Does use of point-of-care testing improve the cost-effectiveness of the NHS Health Check programme?

A paper published in the journal BMJ Open examines if the use of point of care testing is less costly than laboratory testing to the National Health Service (NHS) in delivering the NHS Health Check programme in primary. To address this question, we carried out an observational study, supplemented by a mathematical model with a micro-costing approach.

We collected data on cost, volume and type of pathology services performed at seven general practices using point of care testing and a pathology services laboratory. We collected data on response to the NHS Health Check invitation letter and DNA rates from two general practices.

We found that the costs of using point of care testing to deliver a routine NHS Health Check is lower than the laboratory-led pathway; with savings of £29 per 100 invited patients up the point of cardiovascular disease risk score presentation. Use of point of care testing can deliver NHS Health Check in one sitting, whereas the laboratory pathway offers patients several opportunities to miss an appointment.

We concluded that the costs of using point of care testing to deliver an NHS Health Check in the primary care setting is lower than the laboratory-led pathway. Using point of care testing minimises non-attendance rates associated with laboratory testing and enables completion of NHS Health Check in one appointment.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2016-015494

Improving the safety of care of people with dementia in the community

Dementia care is predominantly provided by carers in home settings. We aimed to identify the priorities for homecare safety of people with dementia according to dementia health and social care professionals using a novel priority-setting method. The study was published in BMC Geriatrics.

The project steering group determined the scope, the context and the criteria for prioritization. We then invited 185 North-West London clinicians via an open-ended questionnaire to identify three main problems and solutions relating to homecare safety of people with dementia. 76 clinicians submitted their suggestions which were thematically synthesized into a composite list of 27 distinct problems and 30 solutions. A group of 49 clinicians arbitrarily selected from the initial cohort ranked the composite list of suggestions using predetermined criteria.

Inadequate education of carers of people with dementia (both family and professional) is seen as a key problem that needs addressing in addition to challenges of self-neglect, social isolation, medication non-adherence. Seven out of top 10 problems related to patients and/or carers signalling clearly where help and support are needed. The top ranked solutions focused on involvement and education of family carers, their supervision and continuing support. Several suggestions highlighted a need for improvement of recruitment, oversight and working conditions of professional carers and for different home safety-proofing strategies.

Clinicians identified a range of suggestions for improving homecare safety of people with dementia. Better equipping carers was seen as fundamental for ensuring homecare safety. Many of the identified suggestions are highly challenging and not easily changeable, yet there are also many that are feasible, affordable and could contribute to substantial improvements to dementia homecare safety.

DOI: 10.1186/s12877-017-0415-6

A carer proposes covertly medicating a patient – what should I do?

You are called by a worker at a care home. She is concerned about a dementia patient who, despite all non-drug measures being tried, is causing distress to other residents. She asks you to prescribe a sedative to ‘slip into her food’. How should you proceed?

Giving medication covertly to sedate an agitated patient raises serious legal and ethical issues. Treatment without consent is only permissible where there is a legal basis for this. In the scenario described here, giving a sedative to the patient without her knowledge and consent would be a breach of her human rights. There is also a risk that the patient could suffer side effects from the medication she was given. For example, administration of a benzodiazepine or an antipsychotic drug could lead to a fall or a fracture that resulted in serious harm to the patient. Covert administration of medication is also a breach of trust on the part of the doctor who prescribed the medication. Hence, it may lead to a formal complaint against the doctor, which would be difficult to defend. Hence, covert administration of sedative medication is a practice that doctors should not collude in, and you should refuse to prescribe. You should also discuss the staff member’s request with the nursing home manager. The care home needs to ensure that it is adequately staffed and that its staff are trained in the appropriate management of people with dementia. If the patient is new to the care home, then her unfamiliar surroundings may be the cause of her agitation. In this case, her behaviour is likely to improve over time as she becomes more familiar with her new home and the staff who care for her. If the increased agitation and confusion are of recent onset, then an organic cause such as an infection or drug side-effect needs to be excluded. If the problem is ongoing and does not settle, advice and support should be obtained from the local nursing home support service and community mental health team; for example, on holding a  ‘best interests meeting’.

A version of this article was published in the medical magazine Pulse.

What makes a good clinical training placement?

Dr Kevin Patel from the Imperial GP Specialist Training Scheme takes a reflective look at the factors that go into making a good clinical attachment for trainees.

As GP trainees we are ‘encouraged’ to reflect; challenging encounters with patients, conversations with colleagues that could have gone better, moments when you felt like you were born to do this job. All of this is good fodder for your ePortfolio.

Not one to miss out on a reflective opportunity, I took a step back from a discussion that was taking place about difficult rotations, a conversation I imagine that is oft-repeated amongst GPs and hospital doctors up and down the country, and thought about how we could use our experience as GP trainees to feed into this.

As trainees we rotate into diverse placements, from paediatrics to public health to care of the elderly. I counted at least 15 distinct departments I have worked in since finishing medical school just over 5 years ago. This is more than any other specialty trainee and if only through sheer volume, it provides us with a unique perspective on what makes a ‘good’ or successful placement and allows us to see how things are managed differently between the numerous specialties both clinically and non-clinically.

Back to the conversation, I heard talk of punishing on-calls, a lack of support; unsympathetic supervisors and acting above one’s role though interestingly not necessarily competence. I then thought about my own experience of certain jobs and what it was that made me love one rotation and what it was about another that filled me with dread going to bed each night.

Below I’ve listed a number of factors that I think are key to influencing one’s experience of a ward or practice. And whilst not exhaustive, I feel they are fundamental determinants of that ‘holy grail’ of rotations which are enjoyable, challenging and ultimately fulfilling.  There are however, some factors that are somewhat beyond our immediate control:

Time – This is something that no matter how hard we try we simply cannot create more of. But all departments have this problem, what is it about those places that don’t seem to be creaking at the seams, and what is it about those places that do?

Patient load – If there are sick patients, we see them. Be that in A&E or in GP where we (wo)man the gateway to the rest of the NHS. Yes, hospitals can be closed to admissions and there might not be enough scheduled GP appointments but those who are in need get seen. How busy you are on a rotation invariably colours your opinion of that time and the upstream consequences of such scenarios is a whole other blog-piece.

Staffing Levels – Feeling like you have sufficient time to give to your patients is essential not only for your peace of mind but also patient safety:

Did I do everything I needed to for that man, or was it the minimum until I see him in 2 weeks?

This child needs a cannula for his antibiotics but I need to review the girl with asthma first.

I don’t want to leave this woman who is having a miscarriage but my registrar needs me in theatre to assist for an emergency caesarean section.

My own experience and that of my peers seems to be that those rotations where we did not routinely come across these dilemmas were better regarded and often because they had that one extra doctor or where the rota was designed with a minimum number of SHO’s per day or, like in one utopian department, where they have a stand-by doctor who can come in when the team are up against it. With the real-life examples above, you are left upset, demoralised and at risk of burn out.

Of course there are funding issues and these are not easy to resolve, but we have seen recommendations for safe nurse: patient ratios since the Francis Report into Mid-Staffordshire Foundation Trust [1]. Does something similar need to happen for the doctor to patient ratio to allow us to provide the level care the public want and deserve thus ensuring we are not forced to give a substandard service?

However, there are many aspects which, for me make for an enjoyable experience and a happy workplace which are less bound by absolutes.

Pace – Some of us thrive off pressure, battling through to the end of the day. Others will be the polar opposite, but most I suspect will want a happy medium; keeping our brains engaged, working together with patients to find solutions to their problems and not faced with scenarios akin to those above. The sense that I get from talking to some of my colleagues is that a happy workplace is also one which allows you to take 10 minutes to make a personal call, work on a research paper when it’s quiet or pop to the bank. There is something about having the space to do these things that makes you feel valued as an individual and not being able to do so leads to a sense of resentment.

Personal Development: A workplace that sees your value as a person as well as a doctor. This is often influenced by your immediate supervisor but jobs that I have found the most rewarding were those where you are not so much permitted but rather encouraged to attend courses that are related to, and also sometimes tangential to your training. This could be where personal interests are incorporated into projects or just the source of 5 minutes of conversation. For example, a consultant once heard me talking to the art therapist on the ward about how I was taking an evening class in ceramics. She then ensured I finished on time every Tuesday afternoon so I would not be late.

Respect – This is something that is hard won as a junior. Being recognised for your experience in a previous ENT or psychiatry rotation, for example, is something that is quite powerful but when none of your efforts are acknowledged and your previously acquired skill-set is side-lined your morale can take a knock. Equally, we all know we are here to learn and do not know everything and so acknowledging strengths is just as important as how weaknesses are nurtured.

Empathy – The job can be difficult. We know this and those above us definitely know this because they have been there before us. A simple acknowledgement or willingness to muck in makes you feel stronger as a team and less isolated. More often than not, you’re spurred on to work a little harder. However, when there is a shrug to your succinct history or sigh at your plea for help the seeds for an unhappy workplace are sown.

Fun! –  I think this is a product of all the positive aspects above. If you have these then you probably have some, if not most, of the key ingredients to a happy workplace. Friendships develop between staff regardless of role, dinners just seem to get organised and an after-work drink every so often becomes the norm as compared to a mandated evening of fun once every 6 months.

Going back to the conversation at the start, I concluded that there is actually very little between what makes a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ placement for a trainee or rather how there is a fine line between the two. I also thought about how much of the good or indeed bad seems to trickle from those in senior roles and how it is true leadership that creates a culture that is fulfilling for those that are passing through or for those who are there for the long run.

GP Tutor Dr Dana Beale gives a view from the community

As part of our View from the Community series of articles, our Year 6 Specialty Choice Lead Dr Ros Herbert interviewed community teacher Dr Dana Beale, to get the inside track on what it’s like being a teacher for Imperial College.

Dana, tell me what first got you interested in homeless medicine?

Dr Dana Beale aboard her narrowboat

“Incredibly I was inspired by the same module I did as a student at Imperial College that I am now teaching on! Back then it was ‘medical and social care of the homeless’ and was based at the surgery for the homeless in Great Chapel Street – a fabulous service that showed me that primary care tailored to this vulnerable and challenging group existed and I promised myself there and then that I would return to work in this field.”

What makes you so enthusiastic about this work?

“I find this line of work a breath of fresh air; at times incredibly challenging but hugely rewarding. I feel privileged to be able to delve into patients’ lives at often their most chaotic and vulnerable, to reach out and essentially say ‘right…. How can we help you out here?’ I love the fact that it can range from helping those with complex medical cases and advanced pathology to psychiatric and psychological support with all sorts of things thrown in along the way. It feels natural to me to be faced with someone who needs an intense and complex team-based approach and to figure out where on earth to start – and to recognise that sometimes all that is needed is to show basic human kindness and just listen. The team around me makes my job a thousand times easier every day.”

What challenges does this “specialty” have?

“It can be a big challenge dealing with people who have often had difficult childhoods then have lost everything and are at rock bottom. Behaviour can be aggressive or defensive and it can be hard to strike the right balance between being approachable but also staying safe; between being supportive whilst also not acquiescing to every request – for example drug seeking behaviour. But over time I have learned how to help people to see that what they think they need RIGHT NOW may be the most detrimental thing to them in the long-run. We don’t always get it right and are always still learning. Risk management and good team communication is vital.”

If you were PM (not a bad idea?!) what would you do to improve the lot of the homeless?

“As PM I would make reducing health and wealth inequalities a key priority. I would seek to steer away from the perception that these are lazy people who want something for nothing and are just a drain on society. Epidemiological studies tell us that countries that support their unemployed and incapacitated will see a quicker and more sustained return to working life and being ‘productive’ in society – rather than focusing on ever more brutal sanctioning and impossible hoops to jump through.”

You obviously love teaching the students, tell us why?

“I feel honoured to be charged with fresh young minds to teach – so much of the time they really do teach me too! I like finding out about my students and which paths they hope to take and to perhaps plant a few seeds that will blossom in their later practice. Even if just one person looks at the homeless heroin addict they are dealing with in A+E, on the wards or in a GP surgery through a different filter and remembers that they are a human being with their own unique story, I feel I will have achieved something.”

Sex differences in cardiovascular events and procedures in people with and without diabetes

An article published in the journal Cardiovascular Diabetology examines gender differences in hospital admissions for major cardiovascular events and procedures in people with and without diabetes.

Secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease (CVD) has improved immensely during the past few decades but controversies persist about the cardiovascular benefits among women with diabetes. We investigated 11-year trends in hospital admission rates for acute myocardial infarction (AMI), stroke, percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), and coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) in people with and without diabetes by gender in England.

We found that diabetes-related admission rates remained unchanged for AMI, increased for stroke by 2% and for PCI by 3%; and declined for CABG by 3% annually. Trends did not differ significantly by diabetes status. Women with diabetes had significantly lower rates of AMI and stroke compared with men with diabetes. However, gender differences in admission rates for AMI attenuated in diabetes compared with the non-diabetic group.

While diabetes tripled admission rates for AMI in men, it increased it by over four-fold among women. Furthermore, while the presence of diabetes was associated with a three-fold increase in rates for PCI and a five-fold increase in rates for CABG in men; among women, diabetes was associated with a 4.4-fold increased admission rates for PCI and 6.2-fold increased rates for CABG. Proportional changes in rates were similar in men and women for all study outcomes, leaving the relative risk of admissions largely unchanged.

We concluded that diabetes still confers a greater increase in risk of hospital admission for AMI in women relative to men. However, the absolute risk remains higher in men. These results call for intensified CVD risk factor management among people with diabetes, consideration of gender-specific treatment targets, and treatment intensity to be aligned with levels of CVD risk.

https://doi.org/10.1186/s12933-017-0580-0

Use of interrupted time series analysis in health services research

Although randomized control trials (RCTs) are the ‘gold standard’ to evaluate treatment effects in health care, they are frequently not practical, ethical or politically acceptable in the evaluation of many health system or public health interventions. In the absence of an RCT, evaluations often use quasi-experimental designs such as a pre-post study design with measurements before and after the intervention period, such as interupted time series (ITS). An ITS compares the intercept and slope of the regression line before the intervention with the intercept and slope after intervention. A one-time baseline effect of the intervention without influencing the secular trend can be detected as an intercept change. If the intervention changed the secular trend, there will also be a significant difference in the slope between the two periods. Use of ITS in biomedical research is described in more detail in an article published by Utz Pape and colleagues in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

The Self-Care Academic Research Unit (SCARU) at Imperial College London

In a recent horizon scanning exercise, the School of Public Health recognised the rising importance of self-care as a means to empower patients and support an NHS fit for 21st Century Britain, identifying ‘self-care’ as an important area of academic interest. Further to participation in the annual Self-Care Conference, the Department of Primary & Public Health recently met with Dr Pete Smith OBE (Co-Chair of the Self Care Forum) and Dr David Webber (Head of the international Self Care Foundation) with a view to help establish Imperial College as an academic base of self-care in England.

The Self Care Forum is a national charity that seeks to develop and promote self-care throughout life and work, and encourages the recognition and embedding of self-care in all our lives. It defines self-care as the actions that individuals take for themselves and on behalf of or with others in order to develop, protect, maintain and improve their health, wellbeing or wellness. This includes Health Literacy. The International Self Care Foundation continues to develop evidence-based self-care concepts and practices, whilst promoting the role of self-care in health worldwide.

This tripartite collaboration will ensure that Self-Care is researched as a cross-cutting theme in the contemporary setting for patient benefit, and will strive to make the absolute case for self-care to inform policy makers via an extensive portfolio of research activity. SCARU will help identify how empowering patients via increased health literacy would result in improved outcomes, lower dependency on NHS resources, whilst also identifying key evidence-based recommendations for the consideration of policy makers.

Activity at the newly established Self Care Academic and Research Unit (SCARU) will focus primarily on producing evidence to advance our understanding of self-care in the context of 21st century healthcare by research in the following domains:

  • Evidence synthesis via development of high quality protocols to investigate various aspects related to Self-Care and how this links to empowerment, health literacy, and resilience in the community
  • Understanding how Self-Care can benefit the wider health economy (starting with England, but also looking at European and international examples)
  • Health economic modelling and cost benefit analysis of Self-Care initiatives from the perspective of funding of outcomes as opposed to activities
  • Social science/Qualitative research to better understand patient/GP/Commissioner knowledge, attitude & perspectives (KAP) in relation to Self-Care
  • Explore the use of E&M Health Technologies, digital health & wearable tech in supporting Self-Care in the new setting
  • Service evaluations and audits of local/national importance- including HQIP
  • Self-Care in mental health theme
  • Policy reviews and position papers
  • Establishing a database of evidence on Self-Care

SCARU will work closely with Hammersmith & Fulham GP Practice Federation and Imperial College Health Care Trust (ICHT) Directorate of Public Health & Primary Care to pilot small interventions and to better understand knowledge attitude & perceptions of Self-Care from NHS staff and patient perspectives. The H&F GP Practice Federation and ICHT will also consider participating in the Self Care Week 2017, including participation in the Self-Care Forum Annual Conference.

For further information, contact Dr Austen El Osta.

A woman with a suspected viral rash in pregnancy

My article in the BMJ considers how doctors should approach the management of a woman with a suspected viral rash during pregnancy. Key points in the article include:

  • Consider country of origin in a woman presenting with a rash in pregnancy and ask for immunisation history.
  • Test for measles and rubella IgM and IgG antibodies, particularly if immunisation history is not clear.
  • Refer women with an active infection to the fetal medicine unit for fetal monitoring.

The full article can be read in the BMJ.

The diagnosis and management of Scarlet Fever in primary care

An article from the Department of Primary Care and Public Health published in the London Journal of Primary Care discusses the diagnosis and management of Scarlet Fever. There has been a recent increase in the incidence of scarlet fever with most cases presenting in General Practice and Emergency Departments. Cases present with a distinctive macro-papular rash, usually in children. In patients who have the typical symptoms, a prescription of a suitable antibiotic such as phenoxymethylpenicillin (Penicillin V) should be made immediately to reduce the risk of complications and the spread of infection.

A typical presentation of scarlet fever
An 8-year-old girl is brought to see you at your practice. She has a sore throat, abdominal pain and has been vomiting. Her health was fine until two days ago. Initially, she noticed pain on swallowing and had a temperature of 38 °C. Her parents decided to seem medical advice once they noticed the ‘sandpaper-like’ rash on her trunk and the inside of her elbows. When you examine her tongue, the enlarged papillae become immediately obvious giving it a ‘strawberry’ like appearance. Petechiae are also visible on her soft palate. Her anterior-cervical nodes are swollen and tender.

Read more in the London Journal of Primary Care.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17571472.2017.1365677