Blog | Friday, November 20, 2015

Getting diagnostic help through sharing the patient's story

Recently, we had a new patient admission whose presentation confused the entire team. We developed a differential diagnosis, but really did not have great confidence that we were moving in the right direction. We thought we had a good idea of what diagnoses we could not afford to miss. We ordered a few tests to exclude those can't miss diagnoses, but all the tests did not provide an answer. We accomplished this strategy within a few hours.

My resident and I happened upon 2 physicians in the physician's lunch room. One was a resident; another, a subspecialist. Being confused, we shared the story with our colleagues.

The other resident suggested a possibility that we had not considered. I immediately pulled up DynaMed Plus (disclaimer, I am on the editorial board and all ACP members get DynaMed Plus for free for the next 2 years) to investigate this possibility. I think that I had heard about the possibility, but unfortunately had not really learned enough on that subject.

The research confirmed the suggestion. We proceeded to make this possibility our #1 diagnostic target, because it is very treatable and potentially deadly if we missed it.

Of course, the resident was correct. Our lunch conversation made a potentially long and hazardous hospitalization much shorter and with a great outcome for the patient.

As I think about diagnostic dilemmas, I realize that I often “run the story” by colleagues, residents and even students. Sometimes the process of telling the story helps me better understand; sometimes the listener asks a key question; often the listener expands the differential diagnosis.

A couple of months ago, a former student (now an intern) approached me after a teaching conference. He wanted to share a patient story to see if I had any good ideas. His resident and he told me the story. In that instance, I had the proper knowledge to help, and once again the patient benefited.

In both cases, I have told the stories multiple times since. In the first case, most physicians go down the same paths that we originally did. Yesterday, I presented the story to a chief medical resident who had seen a similar patient as a student. He got the answer immediately.

For the second case, few people know the information that allowed me to point the team in the right direction. The presentation was 1 that I particularly had thought about and studied because I have a passion for acid-base and electrolytes.

Our sports role models should not be individual sport champions, but rather the “glue guys” in team sports. ”Glue guys” strive at all times to do whatever is necessary to help the team. The enemy is ignorance of the correct diagnosis. Victory is getting to the proper diagnosis. We cannot afford to have ego about how we get there, rather we must take advantage of interpersonal “crowd sourcing” if that helps the patient.

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.