Why Physicians and Researchers Should Be on Twitter

If you are a physician or researcher and are not yet on Twitter, check out this infographic by Kellie Jaremko, MD, PhD (@Neuro_Kellie), then ask yourself, “Why not?”

If you still need more convincing,  this article may help.  Join the healthcare social media (#hcsm) movement!

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Why I Still Love Being an Anesthesiologist

When I first wrote “What I Love about Being an Anesthesiologist” for KevinMD in 2014, it was shared over 14,000 times!

Nearly 4 years later, I still love what I do – in fact, I think I love it even more now! My wife and I were at a party recently attended by healthcare and non-healthcare people. Of course, I was asked the inevitable questions, “What do you do?” and “What is it like?”

Here is how I answered:

Being a physician anesthesiologist is the honor of a lifetime, and it comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. My patients rely on me to be their personal physician during surgery.  Under general anesthesia, they need me to be their voice because they can’t speak. They need me to act because they cannot protect themselves.

  • I have to understand my patients’ medical conditions.
  • I adapt my anesthetic plans to their needs.
  • I anticipate challenges that may take place during an operation.
  • I recognize problems early and prevent them when possible.
  • I react quickly and appropriately to make sure my patients make it through surgery safely with the best possible outcomes.

In the operating room, I cannot write an order and expect someone else to carry it out. I have to know how everything in my environment works, from top to bottom, so I can take the best care of my patients. I set up my own anesthetic equipment and supplies in preparation for surgery. I prepare all of the medications that I will personally administer to my patients.

I will admit that a big reason I chose this specialty was the people in it. Now my fellow physician anesthesiologists are my colleagues and mentors who continually challenge and inspire me.

I have the best job in the world:  helping patients through the stressful experience of surgery, relieving pain, and making new discoveries through research that will hopefully benefit future patients.

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Starting an Acute Pain Medicine Program: Strategies for Success

Initiating an acute pain medicine program can add significant value to a hospital and anesthesiology practice through improved postoperative pain control, faster recovery, decreased side effects, and higher patient satisfaction. In a special issue of Anesthesiology News, I published an article which presents a few suggested strategies. You can view and download this article here.

In an accompanying video interview, I was asked about the evolution of ultrasound in regional anesthesia practice as well as the growing role of ultrasound in perioperative medicine.

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Partnering with Patients for Patients

As an anesthesiologist, I am a physician who cares for patients when they are most vulnerable.  Under anesthesia, no one is able to call for help.  Every day patients have surgery in operating rooms all over the world, and it is the job of the physician anesthesiologist to watch over them, monitor their bodies’ responses to stress, breathe for them, provide them with pain relief, and fight for them when unexpected crises occur.  It is my job to calm the fears of my patients and families, listen to their requests, manage their expectations, and develop a plan that will provide them with the best outcome after surgery.

My belief in this connection between physicians, patients, and families as an anesthesiologist stretches into my administrative roles as well.  As Chief of the Anesthesiology and Perioperative Care Service and Associate Chief of Staff for Inpatient Surgical Services at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System (VAPAHCS), I am grateful for the opportunity to work with an incredible team of physicians, respiratory therapists, surgeons, advanced practice providers, technicians, and administrative staff members who are focused on our mission to provide the highest quality Veteran-centered care by leading, educating, and innovating in anesthesiology and perioperative medicine.

In order to accomplish this mission, we need the best information available to guide our decisions and a diversity of perspectives to enhance our ability to train new clinicians and explore relevant research questions.  We have been fortunate to partner with our friends and colleagues in the Veteran and Family Advisory Council (VFAC) on a number of exciting projects.  First, our Service manages the simulation center at VAPAHCS and is responsible for coordinating simulation-based training for all clinicians.  Members of VFAC have been directly involved in simulation activities, even taking on active roles as the patient or family member in standardized training scenarios, to help us educate clinicians from various disciplines and all training levels.  Debriefing after these simulation exercises gives our clinical trainees and practicing clinicians the unique perspective of real patients and family members which is essential to their professional development as modern medicine continues to progress towards a model of patient-centered care.

Once a year, our Service organizes a faculty development retreat during which we reassess our mission, vision, strategic priorities, and tactics and work on one or two big ideas.  Two years ago in 2015, we invited our VFAC partners to join us at our annual retreat to brainstorm improvement ideas related to patient-centered care in the perioperative environment, intensive care unit, and pain management.  The general theme of the retreat addressed public perception and professional reputation of anesthesiologists and the specialty of anesthesiology.  Having members of VFAC present at the retreat to share their knowledge, opinions, and questions has inspired a few subsequent improvement activities and other projects to enhance the range of services that we provide to our patients and their families.

Finally, working together with VFAC, and knowing members personally, has allowed our clinical Service to solicit feedback on a regular basis.  Not all hospitals enjoy the level of access to a community of engaged patients and families like we do at VAPAHCS.  When we revised our preoperative education materials for patients, we went to VFAC for input.  When we were critically reviewing our website to update our online patient educational materials on anesthesia and perioperative care, we presented at the VFAC meeting to get the members’ feedback and suggestions.  With their help, we have been able to improve the accessibility and readability of our online content and provide our patients and their families with useful information that can help prepare them for surgery.

We are very grateful to VFAC for its priceless contributions to our healthcare system, our patients, and our Service.  We look forward to continued collaboration on future projects!

This blog has also appeared as a featured story on the VA Palo Alto Health Care System website.

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Tips for Live Tweeting a Meeting

Live tweeting during a scientific conference offers many benefits. For attendees at the meeting, it allows sharing of learning points from multiple concurrent sessions. This also decreases the incidence of “FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)” since you can only be in one session at any given time but can learn vicariously through others. For your Twitter community outside the meeting venue, your live tweeting can help to disseminate the key messages from the conference to a broader audience and ultimately may facilitate changes in clinical practice.

Check out these “Ten Simple Rules for Live Tweeting at Scientific Conferences” and Marie Ennis-O’Connor’s “15 Tips for Live Tweeting an Event” for a comprehensive overview of this subject.

Here are a couple of my own general rules to tweet by:

  1. Register your scientific conference hashtag on Symplur. This gives you access to free analytics and transcript services for a limited time.
  2. Be sure to use the correct conference hashtag and include it in all your tweets related to the conference. This is probably included in your conference materials or emails from the organizer. The hashtag allows others to easily find your tweets related to the conference and include your tweets in transcript summaries after the conference is over.
  3. Go for quality and not quantity. It is too difficult (and unnecessary) to give a phrase-by-phrase reproduction of a speaker’s entire lecture. Remember that you are primarily in attendance to learn, so make sure you spend most of your time listening and not tweeting. Consider summarizing two or three salient points into one tweet or tweeting photos of slides with a short commentary to provide context to your Twitter community.
  4. Give credit where credit is due. Do a little homework before tweeting. If a speaker has a Twitter handle, include it in your tweet. If the speaker references a relevant article, find the link and include it in your tweet. These elements make your tweet more informative to the reader and may increase the likelihood of its being retweeted or generating further conversation on Twitter.
  5. Don’t say anything in a tweet that you wouldn’t say to someone in public. Healthy debate is one of the best parts of scientific conferences, but keep the discussion on Twitter clean and professional and of course protect patient privacy and confidentiality.

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A New Era for Regional Anesthesiology and Acute Pain Medicine

It has finally happened–the inaugural class of ACGME-accredited Regional Anesthesiology and Acute Pain Medicine (RAAPM) fellowships has been announced, marking the beginning of a new era.

Congratulations to the following 9 programs that now are the first accredited fellowship programs representing this subspecialty in the United States:

  1. Stanford University
  2. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
  3. University of California, San Francisco
  4. Massachusetts General Hospital
  5. Brigham and Women’s Hospital
  6. Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine
  7. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai/St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital
  8. Duke University Hospital
  9. Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Accreditation is immediate and retroactive to the current 2016-17 academic year. This announcement represents a tremendous achievement in anesthesiology training and medical education in general.  Nearly 4 years ago, at our spring RAAPM fellowship directors meeting in 2013, I was appointed to lead the task force that would eventually make contact with the ACGME to request consideration for accreditation of our subspecialty fellowship programs. After submitting the 161-page letter to ACGME, we waited nearly a year to receive a response, and it was positive. The next 2 years were spent drafting the program requirements that would eventually be used as the basis for fellowship design and evaluation. This was an iterative process with multiple revisions based on solicited feedback and public commentary.

When the application period opened for the first time ever in October 2016, programs interested in applying had less than 2 months to prepare their program information forms and other materials, have them reviewed and approved by their local graduate medical education offices, and submit to ACGME in time for the 2017 spring review.

These 9 accredited programs have embarked on a brave new path, but it will not be an easy one. Their programs will be reviewed periodically to evaluate adherence to the program requirements and the quality of fellowship training, and deficiencies identified will need to be resolved or face loss of accreditation. However, their commitment to maintaining accreditation represents, in my opinion, a commitment to their fellows that they will provide a training experience that can be held as a benchmark for all programs.

We need our fellowship training programs to develop leaders in regional anesthesiology and acute pain medicine who can catalyze changes in healthcare that will improve patient outcomes and experience. Today, we have taken a huge step forward.

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The “Top 10” Regional Anesthesia Articles of 2016

I was recently asked to provide a list of my “Top 10” regional anesthesia research articles from 2016 and not to include my own. So for what it’s worth (not much!), I’m sharing them below in no particular order.

In my humble opinion, these articles from 2016 have already influenced my clinical practice, taught me to look at something differently, or made me think of a new research question.

Trends in the Use of Regional Anesthesia: Neuraxial and Peripheral Nerve Blocks. Reg Anesth Pain Med. 2016 Jan-Feb;41(1):43-9. doi: 10.1097/AAP.0000000000000342.

The Second American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine Evidence-Based Medicine Assessment of Ultrasound-Guided Regional Anesthesia: Executive Summary. Reg Anesth Pain Med. 2016 Mar-Apr;41(2):181-94. doi: 10.1097/AAP.0000000000000331.

Teaching ultrasound-guided regional anesthesia remotely: a feasibility study. Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 2016 Aug;60(7):995-1002. doi: 10.1111/aas.12695.

Paravertebral block versus thoracic epidural for patients undergoing thoracotomy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Feb 21;2:CD009121. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009121.pub2.

Perineural versus intravenous dexamethasone as adjuncts to local anaesthetic brachial plexus block for shoulder surgery. Anaesthesia. 2016 Apr;71(4):380-8. doi: 10.1111/anae.13409.

Continuous Popliteal Sciatic Blocks: Does Varying Perineural Catheter Location Relative to the Sciatic Bifurcation Influence Block Effects? A Dual-Center, Randomized, Subject-Masked, Controlled Clinical Trial. Anesth Analg. 2016 May;122(5):1689-95. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000001211.

A randomised controlled trial comparing meat-based with human cadaveric models for teaching ultrasound-guided regional anaesthesia. Anaesthesia. 2016 Aug;71(8):921-9. doi: 10.1111/anae.13446.

Adductor Canal Block Provides Noninferior Analgesia and Superior Quadriceps Strength Compared with Femoral Nerve Block in Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction. Anesthesiology. 2016 May;124(5):1053-64. doi: 10.1097/ALN.0000000000001045.

A radiologic and anatomic assessment of injectate spread following transmuscular quadratus lumborum block in cadavers. Anaesthesia. 2017 Jan;72(1):73-79. doi: 10.1111/anae.13647.

Regional Nerve Blocks Improve Pain and Functional Outcomes in Hip Fracture: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2016 Dec;64(12):2433-2439. doi: 10.1111/jgs.14386.

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Changing Clinical Practice Doesn’t Have to Take So Long

Guest post by Seshadri Mudumbai, MD, MS.  Dr. Mudumbai is an Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. He is also a health services researcher and physician anesthesiologist at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.

time-for-changeChanging physician behavior is rarely easy, and studies show that it can take an average of 17 years before research evidence becomes widely adopted in clinical practice. One study published in JAMA has identified 7 categories of change barriers:

  1. Lack of awareness (don’t know guidelines exist)
  2. Lack of familiarity (know guidelines exist but don’t know the details)
  3. Lack of agreement (don’t agree with recommendations)
  4. Lack of self-efficacy (don’t think they can do it)
  5. Lack of outcome expectancy (don’t think it will work)
  6. Inertia (don’t want to change)
  7. External barriers (want to change but blocked by system factors)

Why Change?

According to the Institute of Medicine’s Crossing the Quality Chasm: a New Health System for the 21st Century:  “Patients should receive care based on the best available scientific knowledge. Care should not vary illogically from clinician to clinician or from place to place.”  Our group has focused our efforts on implementing updated evidence-based medicine initiatives for surgical patients with a special emphasis on the total knee replacement population.  Knee replacement is already one of the most common types of surgery in the United States (over 700,000 procedures per year).  Given an aging population, the volume of knee replacement surgeries is expected to increase to over 3 million by the year 2030.

We now have sufficient evidence to support “neuraxial anesthesia” (such as a spinal or epidural) as the preferred intraoperative anesthetic technique for knee replacement patients.  With neuraxial anesthesia, an injection in the back temporarily numbs the legs and allows for painless surgery of the knee.  Several studies have now shown better outcomes and fewer complications after knee replacement surgery with neuraxial anesthesia when compared with general anesthesia.  Despite these known benefits, a large study evaluating data from approximately 200,000 knee replacement patients across the United States reveals that use of neuraxial anesthesia occurs in less than 30% of cases.  At our facility prior to changing our practice, we noted a 13% rate of neuraxial anesthesia utilization.  In the face of growing evidence, we chose to change our practice, and the results of these efforts are reported in our recently published article.

How Did We Start?

An important tool used to coordinate the perioperative care of knee replacement patients has long been the clinical pathway.  A clinical pathway is a detailed care plan for the period before, during, and after surgery that covers multiple disciplines:  surgery, anesthesiology and pain management, nursing, physical and occupational therapy, and sometimes more.   The concept of the clinical pathway should be dynamic and not static.  This requires a process to ensure clinical pathways are periodically updated and someone to take a leadership role in managing the process.

At our institution, we established a coordinated care model known as the Perioperative Surgical Home (PSH).  The PSH provides the overall structure and coordination for perioperative care, and multiple clinical pathways exist within this structure.  With a PSH, physician anesthesiologists are charged with providing leadership and oversight of specific clinical pathways, collecting and reviewing data, engaging frontline healthcare staff and managers across disciplines, and suggesting changes or updates to clinical pathways as new evidence emerges.

Within our PSH model, we invested in a 5 month process to change our preferred anesthetic technique from general anesthesia to neuraxial anesthesia within the clinical pathway for knee replacement patients.  This process involved many steps and followed the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research:

  1. Literature review and interdepartmental presentation
  2. Development of a work document
  3. Training of staff
  4. Prospective collection of data with feedback to staff.

After one year, the overall percentage of knee replacement patients receiving neuraxial anesthesia increased to 63% from 13%, and a statistically-significant increase in neuraxial anesthesia use took place within one month of the updated clinical pathway rollout.

How Do We Keep It Going?

Neuraxial anesthesia continues to be the predominant anesthetic technique that our knee replacement patients receive today.  We attribute the ongoing success of this change to multidisciplinary collaboration, physician leadership in the form of a departmental champion, peer support and feedback, frequent open communication, and engagement and support from facility leadership.  The results of our study and experience show that a PSH may help facilitate changes in clinical practice quicker than other less-coordinated models of care.  As PSH models continue to be developed, further evidence to support the impact of clinical practice changes on patient-oriented outcomes related to quality and safety and healthcare economics is needed.

For patient education materials regarding anesthetic options for knee replacement surgery, please visit My Knee Guide.



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Reality and the Ivory Tower

At our conferences and workshops focused on regional anesthesiology and acute pain medicine, we present and discuss the latest and greatest advances in nerve block techniques for patients having surgery.  As physicians and scientists, we are very familiar with the evidence supporting the use of nerve blocks for postoperative pain management.  We know they are extremely effective in preventing and treating pain, decreasing the need for opioid medications, and even avoiding the common side effects of general anesthesia such as nausea and vomiting and confusion.

ASRA 2015

We believe in them.  

We are passionate about them.  

We want all patients to have access to them.

Within the meeting sessions and sometimes in the common spaces outside the lecture halls, regional anesthesiologists often vigorously debate various things like:  the best sites and techniques for nerve block injections, needle and catheter equipment, ultrasound transducers and machines, and local anesthetic selection and use of adjuvants among other things.  

For knee replacement patients in particular, we want to provide the best form of pain management while maximizing their postoperative function.  Since 2011, dozens of research articles have studied the more distal adductor canal block for pain management in patients who undergo knee replacement as a replacement for the long-standing incumbent, the femoral nerve block.  In reality, these sites of nerve block placement are mere centimeters apart and represent different sites of injection along the same set of nerves.  Anesthesiologists and surgeons continue to debate this issue in person, in social media, and in publications.

It’s time for a reality check.

I had the opportunity to do a big data study with my friend and colleague, Dr. Stavros Memtsoudis.  In this study of over 191,000 knee replacement patients who had surgery across over 400 hospitals in the United States, only 12.1% of all patients had a peripheral nerve block of any kind!  Over 76% of patients had general anesthesia alone with no other regional analgesic technique. 

A more recent study published this month in the Journal of Arthroplasty evaluated over 219,000 patients who underwent knee replacement, and only 27.3% of patients received a peripheral nerve block.  The database used for this study was NACOR, operated by the Anesthesia Quality Institute and the American Society of Anesthesiologists.  This was brought to my attention through a Tweet sent by My Knee Guide (@mykneeguide).


Where is the disconnect?  The efficacy of peripheral nerve blocks for pain control in patients having knee arthroplasty was first published more than 25 years ago.  It is easy to assume that such well-established evidence is being applied daily in clinical practice for the hundreds of thousands of patients who receive this surgery every year, but it’s not.  Today, there is more awareness than ever about the risks of opioids, and nerve blocks offer proven opioid-sparing pain relief.  Perhaps this is just another example of the gap separating the “ivory tower” of academics and real life.

In a previous post, I wrote about the obstacles to changing clinical practice, and there are many:

  1. Lack of awareness (don’t know guidelines exist)
  2. Lack of familiarity (know guidelines exist but don’t know the details)
  3. Lack of agreement (don’t agree with recommendations)
  4. Lack of self-efficacy (don’t think they can do it)
  5. Lack of outcome expectancy (don’t think it will work)
  6. Inertia (don’t want to change)
  7. External barriers (want to change but blocked by system factors)

Maybe it’s time to focus less on debating minor differences in the ways we do blocks and focus more on figuring out how to make sure more patients actually get them.  

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Physician-Led Anesthesia is Safe Anesthesia

Anesthesia1Many people, even those who work in the operating room every day, take safe anesthesia care for granted.  There has been growing pressure recently to abandon the team model and remove physician anesthesiologists’ supervision of nurse anesthetists with the latest threat coming from within Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare.  For our Veterans, our heroes and arguably some of the most medically complex patients, having both physician anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists working together as a team makes sense.

Having a team with members who train differently and have different perspectives can only benefit the patient; physician anesthesiologists draw on their medical training while nurse anesthetists bring valuable nursing experience.  Providing anesthesia is often compared to flying a passenger airplane, and the care team model is like having both a pilot and a co-pilot.  Has flying become so safe that we no longer need the pilot?  Seconds count in flight, and they count in the operating room when a patient’s life is on the line.  If approved, the proposed change in the VA nursing handbook will abolish this team model without giving Veterans a choice and will require VA hospitals to assign Veterans having surgery either a nurse anesthetist OR a physician anesthesiologist but not offer both.  If they were given the choice, however, I think our Veterans would choose “AND” instead of “OR.”  We all should.  In case a crisis happens during surgery, every patient should have access to a physician anesthesiologist.

Not too long ago operating room personnel had to worry about explosive anesthetic gases, and patients faced the risk of developing organ failure after every time they had anesthesia in addition to the usual perils of having surgery.  This changed when anesthesiology became a medical specialty and profession for physicians.

How is anesthesiology different than anesthesiaAnesthesia, a word with Greek origin, means “without sensation.”  Often referred to as “going to sleep,” general anesthesia is more like a complex drug-induced coma that can still carry serious risk, and a person’s physical and emotional reactions to anesthetic agents are not always predictable.

Anesthesiology is a science like biology or physiology and a specialty field of medicine like cardiology or radiology.  Modern anesthesiologists are physicians, scientists, educators, and patient safety advocates.  The heart of anesthesiology continues to be the patient experience.  As physician anesthesiologists, we specialize in relieving anxiety, preventing and treating pain, preventing and managing complications related to surgery, and improving the outcomes for patients who undergo invasive procedures.  The average physician anesthesiologist spends nearly a decade in postgraduate education after college and logs 16,000 hours of clinical training to learn to apply the best available evidence in clinical practice.  Academic physicians and scientists focused on anesthesiology are responsible for the discovery of the newer and safer anesthetic and analgesic agents we use every day.

Anesthesia administration by non-physicians such as nurse anesthetists and certified anesthesiologist assistants is supported by the American Society of Anesthesiologists within the physician-led anesthesia care team model.  A similar model is used in the intensive care unit with physician intensivists supervising teams that include acute care nurse practitioners.  To preserve safe, high-quality physician-led anesthesia care for our nation’s Veterans, please support the team model and #SafeVACare by speaking up on http://www.safevacare.org by July 25th.  It only takes a minute to post a comment, but the consequences of not saying something may be serious and long-lasting.

This post has also been featured on KevinMD.com.

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