Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Here’s another vintage post from around a decade ago after my former Psychiatry Dept chairperson, Dr. Robert G. Robinson and I published our book, Psychosomatic Medicine: An Introduction to Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry” in 2010.

Blog: Who Gets The Credit?

When I think about peak moments, I remember this guy back in junior high school who decided to try to break the Guinness Book of World Records for skipping rope. I don’t remember his name but the school principal and his teachers all agreed to let him do it during class hours. They marked out a little space for him in our home room. He was at it all day. And he was never alone because there was always a class in the room throughout the day. We didn’t get much work done because we couldn’t keep our eyes off him. It was mesmerizing. The longer he jumped, the more we hoped. We were very careful about how we encouraged him. We didn’t want to distract him and make him miss a jump. And so, we watched him with hope in our hearts. It was palpable.  As he neared the goal, we were all crowded around him, teachers and students cheering. He was exhausted and could barely swing the rope over his head and lift his knees. When he made the time mark, we lifted him high above our heads and you could have heard us yelling our fool heads off for miles. Time stood still. He was a hero and we were his adoring fans. It didn’t occur to us to be jealous. His achievement belonged to all of us.

Another peak moment occurred more recently, when my colleagues and I published a book this summer. It’s my first book. It’s a handbook about consultation-liaison psychiatry which my department chairman and I edited, and the link is available on this page. This time, the effort was collaborative with over 40 contributors. The work took over 2 years and often, being an editor felt like herding cats. But we worked on it together. Many of the contributors were trainees working with seasoned psychiatrists who had much weightier research and writing projects on their minds, I’m sure. Like any first book, it was a labor of love. The goal was to teach fundamental concepts and pass along a few pearls about psychosomatic medicine to medical student, residents, and fellows. The book grew slowly, chapter by chapter. And when it was finally complete, this time the achievement was ours and again it belonged to all of us.

I made a lot of long-distance friends on the book project and occasionally get encouragement to do something else we could work together on. I suppose one thing everyone could do is to propose some kind of delirium early detection and prevention project at their own hospitals and chronicle that in a blog to raise awareness about delirium—sort of like what I’ve been trying to do here. We could share peak moments like:

  1. Getting the Sharepoint intranet site up and going so that group members can talk to each other about in discussion groups about how to hammer out a proposal, which delirium rating scale to use, or which management guidelines to use—and avoid the email storms.
  2. Being invited to give a talk about delirium at a grand rounds conference or regional meeting.
  3. Talking with someone who is interested in funding your delirium project (always a big hit).

That way if one of us falters, we always know that someone else is in there pitching. Copyrighting ideas and tools are fine. Hey, everybody has a right to protect their creative property. I’m mainly talking about sharing the idea of a movement to teach health care professionals, and patients about delirium, to help us all understand what causes it, what it is and what it is not, and how to prevent it from stealing our loved ones and our resources.

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit”-Harry Truman, Kansas Legislature member John Solbach, Ronald Reagan, Charles E. Montague, Benjamin Jowett, a Jesuit Father, a wise man, Edward T. Cook, Edward Everett Hale, a Jesuit Priest named Father Strickland.

Blast from the Past Blog

I thought I’d re-post something from my previous blog, The Practical Psychosomaticist, which I cancelled several years ago. The title is “Face Time versus Facebook.” I sound really old in it although it appeared in 2011.

I’m a little more comfortable with the concept of social media nowadays and, despite how ignorant I was back then, I later got accounts in Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I got rid of them several years later, mainly because all I did was copy my blog posts on them.

The Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine (APM) to which there is a link in the old post below, later changed its name to the Academy of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry (ACLP), which made good sense. I still have the email message exchange in 2016 with Don R. Lipsitt, who wrote the book “Foundations of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry: The Bumpy Road to Specialization.” It’s an excellent historical account of the process.

Don liked a post I wrote, entitled “The Time Has Come for ‘Ergasiology’ to Replace ‘Psychosomatic Medicine?” It was a humorous piece which mentioned how many different names had been considered in the past for alternative names for Psychosomatic Medicine. I was actually plugging his book. I don’t think ergasiology was ever considered; I made that part up. But it’s a thing. It was Adolph Meyer’s idea to invent the term from a combination of Greek words for “working” and “doing,” in order to illustrate psychobiology. Don thought “…the Board made a big mistake…” naming our organization Psychosomatic Medicine. He much preferred the term “consultation-liaison psychiatry.” We didn’t use emoticons in our messages.

The Don R. Lipsitt Award for Achievement in Integrated and Collaborative Care was created in 2014 to recognize individuals who demonstrate “excellence and innovation in the integration of mental health with other medical care…”

I don’t think the ACLP uses Facebook anymore, but they do have a Twitter account.

I also included in the old post a link to the Neuroleptic Malignant Information Service (NMSIS). I used to call the NMSIS service early in my career as a consultation-liaison psychiatrist. I often was able to get sound advice from Dr. Stanley Caroff.

Blog:  Face Time versus Facebook

You know, I’m astounded by the electronic compensations we’ve made over the years for our increasingly busy schedules which often make it impossible to meet face to face.  Frankly, I’ve not kept up. I still think of twittering as something birds do. If you don’t get that little joke, you’re probably not getting mail from the AARP.

The requests for psychiatric consultations are mediated over the electronic medical record and text paging. Technically the medical team that has primary responsibility for a patient’s medical care contacts me with a question about the psychiatric management issues. But it’s not unusual for consultation requests to be mediated by another consultant’s remarks in their note. The primary team simply passes the consultant’s opinion along in a request. They may not even be interested in my opinion.

I sometimes get emails from people who are right across the hall from me. I find it difficult to share the humor in a text message emoticon. And I get more out of face-to-face encounters with real people in the room when a difficult case comes my way and I need to tap into group wisdom to help a patient. These often involve cases of delirium, an acute confusional episode brought on by medical problems that often goes unrecognized or is misidentified as one of the many primary psychiatric issues it typically mimics.

The modern practice of medicine challenges practitioners and patients alike to integrate electronic communication methods into our care systems. And these methods can facilitate education in both directions.  When professionals are separated geographically, whether by distances that span a single hospital complex or across continents, electronic communication can connect them.

But I can’t help thinking there are some messages we simply can’t convey with emoticons. By nature, humans communicate largely by nonverbal cues, especially in emotionally charged situations. And I can tell you, emotions get involved when physicians and nurses cue me that someone who has delirium is just another “psych patient” who needs to be transferred to a locked psychiatric unit (although such transfers are sometimes necessary for the patient’s safety).

So, when do we choose between Face Time and Facebook? Do we have to make that choice? Can we do both? When we as medical professionals are trying to resolve amongst ourselves what the next step should be in the assessment and treatment of a delirious patient who could die from an occult medical emergency, how should we communicate about that?

As a purely hypothetical example (though these types of cases do occur), say we suspect a patient has delirium which we think could be part of a rare and dangerous medical condition known as neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS). NMS is a complex neuropsychiatric disorder which can be marked by delirium, high fever, and severe muscular rigidity among other symptoms and signs. It can be caused very rarely by exposure to antipsychotic drugs such as Haloperidol or the newer atypical antipsychotics. The delirium can present with another uncommon psychiatric disorder called catatonia, and many experts consider NMS to be a drug-induced form of catatonia. Patients suffering from catatonia can display a variety of behaviors and physiologic abnormalities though they are often mute, immobile, and may display bizarre behaviors such as parroting what other people say to them, assuming very uncomfortable postures for extended periods of time (called waxy flexibility), and very rapid heart rate, sweating, and fever. The treatment of choice is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) which can be life-saving.

Since NMS is rare, many consulting psychiatrists are often not confident about their ability to diagnose the condition. There may not be any colleagues in their hospital to turn to for advice. One option is to check the internet for a website devoted to educating clinicians about NMS, the Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome Information Service at www.nmsis.org.  The site is run by dedicated physicians who are ready to help clinicians diagnose and treat NMS. Physicians can reach them by telephone or email and there are educational materials on the website as well. I’ve used this service a couple of times and found it helpful. The next two electronic methods I have no experience with at all, but I find them intriguing.

One might be a social network like Facebook. In fact, the Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine (APM) has a Facebook link on their website, www.apm.org. Psychosomaticists can communicate with each other about issues broached at our annual conferences, but probably not discuss cases. Truth to tell, the Facebook site doesn’t look like it’s had many visitors. There are 3 posts which look like they’ve been there for a few months:

Message 1: We have been thinking about using Facebook as a way to continue discussions at the APM conference beyond the lectures themselves. Would anyone be interested in having discussions with the presenters from the APM conference in a forum such as this?

Message 2: This sounds great!

Message 3: I think it’s a very good idea

 It’s not exactly scintillating.

Another service could be something called LinkedIn, which I gather is a social network designed for work-at-home professionals to stay connected with colleagues in the outside world. Maybe they should just get out more?

Email is probably the main way many professionals stay connected with each other across the country and around the world. The trouble is you have to wait for your colleague to check email. And there’s text messaging. I just have a little trouble purposely misspelling words to get enough of my message in the tiny text box. And I suppose one could tweet, whatever that is. You should probably just make sure your tweet is not the mating call for an ostrich. Those birds are heavy and can kick you into the middle of next week.

But there’s something about face time that demands the interpersonal communication skills, courtesy, and cooperation needed to solve problems that can’t be reduced to an emoticon.

Congratulations to Paul Thisayakorn, MD!

I got a wonderful holiday greeting from one of my favorite past residents, Paul Thisayakorn, MD. He’s running a top-notch Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry (CL-P) Service and a brand-new C-L Fellowship in Thailand. I could not be more excited for him and his family. His wife, Bow, runs the Palliative Care Service.

He and Bow answered our holiday greeting to them. In it I remarked about my brief episode of mild delirium immediately following my eye surgery for a detached retina and mentioned a nurse administering the CAM-ICU delirium screening test. One of the questions was “Will a stone float on water?” I answered it correctly, but joked in the greeting message that I said “Yes, but only if it really believes.”

His remark was priceless: “We actually did a CAM-ICU in the morning when I received this email from you. I told my fellow and residents about you and what you taught me how to be a practical psychosomaticist. They also learned about how stone floats on the water.”

Paul made an awesome contribution to the Academy of C-L Psychiatry knowledge base during the height of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Things were tough there for a long time. Paul tells me they are still practicing some elements of the Covid protocol. Thailand is gradually opening back up.

This is the second year for his C-L Psychiatry fellowship program at the Chulalongkorn Psychiatry Department. They graduated their first C-L fellow and there are now two other fellows in training.

Under Paul’s strong leadership, they’ve gathered a group of interested Thai psychiatrists and founded the Society of Thai Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry just this past October.

And he was given an assistant professor position at the university. Paul and his team are in the featured image at the top of this post. Paul’s the guy wearing glasses in the middle.

He’s not all work and no play, which is a wonderful thing. He jogs and meditates and he has the most beautiful family, two great kids growing fast and a wife who is both a devoted partner and the leader of the Palliative Care service.

As a teacher, I couldn’t ask for a better legacy. I still have the necktie with white elephants that he gave me as a gift. In Thai culture, the white elephant is a symbol of good fortune (among other things), which is what Paul was wishing for me. Of course, the feeling is mutual.

I wish Paul well in the coming new year. And to all those who read my blog, have a happy new year.

Early Christmas Gift for Us!

We’re still in the big Arctic Blast. The wind was howling after the snowstorm. We worked so hard shoveling snow that we decided to give ourselves a slightly early Christmas gift. It’s a foot massager.

We had to clear the front walk to enable the delivery guy to get it to us.

It’s quite a deal, the massager. It can put you to sleep. It can also energize you. The remote control is easy to use. You can set it to run for 15 or 30 minutes.

I really like it because all you have to do is plug it in. There’s no assembly required.

‘ay, this here be international talk like a gentleman o’ fortune day

The title of this post is a translation of “Hey, This is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.” I used a Pirate Speak translator to generate it.

Sena reminded me about this holiday, which got started back in 1995 by a couple of guys from Albany, Oregon.

She says she heard about it on the Mike Waters radio show this moring, Waters Wake-Up on the Iowa radio station KOKZ 105.7. Sena either heard Waters call it National Pirates Day or she misheard him. She also said that Waters denied that any pirates ever said “Arrr,” back in the heyday of pirates.

I beg to differ, arrr, Matey! The Wikipedia entry says that the dialect was real and probably was based on the dialect of sailors from West Country in the southwest corner of Britain.

Sena and I couldn’t find any holiday called National Pirates Day. I did find National Meow Like a Pirate Day, which, interestingly, is also a holiday today. It got started in 2015.

But the main event be international talk like a gentleman o’ fortune day—which I darn nearrr forgot!

I have a dim memory of writing a blog post using the pirate translator several years ago. It was on a different blog, which I canceled in 2018. I didn’t keep that particular post. I think the topic was teaching internal medicine doctors and medical students about delirium so that they would know when they actually need consultation from a psychiatrist.

So, in honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, I’m going to post a piratical translation of one of my similar posts from way back in 2011:

“Do ye ‘ave to be interested in psychiatry to volunteer fer the delirium prevention project?”

“I’ve been thinkin’ about what a couple o’ the medical students said when I broached the idea o’ some o’ them volunteerin’ to participate in the multicomponent intervention o’ the delirium prevention project.

 they said that there the first an’ second yearrr students might want to volunteer—especially the ones interested in pursuin’ psychiatry as a career.

 now think about that there a minute. Why would ye necessarily need to be interested in psychiatry? ‘ere be a few facts:

1.Delirium be a medical emergency; it just ‘appens to mimic psychiatric illness because it’s a manifestation o’ acute brain injury.

 2.The most important treatment fer delirium be not psychiatric in nature necessarily; the goal be to find an’ fix the medical problems causin’ the delirium.

 3.Many experts in delirium ain’t psychiatrists; the authors o’ the new book “delirium in critical care”, valerie page an’ wes ely, ain’t psychiatrists—they’re intensivists.

 4.Some o’ the best teachers about delirium be geriatric nurse specialists an’ geriatricians.

 I thought that there by reachin’ aft further into a physician’s trainin’ career, I would find people less biased toward thinkin’ o’ delirium as a primary mental illness. It turns out that there bias runs deep in our medical education system.

 it isn’t that there psychiatrists shouldn’t be interested in studyin’ an’ ‘elpin’ to manage delirium. Psychiatrists, especially them specializin’ in psychosomatic medicine, be among the best qualified to inform other medical an’ surgical disciplines about the importance o’ recognizin’ delirium fer what it is—a medical problem that there threatens the brain’s integrity an’ resilience, raises the risk o’ mortality by itself regardless o’ the medical problems causin’ it, prolongs medical ‘ospitalization, an’ makes discharge to long term care facilities more likely, especially in the elderly.

 delirium be a problem fer doctors, not just psychiatrists. So it makes sense fer all medical students, regardless o’ their goals fer career specialty, to be interested in learnin’ about delirium.

 delirium be also a problem fer nurses, who frankly ‘ave led the way in education about delirium fer many years now. You’ll find few experts pointin’ to the american psychiatric association practice guidelines fer the treatment o’ delirium as the ultimate authority these days—because they’ve not been updated formally since 1999. All one ‘as to do be spell out “delirium prevention guidelines” in web browser search bars an’ choose from several sets o’ free, up-to-date guidelines that there be supported by the research evidence base in the medical literature to within a yearrr or two o’ the present day. Some o’ the best ones be authored by nurses.

 so maybe the pool o’ volunteers fer the delirium prevention multicomponent intervention might be nursin’ students.

 on the other ‘and, from what pool does the ‘ospital elder life program (help) recruit volunteers? an’ the australian resource center fer ‘ealthcare innovation multicomponent program, revive (recruitment o’ volunteers to improve vitality in the elderly, ‘ow do they do it?

they think outside the box an’ include people who care about people. That’s the really the key criterion, not whether one wants to be a psychiatrist or not.”

‘appy international talk like a gentleman o’ fortune day, arr, matey!

Looking Back on Gunslingers and Chess Masters

I was looking at an early version of the handbook of consultation-liaison psychiatry that eventually evolved into what was actually published by Cambridge University Press. I wrote virtually all of the early version and it was mainly for trainees rotating through the consult service. The published book had many talented contributors. I and my department chair, Dr. Robert G. Robinson, co-edited the book.

In the introduction I mention that the manual was designed for gunslingers and chess masters. The gunslingers are the general hospital psychiatric consultants who actually hiked all over the hospital putting out the psychiatric fires that are always smoldering or blazing. The main problems were delirium and neuropsychiatric syndromes that mimic primary psychiatric disorders.

The chess masters were those I admired who actually conducted research into the causes of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Admittedly the dichotomy was romanticized. I saw myself as a gunslinger, often shooting from the hip in an effort to manage confused and violent patients. Looking back on it, I probably seemed pretty unscientific.

But I can tell you that when I followed the recommendations of the scientists about how to reverse catatonia with benzodiazepines, I felt much more competent. After administering lorazepam intravenously to patients who were mute and immobile before the dose to answering questions and wondering why everyone was looking at them after the dose—it looked miraculous.

Later in my career, I usually thought the comparison to a firefighter was a better analogy.

The 2008 working manual was called the Psychosomatic Medicine Handbook for Residents at the time. This was before the name of the specialty was changed back to Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry. I wrote all of it. I’m not sure about the origin of my comment about a Psychosomatic Medicine textbook weighing 7 pounds. It might relate to the picture of several heavy textbooks on which my book sits. I might have weighed one of them.The introduction is below (featured image picture credit pixydotorg):

“In 2003 the American Board of Medical Specialties approved the subspecialty status of Psychiatry now known as Psychosomatic Medicine. Long before that, the field was known as Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry. In 2005, the first certification examination was offered by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Both I and my co-editor, Dr. Robert G. Robinson, passed that examination along with many other examinees. This important point in the history of psychiatry began many decades ago, probably in the early 19th century, when the word “psychosomatic” was first used by Johann Christian Heinroth when discussing insomnia.

Psychosomatic Medicine began as the study of psychophysiology which in some quarters led to a reductionistic theory of psychogenic causation of disease. However, the evolution of a broader conceptualization of the discipline as the study of mind and body interactions in patients who are ill and the creation of effective treatments for them probably was a parallel development. This was called Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry and was considered the practical application of the principles and discoveries of Psychosomatic Medicine. Two major organizations grew up in the early and middle parts of the 20th century that seemed to formalize the distinction (and possibly the eventual separation) between the two ideas: the American Psychosomatic Society (APS) and the Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine (APM). The name of the subspecialty finally approved in 2003 was the latter largely because of its historic roots in the origin of the interaction of mind and body paradigm.

The impression that the field was dichotomized into research and practical application was shared and lamented by many members of both organizations. At a symposium at the APM annual meeting in Tucson, AZ in 2006, it was remarked that practitioners of “…psychosomatic medicine may well be lost in thought while…C-L psychiatrists are lost in action.”

I think it is ironic how organizations that are both devoted to teaching physicians and patients how to think both/and instead of either/or about medical and psychiatric problems could have become so dichotomized themselves.

My motive for writing this book makes me think of a few quotations about psychiatry in general hospitals:

“Relegating this work entirely to specialists is futile for it is doubtful whether there will ever be a sufficient number of psychiatrists to respond to all the requests for consultations. There is, therefore, no alternative to educating other physicians in the elements of psychiatric methods.”

“All staff conferences in general hospitals should be attended by the psychiatrist so that there might be a mutual exchange of medical experience and frank discussion of those cases in which there are psychiatric problems.”

“The time should not be too long delayed when psychiatrists are required on all our medical and surgical wards and in all our general and surgical clinics.”

The first two quotes, however modern they might sound, are actually from 1929 in one of the first papers ever written about Consultation Psychiatry (now Psychosomatic Medicine), authored by George W. Henry, A.B., M.D. The third is from the mid-1930s by Helen Flanders Dunbar, M.D., in an article about the substantial role psychological factors play in the etiology and course of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and fractures in 600 patients. Although few hospital organizations actually practice what these physicians recommended, the recurring theme seems to be the need to improve outcomes and processes in health care by integrating medical and psychiatric delivery care systems. Further, Dr. Roger Kathol has written persuasively of the need for a sea change in the way our health care delivery and insurance systems operate so as to improve the quality of health care in this country so that it compares well with that of other nations (2).

This book is not a textbook. It is not a source for definitive, comprehensive lists of references about all the latest research. It is not a thousand pages long and does not weigh seven pounds. It is a modest contribution to the principle of both/and thinking about psyche and soma; consultants and researchers; — gunslingers and chess masters.

In this field there are chess masters and gunslingers. We need both. You need to be a gunslinger to react quickly and effectively on the wards and in the emergency room during crises. You also need to be a chess master after the smoke has cleared, to reflect on what you did, how you did it—and analyze why you did it and whether that was in accord with the best medical evidence.

This book is for the gunslinger who relies on the chess master. This book is also for the chess master—who needs to be a gunslinger.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”—Sun Tzu.”

References:

1.        Kathol, R.G., and Gatteau, S. 2007. Healing body and mind: a critical issue for health care reform. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. 190 pp.

2.        Kornfeld, D., and Wharton, R. 2005. The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychosomatic Medicine. Psychosomatics 46:95-103.

They Did Learn How to Check for Delirium!

Here’s another oldie but goodie blog post, “It’s Survey Time.” It’s a blast from the past (May of 2011) but it needs a short introduction on why I’m reposting it.

So, I’m about a week out from my surgery for a detached retina. I’m doing pretty well. I keep thinking about a question a nurse asked me right after I was taken to the recovery room from the operating room. I was a little hazy because I’m pretty sure I got some sedation medication, although I was definitely mostly awake for the procedure. The nurse asked me, “Well, can you answer a question for me; will a stone float on water?”

First of all, I gave the right answer, “No.” More importantly, I was momentarily stunned because I recognized the question is from the Confusion Assessment Method for the Intensive Care Unit (CAM-ICU). And I told the nurse that. It reminded me of my early career as a general hospital consultation-liaison psychiatrist.

Most of my old blog posts from The Practical Psychosomaticist are about my frustration over what seemed to be my fruitless efforts to teach nurses and physicians about how to prevent, assess, and manage delirium.

I can’t tell you how happy I was that my recovery room nurse asked me a CAM-ICU delirium screening question.  

I mentioned the American Delirium Society (ADS) in the post and also found a fairly recent article on the CAM ICU. Among the authors were those I met at one of t he first ADS meetings: Malaz Boustani and Babar Kahn.

“It’s Survey Time!”:

“I know, I know, I can hear it out there, “Doesn’t Dr. Amos ever learn? Nobody does surveys and polls!” Hey, that’s OK; I have so much fun doing them anyway. Of course, it would be nice to get some responses… I’ve talked to you and I’ve talked to you, and I’m done talkin’ to you! Come back here, I’m not done talkin’ to you!

Anyway, the new poll for what’s hot and what’s not about delirium screening scales is up on the home page. The original one was partly to help our delirium prevention project committee to decide on which one to use. Well, the original got only 16 responses…but they were great responses! The amazing thing was that, despite the paucity of votes, the results were plausible. See the results:

Recall that at our 7th project meeting we selected the DOSS. What? There is good literature supporting all of these scales and a lot of factors influence selection of any tool, not the least of which is feasibility, which is mainly ease of use. That means it’s quick and doesn’t require a lot of training or additional assessments. And you should use a tool that’s validated for the patient population you want to protect from delirium. I probably got a lot of questioning looks at the screen when this poll came out because the Confusion Assessment Method-Intensive Care Unit (CAM-ICU) was not on the list. Well, you heard it from one of the main dudes on the team that developed the CAM-ICU that it’s probably not appropriate for use on general medical units…Dr. E. Wesley Ely himself (see post April 29, 2011). Hey, as far as the ICU patient population goes, the CAM-ICU is the holy grail. We need to keep looking for a sensitive and specific tool which is quick and easy for nurses to administer on general medical units.

We’re going with the DOSS. And one of my neuropsychologists, John, is offering to run neuropsychology test batteries on the patients that nurses screen with the DOSS. Atta boy, John! Neuropsychologists are going to be indispensable in this area. I remember pushing for the addition of subtests of the Repeatable Battery for the Assessment of Neuropsychological Status (RBANS), especially the Coding test in order to detect delirium early as possible. It didn’t make it, but it was close. This has been advanced by another one of our neuropsychologists here who’s done some delirium research in the bone marrow transplant unit with delirious patients. Hey, I still wonder what we could accomplish if the Coding test were added to the DOSS or even the Nursing Delirium Screening Scale (Nu-DESC). Maybe there’s already somebody out there putting a practical implementation plan for that into the real world.

So why do the poll again? Because I’d like to see if I could persuade nurses from large American and world organizations to put the nickel down and vote. And if I keep shoving this thing out there, maybe somebody will let us know that, hey, we’re not in this alone and offer to collaborate.

And I stole a couple of survey questions from our group to see what physicians and nurses think about how they manage delirium. It’s a way to take a snapshot of the culture of how docs and nurses work together on delirium recognition and interventions. And hey, why am I doing that? Because I’m a thief…no, no, I mean the reason is delirium is a medical emergency and we all need to work together to find ways to understand it better in order to prevent it. The American Delirium Society (ADS) tell you why delirium prevention is critical in the endless search to find ways to deliver high-quality medical care to patients:

Delirium Simple Facts:

  • More than 7 million hospitalized Americans suffer from delirium each year.
  • Among hospitalized patients who survived their delirium episode, the rates of persistent delirium at discharge, 1, 3 and 6 months are 45%, 33%, 26%, and 21% respectively.
  • More than 60% of patients with delirium are not recognized by the health care system.
  • Compared to hospitalized patients with no delirium and after adjusting for age, gender, race, and comorbidity, delirious patients suffer from:
  • Higher mortality rates at one month (14% vs. 5%), at six months (22% vs. 11%), and 23 months (38% vs. 28%);
  • Hospital stay is longer (21 vs. 9 days); Receive more care in long-term care setting at discharge (47% vs. 18%), at 6 months (43% vs. 8%) and at 15 months (33% vs. 11%); and
  • Have higher probability of developing dementia at 48 months (63% vs. 8%).

And have you registered for the ADS inaugural conference on June 5-7 in Indianapolis? Good for you! And are you going to bring back something from that conference for The Practical Psychosomaticist, and I don’t mean doughnuts? That’s the spirit! The surveys have spaces for free-text comments as well, which I want to hear!”

The Chicken Finally Lays An Egg

Below is an old post from a previous blog that I published on June 6, 2010. Although the title in my record is simply PM Handbook Blog, there must have been another title. Maybe it should have been more like The Chicken Has Finally Laid an Egg (you’ll get the joke later).

There are two reasons for posting it today. One is to illustrate how the Windows voice recognition dictation app works. It’s a little better than I thought it would be. The last time I used it, it was ugly. I’m using it now because I thought it might be a little easier than trying to type it since I still have problems with vision in my right eye because of the recent retinal tear injury repair. So, instead of doing copy paste, what you’re seeing is a dictation—for the most part.

On the other hand, I’m still having to proofread what I dictate. And I still find a few mistakes, though much fewer than I expected.

The other reason for this post is to help me reflect on how far the fellowship has come since that time. It did eventually attract the first fellow under a different leader. That was shortly after I retired. It was a great step forward for the department of psychiatry:

“Here is one definition of a classic:

“Classic: A book which people praise but don’t read.” Mark Twain.

When I announced the publishing of our book, Psychosomatic Medicine, An Introduction to Consultation Liaison Psychiatry, someone said that it’s good to finally get a book into print and out of one’s head. The book in earlier years found other ways out of my head, mainly in stapled, paperclipped, spiral bound, dog eared, pages of homemade manuals, for use on our consultation service.

It’s a handbook and meant to be read, of course, but quickly and on the run. As I’ve said in a previous blog, it makes no pretension to being the Tour de Force textbook in America that inspired it. However, any textbook can evolve into an example of Twain’s definition of a classic. The handbook writer is a faithful and humble steward who can keep the spirit of the classic lively.

We must have a textbook as a marker of Psychosomatic Medicine’s place in medicine as a subspecialty. It’s like a Bible, meant to be read reverently, venerated, and quoted by scholars. But the ark of this covenant tends to be a dusty bookshelf that bows under the tome’s weight. A handbook is like the Sunday School lesson plan for spreading the scholar’s wisdom in the big book.

Over the long haul, the goal of any books should mean something other than royalties or an iconic place in history. No preacher ever read a sermon to our congregation straight out of the Bible. It was long ago observed by George Henry that there will never be enough psychiatric consultants. This prompts the question of who will come after me to do this work. My former legacy was to be the Director of a Psychosomatic Medicine Fellowship in an academic department in the not-so-distant past. Ironically, though there will never be enough psychiatric consultants, there were evidently too many fellowships from which to choose. I had to let the fellowship go. My legacy then became this book, not just for Psychosomatic Medicine fellows, but medical students, residents, and maybe even for those who see most of the patients suffering from mental illness—dedicated primary care physicians.

My wife gave me a birthday card once which read: “Getting older: May each year be a feather on the glorious Chicken of Life as it Soars UNTAMED and BEAUTIFUL towards the golden sun.” My gifts included among the obligatory neckties, a couple of books on preparing for retirement.

Before I retire, I would like to do all I can to ensure that the next generation of doctors learn to respect the importance of care for both body and mind of each and every one of their patients. That’s the goal of our book. And may the glorious chicken of life lay a golden egg within its pages to protect it from becoming a classic.”

Chicken picture credit: Pixydotorg.

Quiz Show on Delirium

Here’s an old post from February 15, 2011 from my previous blog The Practical Psychosomaticist called Quiz Show Versus Grand Rounds for Delirium Education:

“So you want to put on a game show contest to educate clinicians about delirium? Contact David Meagher, a psychiatrist in (where else?) Limerick, Ireland. He reported on this innovative educational workshop in the November 2010 Vol. 3 issue of the Annals of Delirium, the newsletter for the European Delirium Association (EDA). He also published the study which describes the contest in International Psychogeriatrics[1].

The workshop focused on clinician attitudes toward drug therapy for distressed delirious patients. It explored pre-existing attitudes and practice toward the use of medications to manage delirium and exposed participants to a very interactive educational event modeled after a popular TV quiz show. There were two teams (skeptics versus neuroleptics) furnished with a list of statements about delirium pharmacotherapy. The participants later completed a post-workshop questionnaire that explored changes in attitudes as a result of the workshop.

The participants were all experts on the subject and there was a good deal of variability in attitudes and practice. Some of the questions put to the teams involved using antipsychotics prophylactically to prevent delirium, the mechanism of action of antipsychotics, and what role benzodiazepines play in the treatment of non-alcohol withdrawal delirium.

One of the more puzzling findings was that the frequency of antipsychotic use was inversely proportional to the perception of the strength of supporting evidence. In other words, the less they knew about antipsychotics, the more often they used them. Most participants seemed to believe that the principal mechanism of action of antipsychotics is sedation, despite the lack of supporting evidence.

Some clinicians used antipsychotics to relieve the stress of caregivers rather than that of delirious patients, an example of patients getting the right treatment for the wrong reasons as observed by Meagher—and many of us in the field.

The workshop also highlighted the tendency of clinicians to focus on risk management rather than effective therapeutic intervention in the management of delirious patients with disruptive behavior and severe distress. This mainly relates to focus on the potential adverse effects of antipsychotics such as extrapyramidal side effects, metabolic, and cerebrovascular effects.

The quiz show activity was fun and challenging. The device of dividing the participants into two small teams with larger audience participation cut down on the anxiety that could be provoked by giving the “wrong answer”. The questions were true/false and didn’t always have clear right or wrong answers. It was highly interactive, a component of continuing medical educational (CME) activities that is increasingly encouraged because it’s more likely to lead to changes in clinician attitude and practice. The one-time Grand Rounds CME “seat time” is going the way of the dinosaur.

So a couple of findings from the quiz show post-activity questionnaire were that clinicians were more likely to use antipsychotics prophylactically and to use antipsychotics to manage hypoactive delirium.

 Our delirium intervention project group members are not quite as enthusiastic yet about these two interventions. We’re a bit more inclined at least initially to focus on non-pharmacologic multicomponent strategies such as the example below:

  • Minimize the use of immobilizing catheters, intravenous lines, and physical restraints
  • Avoid immobility, early mobilization
  • Monitor nutrition
  • Provide visual and hearing aids
  • Monitor closely for dehydration
  • Control pain
  • Monitor fluid-electrolyte balance
  • Monitor bowel and bladder functioning
  • Review medications
  • Reorient communications with the patient
  • Place an orientation board, clock, or familiar objects (ie, family photographs) in patient rooms
  • Encourage cognitively stimulating activities such as word puzzles
  • Facilitate sleep hygiene measures, including relaxation music or tapes at bedtime, warm drinks, and gentle massage
  • Minimize noise and interventions at bedtime, e.g., by rescheduling medication times

But I’m just as enthusiastic about interactive educational methods to engage learners in order to build a culture more likely to produce champions who will lead the delirium prevention effort—try the delirium multicomponent criss-cross puzzle below. The clues are contained in the list of multicomponent tactics above.”

  1. Meagher, D.J., Impact of an educational workshop upon attitudes towards pharmacotherapy for delirium. Int Psychogeriatr, 2010. 22(6): p. 938-46.

Going Down Blogging Memory Lane

I’ve been going down the blogging memory lane lately and thought I’d repost what was probably the very first post I published on my first blog, The Practical Psychosomaticist. The title was “Letter from a Pragmatic Idealist.”

While a lot of water has gone under the bridge since mid-December of 2010, some principles remain the same. Some problems still remain, such as the under-recognition of delirium.

Just a few thoughts about words, just because I’m a writer and words are interesting. The word “Psychosomaticist” is clunky and I’ve joked about it. I tried to think of another name for the blog.  I thought “Pragmatic Idealist” was original until I googled it—someone already had coined it. Then I considered “The Practical Idealist”, with the same result. The same thing happened with “The Practical Psychiatrist.” All of the terms had been used and the associations didn’t fit me. I couldn’t find anyone or any group using the term “The Practical Psychosomaticist.” 

Finally, after the Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine (APM) changed its name to the Academy of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry (ACLP) in 2016, I changed the name of the blog to The Practical C-L Psychiatrist, finally dropping the name “psychosomatic” along with its problematic associations.

I guess the chronicle would be incomplete without an explanation of what happened to that blog. Around 2016, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was adopted by the European Parliament. WordPress, a popular blogging platform which I use, eventually decided that even hobby bloggers had to come up with a quasi-legal policy document to post on their websites to ensure they were complying with the GDPR regulation and not misusing anyone’s personal data.

I didn’t think that applied to hobby bloggers like me yet it was required. I wasn’t collecting anyone’s personal data and not trying to sell anything. I deleted my blog in July of 2018.  Because I loved to write, I eventually started a new blog around the last year of my phased retirement contract with my hospital in 2019.

Anyway, here’s the December 15, 2010 post, “Letter from a Pragmatic Idealist.”

“I read with interest an article from The Hospitalist, August 2008 discussing the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requirement for hospitals to submit information on Medicare claims regarding whether a list of specific diagnoses were present on admission (POA)[1]. The topic of the article was whether or not delirium would eventually make the list of diagnoses that CMS will pay hospitals as though that complication did not occur, i.e., not pay for the additional costs associated with managing these complications. At the time this article was published, CMS was seeking public comments on the degree to which the conditions would be reasonably preventable through application of evidence-based guidelines.

I have no idea whether delirium due to any general medical condition made the list or not. But I have a suggestion for a delirium subtype that probably should make the list, and that would be intoxication delirium associated with using beverage alcohol in an effort to treat presumed alcohol withdrawal. There is a disturbing tendency for physicians (primarily surgeons) at academic medical centers to try to manage alcohol withdrawal with beverage alcohol, despite the lack of medical literature evidence to support the practice [2, 3]. At times, in my opinion, the practice has led to intoxication delirium in certain patients who receive both benzodiazepines (a medication that has evidence-based support for treating alcohol withdrawal) combined with beer—which generally does not.

I’ve co-authored a couple of articles for our institution’s pharmacy newsletter and several of my colleagues and pharmacists petitioned the pharmacy subcommittee to remove beverage alcohol from the formulary at our institution, where beer and whiskey have been used by some of our surgeons to manage withdrawal. Although our understanding was that beverage alcohol had been removed last year, it is evidently still available through some sort of palliative care exception. This exception has been misused, as evidenced by cans of Old Style Beer with straws in them on bedside tables of patients who are already stuporous from opioid and benzodiazepine. A surgical co-management team was developed, in my opinion, in part to address the issue by providing expert consultation from surgeons to surgeons about how to apply evidence-based practices to alcohol withdrawal treatment. This has also been a failure.

I think it’s ironic that some professionals feared being sanctioned by CMS for using Haloperidol to manage suffering and dangerous behavior by delirious people as reported by Stoddard in the winter 2009 article in the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) Bulletin[4]. Apparently, CMS in fact did have a problem with using PRN Haloperidol (not FDA approved of course, but commonly used for decades and recommended in American Psychiatric Association practice guidelines for management of delirium), calling it a chemical restraint while having no objection to PRN Lorazepam, which has been identified as an independent predictor of delirium in ICU patients[5]. Would the CMS approve of using beer to treat alcohol withdrawal, which can cause delirium?

As a clinician-educator and Psychosomatic Medicine “supraspecialist” (term coined by Dr. Theodore Stern, MD from Massachusetts General Hospital), I’ve long cherished the notion that we, as physicians, advance our profession and serve our patients best by trying to do the right thing as well as do the thing right. But I wonder if what some of my colleagues and trainees say may be true—that when educational efforts to improve the way we provide humanistic and preventive medical care for certain conditions don’t succeed, not paying physicians and hospitals for them will. I still hold out for a less cynical view of human nature. But if it will improve patient care, then add this letter to the CMS suggestion box, if there is one.”

1.        Hospitalist, D. (2008) Delirium Dilemma. The Hospitalist.

2.        Sarff, M. and J.A. Gold, Alcohol withdrawal syndromes in the intensive care unit. Crit Care Med, 2010. 38(9 Suppl): p. S494-501.

3.        Rosenbaum, M. and T. McCarty, Alcohol prescription by surgeons in the prevention and treatment of delirium tremens: historic and current practice. General Hospital Psychiatry. 24(4): p. 257-259.

4.        Stoddard, J., D.O. (2009) Treating Delirium with Haloperidol: Our Experience with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine Bulletin.

5.        Pandharipande, P., et al., Lorazepam is an independent risk factor for transitioning to delirium in intensive care unit patients. Anesthesiology, 2006. 104(1): p. 21-6.

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