Arch Intern Med roundup: diets, delays and disclosure

Arch intern MedThe journal Archives of Internal Medicine has a several cracking research papers this week.

Low carb dieters are grumpier than those on low fat diets

First up is Brinkworth et al.‘s research on the long-term psychological effects of low carbohydrate diets compared with low fat diets.

In this study, 106 overweight and obese individuals were randomly assigned to receive a low carbohydrate, high fat diet or a high carbohydrate, low fat plan. After one year, those participants on the low carbohydrate diet were more likely to be anxious, depressed, angry or confused than were those on the low fat diet. Both diets had the same number of calories and produced a similar amount of weight loss (13.7kg).

The authors suggest that the social difficulty of adhering to a low carbohydrate plan, which is counter to the typical Western diet full of pasta and bread, may be in part responsible for the mood deterioration in the low carb group. Alternatively, protein and fat intake may differently affect brain levels of serotonin, the so-called “happy hormone” (NB: its a neurotransmitter, not a hormone).

The Daily Telegraph points out that the infamous meat-heavy Atkins diet is essentially a low carb, high fat plan – bad news for all the celebrity fans.  Suddenly the term “hangry” makes more sense…

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Brinkworth GD, Buckley JD, Noakes M, Clifton PM, & Wilson CJ (2009) Long-term Effects of a Very Low-Carbohydrate Diet and a Low-Fat Diet on Mood and Cognitive Function. Arch Intern Med 169 (20): 1873-1880. URL: Here

Fewer than ever emergency department patients are being seen on time

Next is Horwitz and Bradley’s paper on wait times to see a doctor in US emergency departments. The authors assessed more than 150,000 visits and found that only one in four patients were seen within the target triage time in 2006, compared with one in five in 2007.  By 2006, the odds of being seen on time were 30% lower than in 1997.

Interestingly, the proportion of patients seen on time did not differ on the basis of insurance status or race/ethnicity.  As the LA Times put it, “The conventional wisdom that throngs of low-income, uninsured people who use the ER as a substitute for primary care visits are to blame is wrong.”

Instead, the change in wait times was driven by delays in attending to emergency cases, who were 87% less likely to be seen within the target time than nonurgent cases.

As the authors says, “The percentage of patients in the emergency department who are seen by a physician within the time recommended … is at its lowest point in at least 10 years”

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Horwitz LI & Bradley EH (2009) Percentage of US Emergency Department Patients Seen Within the Recommended Triage Time: 1997 to 2006. Arch Intern Med 169 (20): 1857-1865. URL: Here

GP visits are getting longer and better

Timings are also increasing in primary care, but rather than waiting times the time patients spend with their doctor is growing, according to Chen and colleagues.

Visits by adults to primary care physicians in the US between 1997 and 2005 increased by 10%, from 273 million to 338 million annually.  During this period, the mean duration of visit increased from 18.0 minutes to 20.8 minutes. Visit duration increased the most for people with any form of arthritis – by 5.9 minutes.

The increase in time spent with physicians seemed to be down to doctors spending longer counselling their patients. Visits for counselling or screening generally took 2.6-4.2 minutes longer than visits in which patients did not receive these services, whereas there was no change in the duration of visits in which doctors simply provided medication.

“Although it is possible that physicians have become less efficient over time, it is far more likely that visit duration has increased because it takes more resources or time to care for an older and sicker population,” the authors conclude. These findings thus contradict the belief that doctors are shaving time off consultations to meet efficiency goals, says the Wall Street Journal.

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Chen LM, Farwell WR, & Jha AK (2009) Primary Care Visit Duration and Quality: Does Good Care Take Longer? Arch Intern Med 169 (20): 1866-1872. URL: Here

Patients rate care better if doctors disclose mistakes

Finally, López et al. looked at how health professional disclosure of adverse events – an injury caused by some aspect of medical care and not by the underlying medical condition – affects patient perceptions of care.  They found that in patients who experienced an adverse event in hospital, those whose doctor told them about the event were likely to rate their care more highly than patients whose caregivers did not address the problem.

A total of 845 adverse events were reported in this sample of almost 2,600 acute care adult patients, but only 40% of these were disclosed. However, disclosure of preventable and nonpreventable events was associated with high ratings of quality of care. In addition, patients who felt that they were able to protect themselves from adverse events were likely to rate their care favourably.

On the other hand, patients who experienced medical accidents that were preventable, caused increased discomfort, or continued to negatively affect the patient for some time after the event tended to rate their care poorly.

“Although rates of disclosure remain disappointingly low, our findings should encourage more disclosure and allay fears of malpractice lawsuits,” say the authors. “Patients want to be told the truth, and they perceive disclosure as integral to high-quality medical care.”

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López L, Weissman JS, Schneider EC, Weingart SN, Cohen AP, & Epstein AM (2009) Disclosure of Hospital Adverse Events and Its Association With Patients’ Ratings of the Quality of Care. Arch Intern Med 169 (20): 1888-1894. URL: Here

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