Blog | Monday, September 15, 2014

Touching all the bases


Internal medicine requires knowledge, deduction, and many skills such as history taking, physical examination, and analyzing diagnostic tests. When confronting a new patient problem, we use our brains to work on finding a diagnosis. Much like police detectives, we would like to have brilliant diagnostic epiphanies, but often we make our diagnoses by painstakingly collecting all the clues and doing the necessary boots on the ground work.

We had a woman admitted to our service with confusion, decreased appetite and weight loss. In the ED, they diagnosed CKD Stage V, creatinine >5, and BUN >90. She had a 10-year history of type 2 diabetes mellitus. She had a history of ingesting high doses of salicylates and had a mildly elevated level.

The next morning as we are making rounds in the ICU she was on the bed pan. We asked the nurse to check a residual urine, because that is what we must always do with an unknown elevated creatinine. In fact her residual urine was 245 cc, despite no hydronephrosis on renal ultrasound.

The next day her appetite had returned and she no longer was confused. Three days later her creatinine was 1. Urological evaluation is the main plan now.

We had no good reason to suspect urinary obstruction, but we often are surprised with apparently newly elevated creatinine levels. We see such patients all too often. Finding obstruction when we did saved many resources.

While we love our diagnostic eureka moments, more often we get to the diagnosis through a deliberate process of touching bases and seeing what clues arise on our journey. Too often I see practicing physicians and residents skips steps. Too often I skip steps. When we skip steps we can miss the diagnosis in our omissions.

We owe our patients the deliberate process that leads to success. We need to touch all the bases.

db is the nickname for Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP. db stands both for Dr. Bob and da boss. He is an academic general internist at the University of Alabama School of Medicine, and is the Regional Associate Dean for the Huntsville Regional Medical Campus of UASOM. He still makes inpatient rounds over 100 days each year. This post originally appeared at his blog, db's Medical Rants.