked it for some illustrations of what its computers think anesthesiologists and CRNAs do for a living. First I entered the phrase "Anesthesiologists At Work". Here is the image it created.

Okay, not that great. Looks more like a surgeon not properly masked up. Is he trying to put in a regional block? Not sure. Nothing here remotely resembles what an anesthesiologist does for a living. Here are a few more images using the same description.

Curiously, all the images the computer created show anesthesiologists as being white middle aged men. I guess the AI computers haven't had to take DEI training like the rest of us.

Now when I entered the phrase "CRNA At Work", this is what I received.

Hmm. Not exactly an anesthesia professional at work. First of all, it's sexist to assume that CRNAs are female. She is also noticeably younger than the anesthesiologists. Then there's the fact that this person is not anywhere inside an operating room. She looks like she may be a nurse practitioner in an office or a research assistant. Lest you think this is a one off, here are other images of what AI thinks CRNAs do.

Again, all young women who are not working in an operating room but at a desk in front of a computer. Microsoft Bing should be sued by the AANA for libel. 

If this simple experiment in AI image creation is any indication, we have nothing to fear from our computer overlords anytime soon. Like all computer software, it is garbage in, garbage out. It is only as smart as the person who codes its programs. Real creativity and insight cannot be programmed into computers because we humans don't know and can't predict how these serendipitous events happen. Computers can only create concepts using the limited tools that its coders put into it. You're trusting that the software programmers have a larger world view than the typical twenty something computer science major who had just been doing bongs a few short years, or even months, ago. They can't possible have a clue about how to program into a computer the billions of activities that humans accomplish each day. I think we'll be safe from AI job interference for a very long time.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Anesthesiologist's Second Calling, A Lifeguard

Eric Greensmith, MD (from WSJ)

I love this story. It gives me great hope as I transition into the second half of my career. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Eric Greensmith, MD (I believe his full name is James Eric Greensmith), an anesthesiologist at Milton Hershey Medical Center at Penn State Health, was starting to stare into the face of retirement and found it lacking. Sixty-seven years old at the time, he decided he wanted to try becoming a lifeguard again, just like he was fifty years prior.

Except his physical conditioning was quite removed from five decades earlier. He was five-foot eight and weighed 210 pounds. For a year he had to train to conquer the physical fitness tests: run half a mile in three minutes and forty-five seconds and swim 500 meters in ten minutes. At first he couldn't even run 100 meters. A year later, he was down to a muscular 175 pounds and passed the lifeguard tests with flying colors. 

Now he bikes routinely to his lifeguarding duties from his home, an eighteen mile round trip. He is at the Jersey Shore five days a week during this summer, two days per week after Labor Day. He still lifts weights and swims regularly to keep up his new job requirements. The other, much younger, lifeguards have all been very supportive of their new comrade. 

Kudos to Dr. Greensmith for discovering the fountain of youth. As many of us look forward to slowing down after a hectic demanding career, it's refreshing to see that there are alternatives to just playing golf or traveling to overpriced resorts once we lay our laryngoscopes down.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Facebook Has Kicked Me Out.

At least until FB lets me back in.

Last week, Facebook disabled my account. There was no warning and no explanation. Just one day I couldn't log in and I received an error message that said my account has been disabled and to go to the Help Center for assistance. Down the rabbit hole I went as I waded through pages and pages of advice on how to retrieve my blog's account. All this was presciently described in a recent Wall Street Journal article about the travails of Facebook users who lost access to their accounts.

The newspaper noted that Facebook does not have a phone number to talk to a human being to get support. With three billion users I guess they can't afford to hire that many help staff, even if they hired the entire call support industries in India and the Philippines. The article said one person had success by calling the support line for his Oculus virtual reality goggles that is owned by Facebook. He bought the device just to get access to the phone number. I looked it up and there is no Oculus support number anymore. 

So now I'm stuck with no access to get to my ZMD account page. I go to the Help Center every day and give them the same information they ask for with no resolution in sight. I've never received a single email acknowledging my emails or my or account issues. So if you follow and like me on Facebook, you may not see any new entries for awhile, or even ever. I may have to move to Twitter, which I haven't been very active in, or maybe even Tik Tok, where all the cool kids gather. And if you see a blog entry you really enjoy reading, please let all your friends and colleagues know about it because I can't spread the word on Facebook anymore. 

Monday, June 6, 2022

A Devious Lawyer Can Be A Doctor's Best Friend

We all know that lawyers can be lying, cheating scumbags that destroy all that is good in the world. (Obviously just being hyperbolic here.) Here is the story of a lawyer in Orange County, California that helped a physician get out of a malpractice suit by basically lying to the jury.

The patient, Enrique Garcia Sanchez, was admitted into South Coast Global Medical Center in Santa Ana, CA in 2017 with alcoholic pancreatitis. He was unable to eat for over a month. His gastroenterologist, Dr. Essam Quiraishi elected to put in a PEG tube to facilitate his nutritional intake. He unfortunately perforated the colon while doing the procedure. This mistake was not caught until Mr. Sanchez developed peritonitis and died from septic shock at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center a month later. The family sued Dr. Quiraishi for $10 million.

This is where Dr. Quiraishi's lawyer comes in. His name is Robert L. McKenna III, a founding partner at Kjar, McKenna & Stockalper. He was able to convince the jury that Mr. Sanchez died from catastrophic pancreatitis, not septic shock despite the coroner's death certificate stating the death was due to sepsis and peritonitis from a colon perforation. Mr. McKenna also blamed the hospital staff for not notifying Dr. Quiraishi about the X-ray findings in a timely manner. Not to leave any stone unturned, he also blamed the plaintiff's lawyers for "extortion" of the doctor and being part of a "personal-injury industrial complex." Mr. McKenna sowed enough doubt into the jury that they found the physician innocent of malpractice in a unanimous vote.

Normally this would be the end of another malpractice suit that happens every day across the country. But what makes this extraordinary is that Mr. McKenna was caught on video celebrating his legal victory at his office and it was posted on the internet. It was quickly taken down later but not before other people saw it and reposted it all over the web

In the video, Mr. McKenna is seen at an office party discussing the case and how he deceived the jury into accepting his alternative facts. He described the case as "a guy that was probably negligently killed, but we kind of made it look like other people did it. And we actually had a death certificate that said he died the very way the plaintiff said he died and we had to say, 'No, you really shouldn't believe what the death certificate says, or the coroner from the Orange County coroner's office.'" He said it was the fastest defense verdict he had ever gotten and even had a colleague ring a victory bell in the office.

Naturally the internet mob is now calling for Mr. McKenna to be disbarred. His manipulation of the jury personifies the qualities that people expect and hate about lawyers. However, others have stated that lawyers lie all the time to juries to get their clients free from charges like murder, assault, and other felonies because that is their job. Mr. McKenna is just very good at it. His only mistake was getting filmed bragging about his legal abilities and belittling the jury. 

As a physician, I certainly would want somebody like Mr. McKenna on my side, no matter what he has to do to get me off the hook. This story also illustrates that most people want to believe that doctors are doing the best they can to help people. Almost 90% of medical malpractice cases are found for the defendant even when the evidence is strong for conviction. So should Mr. McKenna be brought before the Bar or should he be lauded for his success? This is a tough one legally and ethically.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

How To Become An Anesthesiologist

You've heard about the great incomes that anesthesiologists make. You long for the legendary lifestyle of working with propofol and volatile anesthetics. So now you're wondering what it takes to become an anesthesiologist. 

You could search through the history of this blog to get all the scintillating details of anesthesiology as a career. Or you can read through this nice little article from Forbes on the process of becoming an anesthesiologist. 

It details the long education process necessary to earn the title, at least a decade of schooling and training after high school. First you have to earn a Bachelor's Degree, which takes at least four years. Then there is another four years of medical school to become a physician. That doesn't include the extra time some students take get another degree like an MPH, PhD, or JD. After that, with any luck you will match into an anesthesiology residency, which is getting harder all the time. There you will spend four more years of anesthesia training to just qualify for taking the anesthesia boards. But that's not the end of the line. Most anesthesia residents now take another year for a fellowship like cardiac, pediatric, or pain medicine. Add it all up and it's a minimum of twelve years to become become board eligible to sit for your certification exams.

Phew. It's not an easy road to earn the moniker of anesthesiologist. If that path is too daunting, Forbes has some alternative choices which involves some anesthesia work. You could become an anesthesia technician, which only takes two years. Or you could be an anesthesia assistant, which requires a bachelor's degree and needs about six years total. Or you could become a CRNA, which takes about seven to ten years. 

While the article in general is fairly accurate, I have a quibble with their assertion that board certification is optional to be an anesthesiologist. That may have been true fifty years ago, but nowadays, no hospital will hire you if you are not at least board eligible working towards certification. I know anesthesiologists a generation older than me who were grandfathered into their positions despite not ever having been board certified, but that generation is quickly retiring or dying off so now almost every anesthesiologist is BE/BC. That is not the same thing as having limited vs lifetime board certification, which is a whole other discussion.

If you're curious about how well trained anesthesiologist are, and why we're not just frustrated surgeon wannabes, take a careful read of Forbes. You'll realize that anesthesiologists are some of the best trained physicians in the country.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Anesthesiology Compensation In 2022

Medscape has released its annual Physician Compensation Report for 2022. The report polled over 13,000 doctors about their salaries and other details about their work. It looks like the pandemic induced reduction in physicians' incomes are over. For the first time in Medscape's survey history, all medical specialties saw increases in compensation during the past year. ENT topped the list with a 13% increase in average annual income.

Anesthesiologists fared well, as usual. This year, anesthesiologists reported an average income of $405,000. That is up significantly from last year when they disclosed an average of $378,000. That is a seven percent improvement over 2021 which was down five percent from 2020 due to Covid shutdowns.

Since 2015, physician salaries have increased an average of 29%. By comparison, inflation in the U.S. over the last five years has been 14.7%. Anesthesiologists didn't fare as well. In 2015, Medscape said anesthesiologists made an average of $358,000. So In the past seven years, anesthesiologists salaries have flatlined, not even keeping up with inflation. Perhaps that's why our specialty doesn't rank in the top ten anymore of the highest paid physicians. And the ASA wants to keep opening more anesthesia residency spots at the same time.

The top five states with the highest physician incomes are: Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, and Oregon. If you think you would never live in a rural state even if they have very low cost of living and high salaries, then you're stuck in a bicoastal elitist mentality. Though these states may seem rural, they have very cosmopolitan urban centers too, such as Nashville, Louisville, and St. Louis. Alabama even has nice beaches also. So if you're looking for the biggest bang for your buck, don't overlook this list. 

There's a lot more information in Medscape's survey than what I have listed here, including one nice aspect of working in anesthesiology that tops all other specialties. Check it out.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Wordle For Doctors

Think Wordle, the word guessing game, is too easy? You think five letter words are boring? Peeved that middle school kids are better at this game than you? MedPage Today has a new distraction for you. They call it Wordosis. First of all, the words in this game require SIX letters. So there's that challenge. Next the words are medically related so not just anyone can play it since medical terminology is an actual class in medical school. That adds a bit of exclusivity to this puzzle. Just don't play while you're supposed to be vigilantly monitoring your patient in the operating room. Good luck.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Medical Schools With The Best Anesthesiology Programs

The recently completed Match Day once again demonstrated how hard it is to get into an anesthesiology residency. Of all the PGY1 spots for anesthesiology, 99.9% of them were filled on Match Day. Out of 1,509 open positions, 1,508 were taken. It's an incredible statistic and shows how extremely competitive it is to get accepted into anesthesiology.

To gain an edge in the residency match, one should attend a medical school that is highly ranked in anesthesiology training. Luckily for us, U.S. News & World Reports made a list for 2022 of the best programs in the country. Get into one of these med schools and graduates will have a leg up in receiving one of the coveted anesthesiology positions.

This list is based on a nebulous combination of factors including quality assessment, student selectivity, undergraduate GPA, MCAT scores, etc. If you're talented enough to ace all these different components, you're on the ROAD to one of the best jobs in America. 

So here are the top medical schools with the best anesthesiology programs as ranked by U.S. News:

1. Harvard University

2. Johns Hopkins University

3. Duke University

4. University of California, San Francisco

5. Columbia University

6. Stanford University

7. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

7. University of Pennsylvania

9. University of California, Los Angeles

9. Washington University in St. Louis

11. Mayo Clinic School of Medicine

12. Vanderbilt University

Other schools that made the list but U.S. News demands money to see their rankings include:

Baylor College of Medicine

Cornell University

Emory University

New York University

Northwestern University

University of Washington

Yale University

While getting into one of these schools is nice, remember that a vast majority of anesthesiologists did not graduate from these elite programs. So if you are not a student in one of these schools, don't fret. Most medical students aren't either but that doesn't mean you can't score a treasured spot in an anesthesiology residency in the future.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

"Ailee Was Massively Poisoned By The Anesthesiologists"

Ailee Jong, from SF Chronicle

In a 9,200 word article in the San Francisco Chronicle (behind a paywall or free if you have Apple News), the newspaper details the tragic death of two year old Ailee Jong at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, CA. 

In 2019, Ailee started complaining of abdominal pain. Her parents, Tom and Truc-Co Jong quickly took her to a hospital emergency room. The CT scan results were devastating. The little girl had a 12 cm hepatoblastoma in her liver and probable lung mets. 

When they heard the diagnosis, the parents quickly searched for the best possible care for their daughter. Since they live near San Francisco, they naturally gravitated toward Stanford University and University of California, San Francisco. As they looked through the list of doctors that could treat their daughter, they noticed one pediatric oncologist who was affiliated with Stanford Children's Health and also worked at John Muir Health in Walnut Creek, which is only 15 miles from their house in Danville. This would make commuting to the hospital easier than driving 40 miles to Stanford. 

But little did the Jongs know that John Muir had little experience taking care of complex pediatric liver disease. Their pediatric ICU had only been in operation for about a decade and they'd never had a liver resection like Ailee's before. According to Tom Jong, "They did say, in these words: 'We can treat her. She can be cured.'"

When Dr. Alicia Kalamas, medical director of perioperative medicine and an anesthesiologist, found out about this upcoming hepatectomy, she immediately questioned whether the hospital was capable of successfully doing the operation on such a small child. However, Dr. Jeffrey Poage, medical director of pediatric surgical services and a pediatric anesthesiologist, countered that the surgeons were up to the task. When Dr. Kalamas brought her concerns to Dr. Thomas Greely, the vice president of clinical affairs at JMH, she was told that Stanford physicians who had been consulted about the case had assured them the small hospital could handle the operation. She brought the case to Dr. Moussa Yazbeck, the chief of staff at JMH who did not question the procedure. Dr. Kalamas's contract was not renewed in 2021.

Dr. Poage was originally supposed to be Ailee's anesthesiologist for the procedure. Less than a week before the operation, he reported a scheduling conflict and two other anesthesiologists were brought in: Drs. Wayne Lee and Romerson Dimla. Dr. Lee finished his fellowship in pediatric anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins in 2017 while Dr. Dimla completed his fellowship at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles in 2019.

On November 12, 2019, Ailee entered the operating room at 7:30 am. By 9:30 am, the anesthesiologists documented that the estimated blood loss was 345 ml, significant for a 24 pound patient with a total blood volume of 800 ml. They noted that they had already transfused four units (1,261 mL) of PRBC and one unit (222 mL) of FFP. 

Ailee's body temperature started to drop, going below 95 F. With all the blood products her potassium level went from 4 in preop to 5.6. At 12:10 pm, she went into severe bradycardia then asystole. They were able to resuscitate Ailee by 12:30 pm. Echocardiogram showed no PE or air embolism. Instead of stopping the surgery, the surgeons continued with the resection.

The anesthesiologists noticed blood emanating from the endotracheal tube, mouth and nose of the patient. Labs at 12:32 pm showed Ailee's potassium had jumped to 8.2, a critically high level. Then 15 minutes later, she had another cardiac arrest. An operating room nurse desperately searched for help and found Dr. Poage, the medical director of pediatric surgical services and "begged him to come to the OR." He threw his anesthesia colleagues under the bus and refused to get involved. 

The surgeons continued with the operation despite the second arrest. She was now bleeding profusedly everywhere and the anesthesiologists kept pumping more PRBC and FFP. By now, the anesthesiologists stopped documenting the amount of blood products they were giving. Ailee's heart stopped again. Several times during the resuscitation, the ETT fell out, requiring the anesthesiologists to reintubate her while chest compressions were taking place.

When the surgical team finally realized the operation was futile, they went to the waiting room to inform the Jongs and asked for permission to stop the resuscitation. The parents refused and demanded to see the little girl in the operating room. They were informed that that was against policy but relented. 

When they walked into the OR, they noticed a stack of bloody towels on the floor three feet high and a nurse doing chest compressions. The room smelled of blood. They said Ailee was unrecognizable. Her head was massively swollen and blood was seeping out of her eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. After almost five hours of CPR, she was declared dead at 5:12 pm. 

The lawsuit the Jongs are bringing against the hospital complained that the anesthesiologists did not transfuse an adequate amount of FFP to allow her body to clot properly, leading to the massive hemorrhage. They also said that too much PRBC was given, leading to the critical hyperkalemia. The lawsuit claimed that "By 12:32 p.m., Alee was massively poisoned by the anesthesiologists."

This story illustrates that there is more to an operation than just the surgeon. It takes an entire ecosystem to successfully perform surgery. John Muir Health was not candid with the Jongs when they assured them that the hospital could do the hepatectomy despite internal warning flags raised by staff. The anesthesiologists, who only recently completed in their pediatric anesthesia fellowships, probably had not done such a complicated case since they finished training. The Jongs were wowed by the hospital's decor and amenities but were not given relevant information about the experience of the hospital and its staff in doing pediatric liver resections. Just a sad case for all involved.

Monday, March 28, 2022

The ASA Wants To Help You Get Into Anesthesia

The president of the ASA, Randall Clark, MD, FASA, praised in his Monday Morning Outreach newsletter the highly successful anesthesia match that just took place. As I previously mentioned, 99.9% of the anesthesia PGY1 residency spots were taken. It is one of the highest fill rate of any medical field. 

It seems that the ASA and Dr. Clark have a problem with that. He noted that thousands of applicants did not get into anesthesia residency. In fact, 59% of anesthesia applicants were left on the sidelines in 2022 when they were denied entry into a training program. Their simple solution is to expand the number of programs and spots available to accommodate the high demand. They plan on having a Workforce Summit meeting in June to discuss this possibility.

I am dubious about this idea. Anesthesia residencies have already greatly expanded in the last five years. In 2018 there were only 1,253 PGY1 spots available. This year, there were over 1,500. Other highly competitive residencies are not expanding at the rate that they could. Orthopedic surgery has grown from 742 in 2018 to 845 today. ENT from 316 to 361. Diagnostic radiology PGY2 from 944 to 997. Any of these specialties could easily have more residents if they choose to. Yet I don't hear orthopedic surgeons wringing their hands worrying about not having enough of their own graduating every year. Instead, they relish the exclusivity of their field, to the point of being a national scandal

The ASA's plan to flood the market with anesthesiologists is only good for the ASA. It helps them fight off the encroachment of CRNA's with a legion of anesthesiologists desperately looking for a good job. It also fills their coffers with the millions of dollars in annual dues, conference fees, and CME paid by members each year. Is the ASA really looking after their own, or just stuffing its treasury on the backs of hard working anesthesiologists?