Sunday, November 23, 2008

Exam room etiquette

I'm currently reading Pursued by the Bear, a book by 70-something year old psychologist about his 8 year journey through the medical world in pursuit of treatment for 3 different kinds of cancer. Dr. Singer's book is both hilarious and insightful; I highly recommend it to you. A lot of the book explores the relationship between patients and doctors. Here's his take on exam room etiquette, and one of his only observations with which I take issue:

[The doctor] tells me to get dressed [and] leaves the room (you have noticed I am sure that doctors seem unable to tolerate you in the process of dressing or undressing? They don't have problems with you naked or very scantily clad, but the act of removing or putting on clothing seems to be too personal or obscene to be allowed in their presence. It's the action itself that seems off-putting to them. My theory is that in the act of dressing or undressing, your personhood, your humanity cannot be denied--you are someone doing something--I move, therefore I am. Naked you can be an object)...

I always meet my patients while they are dressed, invariably leave the room while they are undressing, attempt to examine them in a way that reveals only that part which I am currently inspecting, and always leave the room while they dress. While we are both dressed, I feel our 'equal partnership' status is intact. When they are undressed, I am very aware that this is an unusual and privileged interaction between two people, doctor and patient. While disrobing or re-robing, however, I feel like I have no business in the room, that, as Dr. Singer writes, the act is indeed 'too personal' though certainly not 'off-putting', and that to stay there would overstep the boundaries of our professional relationship. Once my patient is dressed, we once again enter our partnership agreement where I offer my knowledge and observations and ask my patient to consider with me the options for care.

Are you offended when your doctor scuttles out of the room after the exam is over? How do you feel about conducting the pre- or post-exam interview while still undressed and gowned?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Here's your iliac crest

His-self: It was hard to find a picture of an iliac crest suitable for inclusion in a family-friendly blog, but at least this model left his Calvin Klein's on! It's that bone your thumb finds as you place your hands on your hips.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Waist circumference

It's the new vital sign. Waisted fat (i.e. fat socked beneath the abdominal musculature and carried front and center like an unfolding pregnancy) is known to be a potent marker and cause of both cardiovascular and diabetic risk. While the ideal dimensions of a healthy waistline are in dispute, thus far 40 inches/102 cm. for men and 35 inches/88 cm. for women are cited as goal.

How to measure a waistline is a hot topic. In fact, the International Chair on Cardiometabolic Risk, an organization headquartered in Quebec City, established a sub-committee to review the existing medical literature on the subject and establish a waist circumference protocol. Let it never be said that we doctors don't take our tasks very seriously.

The expert panel reached two conclusions: 1) "It didn't matter" where you measured distended abdomens with respect to predicting mortality from diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or all other causes. If the silhouette looked apple-ish (think Tweedles Dee and Dum), that defined the problem, and the bigger the gut, the worse the risk. 2) They decided to establish a protocol nevertheless to put an end to the "mass confusion" that existed on the subject so that both providers and patients could measure midriffs and follow weight loss progress.

They concluded for purposes of simplicity that the top of the iliac crest (aka pelvic or hip bone located on the side of the body at roughly, well, the waistline!) was a good anatomic marker easily found by physicians and the public alike. And in a bit of good news, spokesman and sub-panel chair Dr. Robert Ross assures us that the bathroom scale may not be the first reporter of success in weight loss programs, but rather that waist circumference may fall in a reassuring and healthful sort of way before the pounds start to drop off.