Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Eye Clinic Follow Up

I went back in today for a one week follow up of laser surgery for a retinal tear.  An acute problem always brings some issues into focus so I thought I would continue on about some comparisons of psychiatry with modern medical technology as well as some of the differences that cast some advantage to psychiatrists.   As usual there are always political implications.  I have the added advantage of showing the retinal scans from today, courtesy of the clinic.  As most patients know, experience with getting results like this from clinics is highly variable.  Most of that confusion is a direct result of the Privacy Rule that started under the Clinton administration and ended under the Bush administration.  It is complicated by CFR42, a federal regulation that directly impacts the release of sensitive data and the way it can be released.  after the recent modification to make it clearer and easier to get date, one of the clinics I go to will no longer e-mail me graphical data.  That is the outcome I expected when special interest attorneys get involved in health care law.

The visit itself went very well.  The clinic demonstrated the same efficiency.  The retinal exam included scans of both eyes by physical examination of only the affected eye.  The scribe was in the room and she picked up an error in the original note and corrected it.  The conclusion was no change in retinal opacities  (blood in the vitreous) - but well sealed off laser site with resolving retinal edema.  In the manner of most proceduralists that I have encountered, it was time for questions.  No spontaneous advice.  I carefully outlined the physical activities that I am involved in and was advised that I could resume with nor restrictions.  I had stopped taking 81 mg of aspirin a day on my own initiative and was advised that I could resume that.  The only additional information was follow up in 6 weeks and call if problems.

That call if problems is always a tricky proposition.  With the retinal opacities from the original tear the large amoeba-like blob over about 1/3 of my visual field was still there, but over the course of the day it comes and goes.  At times there are about 20-30 very small black dots floating around in that eye.  Given what I know about brain adaptation to let's say prism viewing, I wondered if my brain was adapting to the retinal opacities and only showing me the clear visual field.  There were times when it seemed worse, but I concluded that unless it was consistently worse, I should probably not call the clinic.  I arrived at that conclusion on my own. but confirmed  it with the retinal specialist between now and the next appointment.

I also thought about the time it takes me to coach patients about how to self monitor and also warn them about rare side effects.  I can spend 10-20 minutes on serotonin syndrome,  neuroleptic malignant syndrome, prolonged QTc interval, drug induced liver disease, priapism, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes mellitus.  And that is after we have discussed progress and medication side effects.  When I thought about the complication rates quoted to me for retinal/vitreous detachments and tears and the success rate of laser surgery - I am telling people about many potential complications that are a thousand to ten thousand times less likely to occur.

That is the range I am living in.  I am not complaining about it.  I think it is much more reasonable to have informed patients who understand that taking a medication is not a walk in the park or a miracle cure.  I am concerned that despite my detailed explanations and accompanying literature many people do still not understand it or just ignore it.  On the other hand I have had people with known problems like cardiac problems come back and recite everything I told them about potential cardiac problems and what to watch for.  The side effect that bothers most people is the potential for weight gain, but most of them can be assured that there is a strategy to deal with that problem.  If a medication is effective, people will want to take it even if there are potential problems with it including weight gain and ECG abnormalities.

The measurement technology used in ophthalmology is interesting.  The human retina is unique enough to allow it to be used for biometric identification.  No two retinas are identical and technically even though retinal tears have similar characteristics they are all in a unique biological landscape.

Technology clearly differentiates ophthalmology from psychiatry.  We remain stuck in the 1960s with an obsessive narrative that classifies but probably does not diagnose.  Depending on who you read, phenomenology is there to some degree.  Ophthalmologists done't really need to depend on objective descriptions of symptoms - they can see what the problem it.  I just read an article on a consensus treatment guideline  for depression that adds absolutely nothing to the field beyond what a psychiatrist has learned in residency training in the past 15 years.   At the end of the day we have no retinal scan that we can hand a patient and say: "This is your problem and this is what we did to fix it in about 1 hour."

And that is what we need.

George Dawson, MD, DFAPA


I could not fit this into the body of the post anywhere but age-related retinal and vitreous diseases seem like a major oversight in medical education to me.  I studied geriatric psychiatry and geriatric medicine and the major focus was on age related causes of blindness that were essentially chronic illnesses.  As far as I can tell age-related acute retinal and vitreous problems are a major epidemic and every physicians should know how to diagnose them and how fast they need to be triaged and referred (fast).



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