Monday, March 23, 2020

#BoomerRemover



The coronavirus pandemic continues unabated through much of the world. Despair is starting to weigh on society as millions of people have lost their jobs and our freedom of movement has been curtailed by the government with no recourse for dissent. Through this natural disaster, a morbid theme has emerged for the Corvid-19 virus--Boomer Remover.

Used mostly by the young, boomer remover shows their disdain for the elderly and who they think is the source for much of their misery. While they are trying to carry on and party like the young are wont to do, they are being forcefully suppressed by their supposedly more educated and worldly elders. They have been thrust into the worst US economy in at least a generation, and maybe as bad as the Great Depression of the 1930's just as they are graduating from school and starting their families and careers.

However, it is the baby boomer generation that is feeling the brunt of the Corvid-19 chaos. First of all, the disease is much deadlier among the elderly than the young. The death rate for those under 50 years old is less than one percent. After that, the rate increases exponentially until after the age of 80 where the death rate is almost fifteen percent. That's why the college kids feel like they can party on Miami beaches with little consequence for their own health while the country watches in horror.

Then the government guidelines ask that those over 60 years old should stay home since they are the ones most likely to suffer severe illness from the virus when they get infected. This has caused many of them to miss precious work just when they are getting set to retire. In our practice, our older partners have voluntarily stopped working for the last two weeks. I don't know how much longer that can last as they are making zero income sitting at home.

The stock market crash has also disproportionately affected the baby boomers. The financial crash of 2008 forced many in our group to work past their expected retirement age. This caused our partnership to become too top heavy as the older anesthesiologists refused to retire, making it difficult to hire younger partners. After eleven years of a bull market, we finally had an exodus of retirements in the last two years. Wouldn't you know it, the market crashed again. Who knows when people can feel whole enough again in their retirement accounts to contemplate hanging up the shingles.

So the younger generation may feel that they are the ones bearing the brunt of this economic collapse because of government mandates beyond their control. But the term #BoomerRemover may be more accurate than they realize. The increased mortality associated with the disease and the financial difficulties that will crush their retirement savings may cause a calamity for the boomers that are yet to be calculated.

The Unhealthy Dependency Of Anesthesiologists


I've mentioned in the past about the anesthesia profession as being highly dependent upon the well being of their surgeons. Though the ASA would hate me for saying it, anesthesiologists have almost a parasitic relationship with the doctors on the other side of the blood brain barrier. The surgeon is the doctor who brings the patient, and the money, to the facility. The anesthesiologist is the doctor who feeds off this relationship. Sure the surgeon wouldn't be able to do his case well with a bad anesthesiologist, but there are a lot more anethesia providers around than there are surgeons with lots of well paying patients.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought this dependency into stark relief. With hospitals everywhere overwhelmed by the number of Covid-19 patients being admitted, all elective and many nonemergent surgeries have been cancelled across the country. Unless the patient has cancer or is in imminent death without surgery, the cases are being rescheduled for a later time. The tricky part is nobody knows when a better time can be found as the end to the pandemic is nowhere in sight.

Subsequently anesthesiologists are hurting financially everywhere. The Boise Anesthesia Physician Associates just laid of 53 of their CRNA's for lack of work. The anesthesiologists themselves are not drawing a salary so their employees can work another month before they are let go. Then after that who knows? Their banker would not extend a line of credit without the doctors using their personal assets like their homes for collateral. Their hospital still needs anesthesia providers for critical care and intubating expertise but they need far fewer of those than the number who used to work in the OR.

In my facility, the operating schedule has dropped by well over fifty percent in the last week. The suddenness of this change has been breathtaking. Just two weeks ago people were planning their summer vacations and watching their stock portfolios hitting record highs. Now we're all talking about how to reuse our N95 masks and calculating how we'll ever pay for our kids' college education, much less thinking about our decimated retirement funds.

This has truly been a black swan event. Whereas the 9/11 terrorist attack and the 2008 financial meltdown also brought the stock market to its knees, there was very little change in the need for surgeries. In 2008 many of the plastic surgery offices were hurt as the high end Beverly Hills clientele lost money in real estate and had to cut back on their cosmetic surgeries. But they were a small minority of the operating schedule overall.

This time it's different. When all elective surgeries are cancelled, there really is no escape course for the anesthesiologist, or surgeon. Many of the ambulatory surgery centers in town have been closed by government mandate since they're not considered essential businesses. Nobody is allowed to go outside anyway as we're all supposed to be sheltering in place at home. The worse part is that nobody knows when all this will end. It could start improving in a month or two. Or maybe it won't get better for six months or more.

Currently we have far more anesthesiologists than necessary for the number of cases we have each day. They're talking about rotating on off days so that everybody has at least a little bit of work. It's a level of financial uncertainty that is rarely experienced by well paid physicians. The coronavirus may ultimately remake the American healthcare system as we know it.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

We Are Now Living The Green New Deal

No traffic in Los Angeles!
Thanks to the panic of Covid-19, we are now living in the world of the Green New Deal. You remember what that was, right. That was when the country, and the world, was free and prosperous enough to contemplate what the climate will be like a decade in the future. Thanks to far left liberal politicians like New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the predictions were that the world will end in a decade unless drastic action was taken to prevent climate change.

They proposed the elimination of all use of fossil fuels. Everything would have to be powered by electricity obtained from clean renewable energy sources like wind or solar, but not nuclear. There would be no more airplanes, automobiles driven by fossil fuels, and boats. Homes and businesses would not be allowed to turn the lights on unless the electricity came from clean energy. And even cows were demonized for emitting too much methane into the atmosphere.

The GND was rightly mocked for being impractical and unrealistic, a fantasy of the privileged elite who don't have to drive to work every day to earn their paychecks. They idolized their beliefs to the point of declaring a teenager who espoused those views to become Person of the Year by Time magazine despite having no formal education in environmental science.

Now we know what living in a GND world is like. Through (overly?) draconian actions taken by the government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the American economy has ground to a halt. Practically all air travel has stopped as people are told to hunker down. All cruise ships have cancelled their trips. Millions of people have lost their jobs because all nonessential businesses are told to close until further notice to prevent gatherings of crowds. Millions of children and college kids are out of school with no clear idea when they will return to finish the school year, if at all.

The consequences of these actions have been terrifying. Billions of dollars have been lost in the economy as people are confronted with no income. The stock market is crashing by astonishing amounts almost every day. The federal government is looking at spending trillions of dollars to prop up the economy and it may still not be enough. People are panic buying and hoarding food and survival supplies. There are long lines to purchase guns as people think civilized society is hanging by a thread.

The only bright side for me personally is that my commute to work has been cut in half. A traffic map I took in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday showed virtually no traffic jams anywhere in LA County. Normally there would be red lines through all the freeways. Now they're all green. Los Angeles really is glorious when it's easy to get around. The skies are wonderfully blue. It's easy to see the distant snow on top of Mt. Baldy. The air feels crisp and clear. The only problem is that there is nowhere to go despite so little traffic as everything is closed.

For all those who talked a few months ago about the urgency of implementing the Green New Deal, be careful what you wish for. It's easy to advocate for those policies when you know there is little likelihood of their implementation. This current crisis is just a taste of the chaos that will happen to society if those ideas ever come to pass.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

A World Without Vaccines


Okay all you anti vaxxers out there. This is what the world looks like if man had never invented vaccines. Not pretty is it? You refused to immunize your children against deadly plagues like measles and polio. You go on internet tirades and troll anybody who expresses the necessity of giving children their vaccinations. You cheer on quacks and celebrities who preach their uninformed opinions about the potential complications of vaccines.

Now the world is faced with a pandemic from the coronavirus. How many of you still think the whole vaccine business is a profit making scheme cooked up by the pharmaceutical industry with the tacit approval of a government influenced by highly paid lobbyists? If we had a Covid-19 vaccine tomorrow, would you rush to get it for yourself and your family? Or would you stand by your principles and refuse to accept it, hoping for herd immunity to keep your loved ones from getting sick?

It's tough to stand by your medical convictions when it seems the whole world around you is one step from calamitous chaos and civilization is hanging by a very fragile thread. But for you anti vaxxers out there, rebelling against the miracle of modern medicine should be par for the course, right? We'll let you stay in the back of the line when the coronavirus vaccine is invented so that you won't betray your core beliefs.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Road Not Taken


To do anything truly worth doing, I must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold and danger, but jump in with gusto and scramble through as well as I can.
                                                                                         Og Mandino

I let a virus defeat me. The Los Angeles Marathon was today and I wasn't there. Now I'm overwhelmed with regret.

Against all medical and governmental advice, the organizers of the LA Marathon, along with the city government, proceeded with the race today. They set up some precautionary steps to make everybody feel safer. The organizers banned participants from six especially affected countries like China and South Korea. They put out more hand sanitizers along the route. And they advised runners and roadside viewers to stay at least six feet away from each other. As if it's possible to corral 27,000 runners into a small starting gate and maintain six feet of distance between each other.

Social media lit up with outrage that the event was still happening. Dozens of conferences, concerts, and other large public gatherings have been cancelled. Yet out of sheer greed, or hubris, the city allowed the marathon to continue. They did however tell runners who aren't feeling well not to come. What a laugh.

The statistics would support the city's decision. Roughly 80% of people infected with coronavirus will get very mild flu-like symptoms, or none at all. The mortality rate is about 1-3% so far. In general, marathon runners are on the more healthy side of the overall population spectrum and unlikely to come down with severe symptoms. So I was actually ready to go ahead and check off another bucket list item today.

Then the hammer came down. My wife was adamantly opposed to me running this race. She called the mayor's office and California governor's office to try to get them to cancel the event. There were online petitions to convince the organizers to stop this from spreading what is already described as a worldwide pandemic. She threatened to kick me out of the house for at least two weeks if I ran.

Finally I had to relent. The negative consequences of running this marathon outweighed the positives. What if I did catch the coronavirus? Even though runners from the six most affected countries were banned, the participants come from all 50 states and dozens of other countries. There's no way the race could guarantee a disease free environment.

If I ran, I could potentially be spreading the disease to my own family before I showed any symptoms. The kids would then spread it to their schools before anybody realized they were infected. I would be out of a job for at least a couple of weeks, jeopardizing our financial situation if even one runner out of 27,000 turned out to be positive for Covid-19.

So I sat out the race. I didn't set my alarm clock to get up at 4:00 AM. I rolled out of bed well after the sun came up, like my usual Sunday morning. But now I'm consumed with what could have been. The weather outside is gorgeous, perfect for running. There was a light rain last night so the air is clean and crisp. The temperature is neither too hot or too cold. There are fluffy clouds floating over the city, providing brief respites of shadow for the runners under the unrelenting Southern California sun. In other words, perfect running weather.

For now I've lost my motivation to keep running. Next year seems so far away and I'm not sure I can keep up my desire for running a marathon that long. I don't even feel like maintaining my strict diet for now. Sure there are other marathons throughout the year. But this is the LA Marathon, my hometown event and one of the premier marathons in the country.

So you'll forgive me if I wallow in my own self pity for awhile and gorge on a pint or two of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. Nothing feels worse than self defeat.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Plastic Surgeon Required To Use Anesthesiologist

Dr. Geoffrey Kim
Here's a followup to the tragic story of an outpatient plastic surgery case gone horribly wrong. Emmelyn Nguyen is an 18 year old girl who was having breast augmentation in a Denver surgical facility by Dr. Geoffrey Kim. After induction of anesthesia, the surgeon and his CRNA somehow were not monitoring Ms. Nguyen closely. She suffered cardiac arrest and was revived but now has permanent anoxic brain injury. She now requires 24/7 monitoring and support.

Dr. Kim initially had his medical license suspended. But now with a settlement with the Colorado Medical Board, he can resume his practice immediately but will have his license on probation for three years. He will also need to undergo more medical education and work with a board certified anesthesiologist.

Enough said.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

A More Holistic Approach To Finding Good Residents Or Just More Political Correctness

The recent news that the USMLE Step 1 will no longer issue a numerical score has stunned the medical community, especially all the medical students who have yet to take the test. The test takers will now only receive a pass/fail instead of the all important number that's used by residency programs everywhere to screen for acceptable candidates.

Why did the NBME, which administers the test, make this change? Their explanation is that they are trying to de-emphasize the importance of the Step 1 score so the students can concentrate on their clinical clerkships without being distracted by studying for the exam. Apparently some students are so anxious about the Step 1 that their clinical work suffered while they crammed for the test.

However there are some pretty notable flaws to this switch to pass/fail. The most obvious one is that now the emphasis will be on Step 2, since that still retains the numerical score. This comes at the even more crucial senior year when students are trying to juggle residency applications, impress their residency programs with their clinical excellence, and studying for Step 2 with its all too crucial score. I can't imagine that this change will make the students feel any less nervous about their prospects.

Then there is the conundrum residency directors now have in trying to winnow the number of applicants to their programs. Many subspecialty residencies, particularly the highly competitive ones like orthopedics, ENT, dermatology, use the Step 1 score as the first cutoff for choosing which applicants to ask for interviews. There's the absolute minimum score below which a program will not request an interview. Then there is the upper score where students will definitely be asked to come. Everybody else is in a gray zone. Because of this change to pass/fail, all applicants are now effectively in the gray area. Now admission directors will have to use soft evidence of an applicant's excellence, like research conducted or letters of recommendation.

If you've heard something similar to this before, that's because the move away from ranking students based on a number has been prominent in college undergraduate acceptance for years. There is a growing movement among colleges to do away with SAT and ACT exam scores. The University of California recently but just narrowly decided to keep these tests as part of their application requirements.

The reason colleges are removing test scores is because they have a high correlation with a student's socioeconomic status, not necessarily their ability to succeed in college. Students from high income families go to better high schools with more resources like AP classes to help them sail through the SAT. They also have more opportunities to take exam prep courses to give them a leg up on kids who can't afford those after school classes. Now many colleges emphasize a "holistic" approach to accepting high school students to college. They give students extra credit for coming from disadvantaged backgrounds and poor family situations.

However this creates its own complications. Look at the recent lawsuit against Harvard University. It's student admissions office was accused of discriminating against Asian Americans. Many of them had perfect SAT or ACT exam scores yet were denied acceptance to the school. Harvard's holistic approach to finding undergrads seemed to gloss over their high achieving test scores and instead punished them for a far more subjective "personal rating". They were considered less sociable and creative than their non-Asian American applicants.

Will this be the future of residency programs? While a large percentage of medical students are minorities, will the still mostly white residency directors judge the students on their race and perceived advantages in becoming doctors? Seems like this is just another lawsuit waiting to happen as some people are denied entrance to the most competitive programs and questions linger about why somebody got chosen over others since there are really no objective criteria anymore.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Panic At The Costco


Just how bad are people freaking out over the coronavirus? Here's a picture of the bottled water section at our local Costco. Normally there is a mountain of plastic bottles here. On this day, there were almost none.

It wasn't just water that people are starting to hoard. In our supermarket, an entire row of vinegar was nearly empty. Usually the giant one gallon jugs of vinegar are left languishing at the bottom of the store shelf as who needs a whole gallon of vinegar at one time. Now they are all gone.

I'd like to think that my neighbors are all well educated and level headed. But the steady bombardment of news about the coronavirus is starting to sow anxiety and trepidation into people who usually don't give into their worst primal fears of survival.

Never mind that so far less than 3,000 people around the world have died from Covid-19. Most of those are in countries with suboptimal healthcare systems and afflicted mainly the elderly and frail. By comparison, the U.S. had over 40 MILLION people with the flu and over 40,000 deaths just from this past flu season alone. Yet we have to spend millions of dollars in public service announcements to get people to take their flu shots.

So as the stock market keeps crashing lower every day (BUYING OPPORTUNITY!) and meetings around the world get cancelled, let's try to keep this virus outbreak in perspective. The most common symptoms for people who are healthy are just mild flu-like illness. This is not the end of the world like some Hollywood science fiction movie. We will all get through this just fine. After all, we still have ten more years to go of living on this earth before we all succumb to climate change.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Is Gastroenterology The Best Medical Field?

Cha Ching!
Is gastroenterology the best field in medicine? Gastroenterologists enjoy some of the highest incomes among physicians. Some 18 million colonoscopies are done each year in the US, making it the most commonly performed procedure in the country. GI is estimated to bring in almost $3 million in revenue per physician in 2019, double what it made only three years ago. By some calculations, gastroenterology is responsible for $1 TRILLION in medical expenditures each year.

With eye opening numbers like these, it's no wonder that the smart money is starting to pour into gastroenterology. Private equity investors are buying up GI practices to get in on this hot action. The investors are cutting expenses by consolidating office and equipment expenses. They are also able to negotiate better insurance reimbursements by forming larger groups.

GI is relatively easy to make money through buyouts. Many gastroenterologists practice in ambulatory surgery centers that are usually already highly profitable. Purchasing multiple ASC's gives them higher purchasing power and a more efficient backoffice. They are making their businesses even more profitable by bringing inhouse other expenses like pathology and anesthesia services. Why pay another physician a fee when you can pay them a set salary?

So is GI the best field in medicine? From a financial standpoint, it sure looks like a winner. The fees generated from endoscopic procedures would make any general surgeon hopping mad with envy. GI doctors can do dozens of procedures per day in each ASC, generating tens of thousands of dollars in revenue. Surgeons by comparison may only do two or three operations on a good day. As endoscopy gets more advanced, GI doctors are also slowly encroaching on the general surgeons' bread and butter of treating bowel diseases, with the advantage of not making any painful incisions. It looks like GI is ready to take over the medical world. The smartest people in the financial world certainly believe that.

Monday, February 17, 2020

"The Gig's Up". San Diego Anesthesiologist Caught Literally With His Pants Down.

Bradley Glenn Hay, MD

Anesthesiologists have long had a reputation for being the physicians who are most likely to have a drug addiction. One third of all medical residents who are treated for an addiction are anesthesiology residents, even though they make up less than five percent of all residents. Eighty percent of anesthesiology residencies reported having at least one resident with substance abuse problems. Almost twenty percent of anesthesia residencies have reported at least one fatal overdose in a ten year period. As you can see, drug addiction weighs disproportionately heavily on anesthesiologists and the profession.

So it's extremely disheartening to find an anesthesiologist in the news due to his substance abuse. Bradley Glenn Hay, MD, an anesthesiologist at the UC San Diego hospital system is being sued for causing patient harm while being under the influence of drugs. In his deposition, which you can read here, Dr. Hay states that he has been addicted almost throughout his residency and professional career. He started out as a heavy drinker in college, drinking a twelve pack of beer three to five times per week. He then moved on to heavy liquor like vodka and tequila. He would go to class or on rounds either drunk or with a hangover. He had been involved in two traffic accidents from DUI. Both times he underwent diversion treatments without much success.

Once he started anesthesia residency at UCSD, he started abusing narcotics. His drug of choice was usually fentanyl. He would check out far more narcotics than most anesthesiologists would use for a case. He would then give himself most if not all the drugs, causing his patients to wake up from surgery with extreme pain. Frequently he would "waste" leftover narcotics in a syringe with a witness when he had actually replaced the syringe with saline, giving himself the drugs he needed for himself. He would even talk his CRNA into falsifying the anesthesia records to make it look like they gave all the narcotics that were checked out.

Then in January 2017, he went to the staff restroom and shot up with some sufentanil, a narcotic far more potent than fentanyl. He almost immediately collapsed. The staff found him lying face down in a pool of vomit, with his pants down by his ankles. When he was revived, he saw all the staff standing around him and realized what happened. "Well I'm caught. The gig's up," he confessed.

He and the hospital are now being sued by former patients for causing bodily harm. Two lawsuits have claimed that while Dr. Hay was under the influence, his patients had received inadequate amounts of anesthesia. They claim to suffer awareness of their surgeries while experience excruciating pain but were too weak to let their predicaments be known. UCSD is being sued for essentially covering up Dr. Hay's addiction from his patients, nearly 800 over a two year period.

This is just a horrible tragedy all around. Hundreds of patients at UCSD may have suffered unbelievable horror movie scenarios while having surgery. The surgeons involved may have lost the faith of their patients. The hospital will spend millions of dollars in legal fees and fines for allowing this anesthesiologist to practice in their facilities. And Dr. Hay may never work as an anesthesiologist again. He has already lost his California medical license and his ABA board certification. I hope he finally gets the successful drug treatment he should have received prior to his overdose.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Social Justice Anesthesia

Et tu Anesthesiology? Recently, medicine has come under fire for promoting ideas that are more akin to social justice ideology than medical facts. In a widely reported op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last year, Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, former associate dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine bemoaned the intrusion of topics like climate change and gun control into the already overburdened medical education system. This leaves less time for students to learn about actual disease processes and caring for the patients that are sitting in front of them.

Now the journal Anesthesiology has published a social justice article of its own. In the January 2020 issue, a paper by Angela Jerath, MD, et al, titled "Socialeconomic Status and Days Alive Out Of Hospital After Elective Noncardiac Surgery," the authors attribute  the environment that the patients come from for varying rates of successful care. Naturally those who live in the lowest quintile of median neighborhood household income had higher rates of postoperative complications and 30 day mortality. Sounds like something straight out of the Democratic party agenda.

I fail to see how this article has anything to do with anesthesiology. It reads more like something that should be published in Health Affairs. What am I supposed to do with this information? Am I supposed to accept that my poorer patients will have higher rates of complications and mortality? Am I supposed to lobby my Congressional representative to give everybody a basic universal income to lift them up to a different quintile of economic status? If Anesthesiology begins to pivot more to these social justice articles instead of publishing more information about how I can improve the anesthesia I administer to my patients, I'm going to find less need to read the journal.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Diary Of My First Half Marathon


4:00 AM The alarm rings. Didn't get much sleep. I'm feeling too anxious. Am I ready for my first half marathon? Yes I am! I've been running for months and it all comes down to this. I'm as ready as I'll ever be. No time to back out now.

6:00 AM I finally make it into the parking lot of the Rose Bowl. Gridlocked traffic for miles around. Outside temperature--39ºF. Holy shit. It's cold here at the Rose Bowl. I'm not ready for this.

7:00 AM This is it. Been trying to stay warm for the last hour. I'm ready to get this started. No more second guessing or negative thoughts. It's time. The starting gun goes off. Here we go!

Mile 1 I'm doing this! This isn't so bad. Look at all those putzes waiting in line for the porta potties already. Why didn't they go before the start of the race?

Mile 2 This hill is a bitch. I'm short of breath already. How am I going to last another 11 miles?

Mile 4 Holy shit. The lead runners are already returning. They don't even look like they're breaking a sweat.

Mile 6 Hmm. These honey gels taste pretty good. I wonder if Costco sells these?

Mile 6.5 Halfway there! Woohoo!

Mile 7 I love all these supporters on the side cheering us on. They're so ebullient and encouraging. They also have really clever signs. I like "On a scale of 1-10, you're a 13.1!" Also "I had a better sign but the Astros stole it!" But my favorite one was "Smile if you farted!" I didn't fart but that sign made me smile.

Mile 8 I'm just cruising here on autopilot now. Good chance to reflect. I think I'm living my best life now. I'm healthier than I've ever been. From the fat kid in high school who couldn't run even one lap around the track, now I'm running my first half marathon. I've got a wife who loves me, most of the time, and kids who aren't getting into any serious problems academically or socially. Life doesn't get better than this.

Mile 10 After that last hill, it's all downhill from here. I can even see the Rose Bowl again.

Mile 11 Oh shit I'm hitting a wall right now. I can barely lift my legs to take the next step. So tempting to cut across the parking lot and make a beeline into the Rose Bowl entrance.

Mile 12 My music app is playing "Torture" by The Jacksons in the '80's play list. It's uncanny how much the internet knows your every thought and action.

Mile 13 This is it. The last mile. I've got a second wind and everybody is hustling to cross the finish line now.

Mile 13.1 Running out onto the Rose Bowl field is such a thrill. This must be how the UCLA football players feel when they play their home games.

Oh man, I think I'm going to faint. All this water, bananas, and Goldfish crackers are not helping. I better lay down for awhile before I totally black out. I don't want to embarrass myself if they have to call a paramedic to treat me.

Back home My legs feel like they weigh a hundred pounds each. I don't want to move off the couch, ever. But it's all been worth it. Another bucket list item I can check off. Living my best life.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Princeton Professors Blame Doctors For Expensive Healthcare


During this election year, there is a lot of debate about reining in the cost of American healthcare and expanding access. The most famous is Medicare For All advocated by Democratic candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Projections for the cost of implementing Medicare For All run as high as $32 TRILLION.

Who is to blame for the outrageous amounts of money that the healthcare industry is sucking from the national economy every year? Many people blame the greedy pharmaceutical companies and their six figure drug treatments. Others blame the scheming lawyers who file nuisance medical malpractice lawsuits that drive up the cost of doing business in medicine. Now two economists from Princeton University have said point blank that it is rapacious physicians who are sucking the system dry.

Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton presented at the American Economic Association meeting in San Diego recently. They pointed out that the U.S. spends one trillion dollars more for healthcare than the second most expensive system, Switzerland's. That one trillion dollars works out to about $8,000 per person in the U.S. They label this a poll tax on every person in the country.

Despite this added cost, they claim that the American system is not improving the lives of its citizens. They point to decreasing life expectancy and increased mortality from drug and alcohol abuse. But they had especially scathing words for doctors.

According to Mr. Deaton at the conference, "We have half as many physicians per head as most European countries, yet they get paid two times as much, on average. Physicians are a giant rent-seeking conspiracy that's taking money away from all of us, and yet everybody loves physicians. You can't touch them." They point out that of the top one percent of income earners in the U.S., sixteen percent are physicians.

Ouch. I sure would hate to be their doctors knowing that they think they are being ripped off by their physicians. First of all, as economists, they must surely understand the most basic laws of supply and demand. If the U.S. has half as many doctors per capita as Europe, doesn't it make sense that we get paid more here? If there were twice as many doctors practicing as there are now, I'm pretty sure physician income would drop just from normal economic competition. But guess who controls the training of doctors here? It's the U.S. government who determines how many residency spots they are willing to pay for. Simple economics.

Then there is the issue of how much physicians really cost in the overall scheme of medical spending in the U.S. Some estimate that doctors are less than nine percent of the total healthcare spending here. That is less than Germany (15 percent), Australia (11.6 percent) and France (11 percent). Are we really going to halve physicians' incomes which would have a miniscule affect on the entire healthcare spending morass but lead to massive physician dissatisfaction probably cause many to quit the profession?

It just goes to show that these ivory tower eggheads do not really live in the real world. They have their job security and well funded expensive health insurance which are out of reach of many working class people. These are the same people that advised the government on developing a healthcare system where they thought they can keep their doctors if they like them. What a bunch of hooey these people are peddling.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Anesthesia Team Not Paying Attention Leads To Brain Damaged Teen


Anesthesiology is an amazing profession. That's why it was voted the most important development in medicine in the last 150 years by the New England Journal of Medicine. Despite all the slings and arrows aimed at anesthesiologists from insurance companies and the government, it continues to be one of the highest paying professions in the country. As the American Society of Anesthesiologists gears up to celebrate the annual Physician Anesthesiologists Week, let's never forget how quickly our patients can suffer when we don't maintain constant vigilance.

This is the sad story of a healthy eighteen year old girl who went in for cosmetic surgery and wound up brain damaged for life. Emmelyn Nguyen of Thornton, Colorado was getting breast augmentation when supposedly the plastic surgeon, Dr. Geoffrey Kim, and the CRNA, Rex Meeker, left the operating room with the patient unattended for fifteen minutes. When they returned, they realized that Emmelyn had been hypoxic and in cardiac arrest. They performed CPR and were able to get her circulation back, but not before she had suffered permanent brain injury.

The family says she is now in a persistent vegetative state. She is unable to feed herself and only responds to pain. She requires 24 hours constant care. Emmelyn had saved up $6000 for her dream procedure. Dr. Kim reimbursed the family the $6000 about a month after the incident. Somehow I don't think it's the money that the family is angry about. As the ASA motto goes, "when seconds count". When fifteen minutes pass without any monitoring, those seconds turn into a lifetime of heartache and suffering.


A reader pointed out an error in my original post. Dr. Kim was the surgeon, not an anesthesiologist. I have changed my post to reflect that.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Anesthesia Salaries Still Tops In 2020


As we start a new year, and a new decade, let's look back on how the field of anesthesiology has done financially. According to a couple of recent surveys, anesthesiologists' salaries are still some of the most lucrative in medicine.

According to the latest US News & World Reports, anesthesiologists have the highest median salaries of any profession in America. If you recall, a median is where fifty percent are higher and fifty percent are lower. So anesthesiologists have a median salary of $267,020. The number is based on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. To me that number seems a bit low, especially out here in coastal California where the cost of living is so high. I think it would be fair to say that more than half of the anesthesiologists in southern California make more than that.

The second highest salaries were reported by surgeons, with a median of $255,110. They are followed by ENT ($242,370), OB/GYN ($238,320), and orthodontists ($225,760).

A different survey conducted at Doximity looked at the job offers that were being made for specialties that are most in demand by employers. Here the numbers are quite a bit higher. Anesthesiologists are being offered jobs that pay about $405,000. However, we're not the highest paid specialty. Radiologists can receive $428,572 while cardiologists can command $453,515. But it's nice to know anesthesiology is in the top ten of the most in demand specialties.

But if we looked at the highest paid physicians overall, nobody can top neurosurgeons, who can rake in $616,823. They are followed by thoracic surgeons ($584,287) and orthopedic surgeons ($526,385). I didn't know radiation oncology can be so lucrative, with salaries of $486,089 and ranking fourth on the list.

It's good to see that anesthesiology hasn't been affected negatively yet by all the surprise billing legislation, competition from CRNA's, or the Medicare 33% rule. Our incomes are still higher than average, we're top ten in physician demand, and we have the best lifestyle in medicine. This decade is starting off on the right foot.