Category: healthcare

IOS, Android and the battle for my #mhealth soul

The preamble story to this discussion is as follows.

My 3 year old son is quite adept at using my Iphone. He was more interested in my phone than the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade. He was so engrossed in it, I had to physically carry him to the bathroom to take care of business. In that process, he accidently dropped it in the toilet. My phone was toast. I shrieked and cried (on the inside) while I had a  massive digital heart attack.

Now it’s decision time.

My initial instincts were to stick with what I knew and the Apple ecosystem that was flourishing in my home for the past 7 years. My wife has one. My kids use a 2nd generation IPAD  for their activities. I also use a 3rd generation IPAD mini for work and day to day activities. We even have our old Iphone 4’s in our kid’s bedrooms that play music and function as a sound machine for their sleep. We also have Apple TV’s for entertainment purposes. My wife and I also share a Mac desktop. This ecosystem has been working well, but admittedly has given me Apple tunnel vision and a general fear of  trying Android devices.

In addition, my interest in the concept of #mhealth has been growing recently. Specifically I’m appreciating  how remarkable smartphones are and their potential to  be a game changing element in healthcare.

In medical education, mobile devices like a smartphone gives trainees and veteran clinician’s access to real time evidence based information. Social media is a ubiquitous platform for networking, advocacy and expanding medical knowledge. There is a growing capability of technology to collect numerous forms of patient data with the smartphone being the fulcrum that processes that information and connects patients to their clinicians. #Mhealth is and can be so many different things. We are just scratching the surface of its immense potential.

With that in mind,  I’ve started a #mhealth interest group within the Society of General Internal Medicine. We will be meeting for the first time this spring and I look forward to collaborating with people want to explore this area further.

SGIM 2016 Annual Meeting

But it took my precocious son’s butter fingers to make me realize I’m only experiencing  half of the #mhealth world by avoiding Android devices. So with much trepidation but in an effort to be a more complete digital physician, I’m going to jump ship from Apple temporarily. I hope by the time the SGIM meeting rolls around, I’ll have a better perspective on the smartphone #mhealth world.

I’m already noticing a difference. I have so many different phones to chose from…

And what’s KitKat, Jellybean and Lollipop???

🙂

 

Twitter Grand Rounds

I’m currently into my 2nd week of life here at UTSW with most of my time committed to orientation related things. But today, I was able to resume one of my favorite activities as an academic internist which is attend departmental grand rounds. It’s great because the numerous disciplines in internal medicine all gather in one place to hear a respected colleague discuss important research, clinical and non clinical topics in medicine. Today’s grand rounds was especially noteworthy because it was given by someone within my own division (general internal med) on the unique topic of secondary cancers in adult survivors of pediatric cancers. As always, it was informative and captured my full attention.
But grand rounds wasn’t always as exciting for me. As a junior faculty in my prior institution I would find myself sitting there at 8 AM, staring at power point slides desperately trying to keep focused or even stay awake. Despite interesting topics and engaging noteworthy speakers, I didn’t get much out of it. That was until I entered the world of Twitter and became fully engaged in grand rounds by live tweeting. From that moment, grand rounds became an active fun event instead of a passive attempt at learning (an experience far too familiar from my days in medical school). Twitter became my platform for self learning and engagement as well as an opportunity to share important medical advances and concepts with the world at large. I looked forward to learning and the challenge of feverishly tweeting key facts and themes. Soon, other faculty members, house-staff and medical students became involved as we developed a virtual back channel conversation each morning of grand rounds.
Now after having left my prior institution for several months I’ve resumed my live tweeting of grand rounds, having learned several interesting things about pediatric cancer survivors and their heightened risks of adult cancer. In that process, I’m confident, a few others out there in the Twitterverse have a learned a few things as well.  And like most things in social media, the connections we make are a two way street. There are many others out there, doing what I’m doing, sharing their knowledge via social media in an effort to connect our minds and expertise for the purposes of improving medicine.

@SBinternalMed
Twitter account run by former colleagues with tweets from grand rounds, noon conferences and much more!

#foamed
Free open access medical education hashtag.

#meded
Medical Education hashtag

#grandrounds
A generic hashtag of all kinds of grand rounds across the world.

@shabbirhossain
My twitter account

Sir William Osler conducting Grand Rounds
(courtesy of the medical archives at Johns Hopkins University)

Another day, another shooting

Another day, and another senseless act of gun violence.

I sat down tonight to start writing about my experiences working as a locums primary care physician in the heartland of America and the Indian Health Services.

There’s a lot to write about, in terms of the myriad of chronic diseases facing this population and the stressed healthcare services that’s trying to care for them.

Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, tobacco abuse, alcohol abuse, obesity etc etc.

I forgot about one particular epidemic until I received a push notification on my phone about the shooting in Lafayette, Lousiana.

Another city, different from where I’m working but still uniquely American, trying to persevere through violence perpetrated by some who believe was just a person. Other’s who will attest he’s a person who culturually and perhaps legally was allowed to obtain an unneccssary appendage of violence.

In tragedy, the natural tendency is for people to come together.
When it comes to tragedy from gun violence, we seem to grow further apart as a nation, debating the merits of a vestigial amendment. This too, another uniquely American reality.

Another shooting and another night of mourning.

A Muslim doctor gets on an airplane…

     The recent events of Tamera Ahmed on a commercial airline and the alleged discrimination and Islamophobia she endured, got me thinking about my own experiences in the air. Fortunately, I have never experienced anything as blatant as the events described by Ms. Ahmed. But as a Muslim-American, I’ve become too keenly aware of the growing specter of Islamophobia across the world. Whether it’s at a TSA security checkpoint, sitting at a terminal or falling asleep inside the plane, I have to admit I sometimes wonder if someone is watching me, thinking I’m capable of committing harm. To those that continue to subscribe to beliefs that all Muslims on an airplane are a potential danger, I offer my own personal experiences that are the opposite.
     I’ve had the privilege of twice responding to a request for medical assistance on an airplane at over 30,000 feet. The first time, I was a senior resident flying home with my wife from a well deserved vacation. The flight attendant requested anyone with medical training to assist a passenger who had collapsed near the forward bathrooms. Without hesitation, I looked at my wife and headed to the front of the plane in my jeans, t-shirt and baseball cap looking nothing like a physician or a stereotypical dangerous Muslim for that matter. I ended up converging at the front with a nurse and a radiologist on the flight. Without access to a CT scanner on the flight, the nurse and I quickly took charge of the situation :-).  We came to the conclusion the the elderly lady had a vasovagal episode brought on by a lack of sleep, and the effects of alcohol at high altitude on a body altered by gastric bypass surgery. The flight attendants were understandably worried and repeatedly asked me whether the flight needed to be diverted for an emergency landing. I reassured them and gave my blessing to press forward towards our intended destination. After the flight I caught up with the lovely lady outside in the terminal while paramedics assessed her. She was extremely gracious in expressing her gratitude. In addition to her, several random passengers expressed their appreciation. One gentleman was particularly thankful that I didn’t divert the plane and take away vacation time with his girlfriend.
     A second and similar episode occurred on another flight a few years later. This time, a passenger that was battling a stomach bug, vomited and subsequently also passed out. I once again marched to the front of the plane to assist the passenger. But this time, as I spoke to the passenger, his sister  next to him started to feel ill and weak. She too almost passed out from a vasovagal episode triggered by watching her brother heave. Fortunately, both passengers were ok as I reassured them and the flight crew that everything would be fine. And once again there was an outpouring of gratitude from a variety of people.
     As physicians, we are reminded early in our training and throughout our careers to treat all patients equally. I certainly did not ask who or what those passengers were on my flight. They were  people in a vulnerable situation who needed some help. Perhaps they even harbored the same biases and fears that plague the bigoted passengers on Ms. Ahmed’s flight or the policy makers of the airline she flew. It wouldn’t have mattered. What matters is that the vast majority of proud Muslim-Americans like myself continue to advocate unity and peace while in service of everyone in our communities regardless of sexual orientation, race, religion or any other identifier. We are your teachers, lawyers, waiters, engineers, plumbers, mechanics, nurses, doctors and all others. And occasionally we are also your guardians in the sky.
 
 

When the Bells Tolled for Me

     Empathy is a big topic in medical education. How do we teach and nurture it in the next generation of doctors? Personally, I’ve noticed that students and residents with personal experiences as a patient often “get it.”
      I’ve had a few personal experiences as a patient and I think it’s helped me gain perspective. Fortunately none of my experiences were life threatening, but one them did leave a big impression.
     In the fall of 1991,  I woke up on one morning with a strange sensation. I had difficulty speaking and drool was intermittently falling from my mouth. I wasn’t in any pain and I remember finding the experience unusual and funny. My father had already left for work and with the situation unclear, my mother sent me to school with an appointment for our family physician later that day. I was happy to go and didn’t want to miss school early in the year. I remember later that morning, despite how my mouth felt, I volunteered to read a section of my social studies text book. I always considered myself an adept reader, but that day I sounded incomprehensible. I even remember the quizzical look on my teacher’s face after my attempt. I quickly realized I would have to hold back my enthusiasm for education for 1 day until my doctor could fix my ailment.
     My family practice doctor was a nice Indian gentleman with silvery grey hair. I remember vividly that his office was also his only examination room. Right next to his large, expensive wooden desk and leather chair, was an examination table, up against a wall lined by his innumerable degrees. It felt like I was being seeing in his home rather than in the sterile exam rooms I’ve grown accustomed to. I don’t recall the details of the visit, except that he had diagnosed me with Bell’s Palsy, given me “steroids,” and a consultation with Neurology. As a teenager, I found this amusing but my parents were extremely concerned. They were so concerned that any run of the mill neurologist wouldn’t do. We had to find someone affiliated with one of the major teaching institutions in New York City.
     We were lucky to get an appointment the following day. After an hour long subway ride, we were in front of a neurologist who was affable, intelligent but also eccentric with hair that only had chance encounters with a comb.The details from this part of the story are foggy. All I really remember is the concern on my father’s face after the doctor advised that we immediately go to the emergency room. For reasons that I don’t recall, my neurologist was concerned about meningitis.
       My inpatient story began like many others in the ER. The most vivid memory had to do with lumbar puncture (LP). My father consented for me, as a pleasant male ER resident explained the procedure and how pain would be minimal and to expect some post procedure headaches. I remember laying on my left side facing a wall 6 inches from my face with my arms clutching my knees close to my chest. With my bottom and back exposed, I felt the warm anesthetic burn its way through my back, while the rest of me shivered in the cold room. My father had to wait outside for what seemed like an eternity. The resident was talkative and friendly but I found it hard to focus on anything else besides my fatiguing arms and lower back. I recall several attempts at him guiding the needle to find the sweet spot. It didn’t hurt but the repeated pressure and prodding of the apparatus was unnerving. After several minutes, the physician proclaimed success and asked me what color did I think the fluid was. I guessed red. To my surprise it was serenely clear.
      I woke up the next morning with a terrible headache and nausea. This was definitely much worse than the actual lumbar puncture. I couldn’t enjoy the view from my window overlooking the East River while the smell of the hospital food made me that much more ill. Despite that, I was happy to see my eccentric neurologist who walked in like the Pied Piper with several medical students in tow. They stood around me, in a semicircle with their shiny white coats, smiles, enthusiasm and words of encouragement. The neurologist demonstrated his cranial nerve exam to the students with my Bell’s palsy playing a central role. The student’s marveled and I felt really special. I wish I could say this was that sentinel moment in my desire to be a physician and medical educator. But honestly, at age 13 although I fancied being a doctor one day, my real priorities in life were baseball cards and video games.
      The days that followed were less about my Bell’s Palsy and more about a nasty pathogen. Although the results of my lumbar puncture were negative, the Varicella Zoster virus (Shingles) reared its ugly DNA. First it was  having a party under the covers of my ear canal which many years later and only in medical school did I learn to call it Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. Soon after, it had found itself on the tip of my tongue in what turned out to be an extremely painful aspect of my illness. I could barely eat for the next several days. To this day, I’m not exactly sure if the steroids that I initially took triggered the Shingles or whether it was the Shingles itself that precipitated the Bells Palsy. Either way, it was a terrible and frustrating combination of events.
     My last distinct memory of this event was the day of my discharge. Like any patient, especially a restless teenager, I couldn’t wait to go home. The night prior, the IV line placed in my ante-cubital fossa gave out and a night float intern haphazardly (after several attempts) placed a new line in my wrist. Probably 6 to 8 hours after that, this too infiltrated and started to cause pain. My family and I rang for assistance. As minutes turned to what seemed like an hour, pain became agony as a huge bleb formed at the site, stretching my skin while likely causing pressure on the carpal tunnel underneath. I squeezed my mother’s hand as hard as I could and squinted my eyes trying to endure the pain. I’m not sure how long I waited, but I remember the catheter being pulled and the immediate relief that came right after. A large fluid filled blister was left behind on my wrist. I was allowed to go home with instructions not to manipulate the blister. Of course one day it did pop, leaving behind exposed underlying tissue that I took care of myself for several days. Luckily it never got infected, but it did leave behind a scar that I still possess today.
    There are a few other tidbits to the conclusion of this story. I parleyed the illness into a new video game system from my parents. The scar on my wrist gave me a tiny bit of “street cred” with my teenage friends. I quickly lost that  “street cred” when I regained my ability and confidence to read out loud in class (4-6 months later).  I missed over a week of school and when I returned, I got a lot of hugs from girls who would otherwise ignore me. And I remember my class portraits that year. I had an ugly crooked smile to match my ugly multicolored shirt. Most importantly, it was a vivid experience that’s given me perspective and a story to share in my life as a physician and medical educator.

“For what are we born if not to aid one another?” 
― Ernest HemingwayFor Whom the Bell Tolls

   

Happy Nurses Week!

     It’s nurses week and it’s very important that we recognize the critical role they play in all facets of healthcare. Personally through the years I’ve had the pleasure of working with amazing nurses in a variety of settings. Here are some examples of what I’ve learned in terms of working with nurses and the important work they do every day.
    Just like most things in medicine, I had to learn how to work with nurses. As a resident, I didn’t have any curriculum on team based multidisciplinary care. I had to learn things on the fly and rather quickly. I spent the majority of my internship in hospital wards where life was extremely fast paced with incredibly complex patients. I took pride in the fact that my senior residents and attendings looked to me as the “eyes and ears” of the team. But soon into internship I felt I needed help and my own sets of extra eyes and ears. Once I recognized that nurses were my partner and not my subordinate, my entire experience and education changed. Nurses were not only executing my ideas, but providing valuable feedback to help troubleshoot issues and allow the formulation of better and more efficient plans. In the busy chaotic world of hospital medicine, where medical mistakes happen far too often, it is imperative that everyone on the team are on the same page. As an intern, I tried to accomplish this by touching base with my patient’s nurses, even if it was for just 15 seconds to get feedback and let them know what I was planning to do. For any future doctors out there reading this, I can’t emphasize enough what a valuable lesson this was.
     After residency, as my career took a direction towards the outpatient world I saw a different but just as vital role that nurses play for our patients. I took a locums tenens solo practice job in a rural part of the country. It was just me, a nurse and an administrative assistant running an entire practice. Since this was a small town, the nurse knew the patients far better than I could’ve ever hoped to. She gave me insight into their lives, struggles and social dynamics that really helped me tailor my medical decision making. She also advocated for me since many of the patients were skeptical of this new doctor fresh out of training. Most incredibly, this nurse was a single mom who had Crohn’s disease and 2 children. She would occasionally come to work during mild flares of her illness in obvious discomfort. She avoided taking days off because she knew I needed her and most importantly her patients needed her. I would suggest that all doctors get to know their nurses on a human level. You will be amazed at the passion with which they play their role in medicine.
     Finally, when my career took a turn towards academics, I worked full-time in a continuity clinic for internal medicine residents. For those that may not know, in a continuity clinic, faculty supervise  interns and residents delivering outpatient care. The patients are usually quite complex, challenging with many social issues. To complicate the matter further, the interns and residents can vary extensively in clinical acumen, effort and general interest in this responsibility. This combination of patient and trainee can be a combustible mix that results in suboptimal care. That is of course if you don’t have an incredible nurse to compensate and account for everything that could possibly go wrong. The nurse I am referring to was critical in many ways for creating a successful educational experience for trainees while delivering excellent care . She would often pick up important issues and clues from patients to relay to the residents and thus make their jobs easier. She would advocate for the trainees if there was a dissatisfied patient. For the trainees that befriended her, she became a confidant and or loving mother like figure. She gave feedback to trainees directly and to me as faculty if something egregious went unnoticed. She had an endless supply of jokes and feel good chocolates to lift their spirits when the days were trying. Her presence was a vital reason why the important educational experience of continuity clinic became something trainees looked forward to rather than avoid. 

     So a special thanks to all the nurses out there in my life, past present and future. You are a driving force in our healthcare system. I’m excited that as we look to innovate and improve our healthcare system, we are all looking to you to be a vital partner in solving some of our biggest problems. Happy Nurses Week!

Back to the Future

    Recently, I reconnected with an old friend. We were childhood friends through college and then slowly drifted apart. Around 2001 he got married to his wife while I got engaged to medical school. Several years later, he contacted me and it’s been great reminiscing about our past lives. He has a younger brother who’s currently in medical school and remarked how he sees the same passion in his brother as he saw in me when we were younger. I chuckled thinking about what a stubborn and immature person I was in my early doctor wannabe years. Despite my ability to memorize textbook facts ( perhaps the most overrated skill for the modern doctor) my friend has a much better memory of those years. He backs his assertion that I’ve always had passion for my career by recalling a website I built in college.
    I believe I was a junior in college (circa 1998) and my efforts towards medical school were in full effect. MCATs, biochemistry and molecular biology courses, volunteer work, work-study research job and a gradually receding hairline were all happening simultaneously. In between all of this activity I became enamored with the Internet. My free college email address changed my views of human communication and connectivity. Web browsers like Webcrawler, Alta Vista and Netscape opened doors to the entire universe. With WebMD in its infancy, I began exploring health related information on the web. It was scattered and disorganized.  I saw an opportunity to build my own healthcare website that would combine my love for the internet, my desire to serve people while augmenting my medical school credentials.  I wanted a site that would provide quality information on a health topic that also appealed to the young adult crowd. So naturally, I chose sexually transmitted diseases!
   I called it “Scary Things to Discuss.” In retrospect,  it sounds cheesy but back then I thought incorporating the letters STD into the title was clever. I gathered information from both old school (library) and new school ways (online) on some common diseases such as HIV, gonorrhea and chlamydia. I also included pictures, which wasn’t easy without services like Google Images. I copied some from other websites and scanned some from textbooks to create an easy to follow and colorful page. I wasn’t a computer programming major but I did learn some basic HTML code on my own. But thanks to Netscape Navigator, they packaged website building tools in their browser for non-computer folks like me. It was a labor of love that took me several months. Once it launched, it was one of my proudest moments. I continued to swell with pride as the website gradually gained momentum with a steady stream of positive comments from all corners of the globe. I actively maintained the site for about 18 months during which time it had logged over one hundred thousand hits.
     Sadly, the website met a quiet demise. After college and working full-time I didn’t have the energy to maintain it. I regret not archiving it for posterity. I don’t even remember what company hosted the site but I do remember they went from being a free hosting service to a paid one; a deal breaker for me at that time. The website’s success was always a great conversation starter for me personally, but I actually never got to talk about it with the most important people at that time ; US medical schools. I didn’t receive any interview offers.
   Since then I still became a physician but the world has changed. I’ve become a digital health enthusiast and advocate. I see the Web 2.0 (as opposed to 1.0 back in 1998) as a critical component of modern healthcare. And I’m no longer an outlier, shouting random things about syphilis and HIV into the internet void. Rather, I’m proud to be part of an incredible movement that hopes to improve and change medicine by bringing it back to the future.