Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Adventures in the Veterans' Hospital Mental Health Clinic - Part II

Continuing on from my post of 3/17/15 on the Kafkaesque nature of the VA bureaucracy, their motto seemed to be, "If we find a problem in the system, we'll come up with a ridiculous solution that may make the problem even worse. Or at the very least, create a whole new set of problems."

For example, not too long ago there were a couple of serious foul-ups at the VA Memphis hospital that were caused by patients being mis-identified by staff and given the wrong treatment. This sort of thing can have disastrous consequences, of course, and it happens from time to time in almost all hospitals. It is quite a serious issue. Of course, in these cases dire consequences are most likely to result  with surgery or in a busy emergency room; such events are fairly rare in outpatient clinics.

The VA solution: Every doctor was instructed to verify every patient's full social security number and full name immediately at the beginning of every single appointment. We were told to do this, not just for patients we did not recognize, but even for our regular patients who we have been seeing for years! And we were told that we had to document that we had done this - again every single time - in the patient's electronic medical record (EMR). No one anywhere else does this.

That may seem like a small although illogical request that wouldn't take much time. The trouble was, we were asked to document a whole bunch of other things almost every visit. Most of these things were completely irrelevant to the visit at hand. For instance, there are so-called "clinical reminders" to ask about certain information at most visits whether it concerned the reason for the patient's visit or not (example shortly). 

With limited time to see each patient and to document the relevant information in the EMR, this added a significant amount of time to a visit that would then not be available to actually evaluate the patient's progress for the problem that was being actively treated.

Most of the clinical reminders were checklists, about which I have complained many times on this blog. One particularly ridiculous clinical reminder was a requirement to perform a depression screening checklist, the PHQ-9. This is just what it says it is - a screening test to see who should be evaluated further for depression. 

It is meant to be used by primary care docs and other non-psychiatric physicians to determine who should be referred to a psychiatrist for these further evaluation, and who does not need one. It is meant to cast a wide net, meaning a positive test does not mean that you have a clinical depression - only that you might and should therefore be screened further.

The VA wanted the psychiatrists to ask their patients to fill one out! If a patient is already being evaluated by a psychiatrist, the purpose of PHQ-9 is no longer operant, so filling one out is completely pointless and an utter waste of time. Unless, of course, someone is such a bad psychiatrist that they think a psychiatric evaluation does not include an evaluation for depression.

I refused to do the PHQ-9's, because I perform a complete bio-psycho-social psychiatric evaluation when I first see a new patient, and I was not going to short change my patients by further shortening our already limited time together by asking questions I already knew the answer to, or was about to go into far more detail about than is possible with a PHQ-9.

Actually, there was at least one psychiatrist on staff who did not do a complete evaluation of every patient. Because this psychiatrist did not make waves, that clinician was allowed to practice what I consider to be piss poor psychiatry for years. Then the doc left. I will discuss what happened in that situation in Part III of this post.

1 comment:

  1. I work in psych, and ever too often hear derogatory remarks about certain patients, especially repeat patients ... even heard the f ... and s ... words uttered by my fellow workers ... I know, my comment might be a bit beside the point you are making, but this mess all started at some point, am I not right ? Love, cat.