Thoughts on Suicide Risk Assessment

I know the term “suicide risk assessment” sounds very clinical. That’s because I did it for many years as a consultation-liaison psychiatrist in the general hospital.

The human part of it was using the suicide safety plan, which I got from the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health & Addiction (CARMHA). You can download it yourself and adapt it by writing in the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. That’s because the phone numbers on the form are specific to Canada.

Most often I interviewed patients in the intensive care units, where they were admitted after a suicide attempt. The interviews were very short if they refused to talk to me or were still delirious—often the case.

If they were awake and able to converse, the interviews were often pretty long. One way to connect with the patient was working on the safety plan together. I was often able to tell whether they were sincere or not by the level of detail they gave me about support persons they could get in touch with or things they could do to help them cope with whatever was troubling them.

A lack of detail in the plan, or refusal to work on some parts of it were areas of concern. If there were comments about friends, pets, or pastimes that spontaneously led to laughter (yes, that happened occasionally!), I was more confident that the patient was able to look toward the future and make specific plans for staying alive.

There is healthy debate about how useful specific suicide risk assessment scales are for predicting and preventing suicide. They are an essential part of the computerized medical records now, whatever anyone thinks of their reliability at predicting imminent suicide. I never used no-suicide contracts because well before the time I entered professional practice, most experts agreed that they don’t prevent suicide.

What was more useful for me as a clinician was to sit down at the patient’s bedside and, after getting the details about what the patient actually did in the suicide attempt and the events connected with it (along with a comprehensive and thorough history), I would get the safety plan from my clipboard, hold it up so they could see it and say, “Now let’s work on this; it’s your safety plan.”

I can’t tell you how often working on those plans, frequently for more than half an hour, led to laughter as well as tears from the patient. When it worked, meaning the relationship between us deepened, I sometimes did not find it necessary to admit the person to the psychiatric ward. While this occasionally alarmed the ICU nurses, things usually turned out fine later.

A Retired Consultation-Liaison Psychiatrist’s Perspective on Eating Disorders

This is just my presentation on eating disorders vs disordered eating for a Gastrointestinal Disease Department grand rounds several years ago. What’s also helpful is an eating disorder section on the National Neuroscience Curriculum Initiative (NNCI) web site. I left comments and questions there, which the presenter answered.

In addition, the Academy of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry (ACLP) has an excellent web site and here is the link to a couple of fascinating presentations from the ACLP 2017 annual meeting on management of severe eating disorders, including a report on successful treatment using collaboration between internal medicine and psychiatry.

If you can’t find it from the link, navigate to the Live Learning Center from the ACLP home page and type “eating disorder” in the search field. One of the presentations is entitled “Has She Reached the End of Her Illness Process.” The other is entitled “Creating Inter-Institutional Collaborative Care Models.”

This is a very complex area of medicine and psychiatry. There are no simple solutions, although many experts across the country are hard at work on finding practical solutions.

The caveat is that the information here is not updated for recent changes in the literature.

What Would Make Psychiatry More Fun?

I just read Dr. George Dawson’s post “Happy Labor Day” published August 31, 2022. As usual, he’s right on the mark about what makes it very difficult to enjoy psychiatric practice.

And then, I looked on the web for anything on Roger Kathol, MD, FACLP. There’s a YouTube video of my old teacher on the Academy of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry (ACLP) YouTube site. I gave up my membership a few years ago in anticipation of my retirement.

I think one of my best memories about my psychiatric training was the rotation through the Medical-Psychiatry Unit (MPU). I remember at one time he wanted to call it the Complexity Intervention Unit (CIU)—which I resisted but which made perfect sense. Medical, behavioral, social, and other factors all played roles in the patient presentations we commonly encountered with out patients on that unit where we all worked so hard.

Dr. Kathol made work fun. In fact, he used to read selections from a book about Galen, the Greek physician, writer and philosopher while rounding on the MPU. One day, after I had been up all night on call on the unit, I realized I was supposed to give a short presentation on the evaluation of sodium abnormalities.

I think Roger let me off the hook when he saw me nodding off during a reading from the Galen tome.

Dr. Dawson is right about the need to bring back interest, fun and a sense of humor as well as a sense of being a part of what Roger calls the “House of Medicine.” He outlines what that means in the video.

What made medicine interesting to me and other trainees who had the privilege of working with Roger was his background of training in both internal medicine and psychiatry. He also had a great deal of energy, dedication, and knew how to have fun. He is a great teacher and the House of Medicine needs to remember how valuable an asset a great teacher is.

Short History of C-L Psychiatry Fellowship at Iowa

I read a short article, “The case for pursuing a consultation-liaison psychiatry fellowship” by Samuel P. Greenstein, MD in Current Psychiatry (Vol. 1, No. 5, May 2022). After 3 years as an attending, he found his calling as a C-L psychiatrist, especially after getting teaching awards from trainees. But when he applied to academic institutions for position as a C-L academic psychiatrist, people kept advising him to complete a fellowship training program in the subspecialty first. He gave it careful thought and did so, even he called it going “backwards” in his career.

On the other hand, he believes C-L fellowships will help meet the challenges of addressing rising health care costs and improving access to what most people see as the critically important goal of providing access to integrated mental health and medical care.

I’ve been retired from consultation-liaison psychiatry for two years now. I get an enormous sense of achievement on the rare occasions when I hear from former trainees who say things like “For me you were…one of the most outstanding attendings I had at my time at Iowa.” And “I can at least take comfort that University of Iowa is still at the forefront of psychiatry.”

Several years ago, one of the residents suggested starting a Psychosomatic Medicine Interest Group (PMIG). This was before the name of the subspecialty was formally changed to Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry in 2018. I know many of us were very pleased about that.

I sent a short survey (see the gallery below the slide show) to the faculty and residents in an effort gauge support for the idea and readiness to participate. I used a paper published at the time to guide the effort, (Puri NV, Azzam P, Gopalan P. Introducing a psychosomatic medicine interest group for psychiatry residents. Psychosomatics. 2015 May-Jun;56(3):268-73. doi: 10.1016/j.psym.2013.08.010. Epub 2013 Dec 18. PMID: 25886971.).

You’ll notice on slide 4 one faculty member’s comment, “I think it doesn’t matter whether faculty are certified in PM.” As Dr. Greenstein discovered, it probably does matter, at least if you want to be board certified.

I was initially certified by the American Board of Psychiatry & Neurology (ABPN), but I objected to the whole Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program, as did many other psychiatrists. I eventually declined to continue participating in the MOC process. However, I notice that the Delirium Clinical Module that I and a resident put together is still accessible on the ABPN website.

Although response numbers were low, there was clearly an interest in starting the interest group. There was also an incentive to reapply to the ACGME for approval of a Psychosomatic Medicine (Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry now) fellowship.

My attempt years earlier had been frustrating. While it was approved, I couldn’t attract any fellows, forcing me to withdraw it without prejudice (meaning another application for approval could be attempted). Fortunately, that situation changed later. The Psychiatry Department at The University of Iowa now has an early career C-L psychiatrist who graduated from the reinstated C-L fellowship.

As the saying goes, “What goes around comes around.” Although the origin of that saying might have originated in the 1970s, at least one person thought his grandmother had her own version in the 1950s: “You get what you give.”

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.

About Me Page Revisited

I’ve been looking at my About Me page and see that it needs revising. I’m way past the stage of being in phased retirement and I’m pretty sure I can’t do without this blog—or at least some way to keep writing. I notice I said that I was not sure how long I’d keep blogging.

I recently updated my YouTube trailer. It’s my first attempt at an elevator pitch in years. It’s a 48 second video, probably the shortest video I’ve ever done. According to some experts, it’s 3 seconds too long. If you want to read the long version, it’s on this blog, “Elevator Pitch for a Very Slow Elevator.”

Anyway, I’ve been retired from psychiatry since June 30, 2020 (there was a minor clerical glitch in the exact date). My wife, Sena and I have gotten all of our Covid-19 vaccines—until they come up with more. We have made Iowa City our home for over thirty years.

We play cribbage. One of the most fun cribbage games we played was the game on the Iowa state map board. That was a blast. The video of it was over 10 times longer than most YouTube videos I make. That’s because the main reason for the game was to talk up Iowa. You really ought to visit, maybe even move here. You can get used to snow. I keep reading articles on the web telling me I’ve got to stop shoveling at my age. I’ll think it over.

We also like going for walks. One of our favorite places to walk is on the Terry Trueblood Trail. Sometimes you can see Bald Eagles out there.

I have not yet mentioned Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry, even once. That’s a big difference from the old About Me page. It was the first thing I mentioned then, because it was just about the most important role I had in life.

It took a long time before I began to question that once I retired—about a year or so. It was a lot like being a firefighter. In fact, my pager was the bell, and I even had a firefighter’s helmet, a gift from a family medicine resident who rotated through the psychiatry consult service. I didn’t wear it when I interviewed patients. It would have alarmed them.

I also carried around a little camp stool. It was because there were never enough chairs in patient rooms to accommodate me, the trainees, and visiting family. Often, I sent a medical student to find me a chair from out in the hall—until I got the stool. I slung it over my shoulder and away I went. I was sort of like the guy on that old Have Gun—Will Travel (paladin) TV show (a 1950s-1960s relic with a gunslinger called Paladin). Have Stool—Will Travel. A surgeon, who also doubled as a palliative care medicine consultant, gave me the little chair as a gift. I passed it on to a resident who took it with good grace.

I miss work a lot less now than I did when I left. I think I must have loved my work. Maybe I loved it too much, because leaving it was hard. There are different kinds of love. I love writing. I love long walks and watching the birds. And most of all I love Sena.

Love

I’m gradually replacing work with something else I love, which is writing. Mindfulness meditation and exercise also help. And let’s not forget, I change electrical outlets. I think I’ve changed just about every outlet (and many toggle switches) in the house. They ought to do away with those bargain bin plugs. Just because they’re cheap doesn’t mean they’re any good.

I’m not sure yet how I’ll edit the About Me page. Maybe I’ll just call the first one Chapter One and this one Chapter Two.

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