When is it medically advisable to eat some one else's poo? When you need a poo transplant.
Poo transplants could be the solution to one of the biggest problems facing the NHS today- the bacterial infection Clostridium difficile. C.diff, as it's known to its friends, infects about 18,000 people in England and Wales every year and is involved in the deaths of about 2000 people.
C.diff typically arises due to imbalances in the normal gut bacteria. The gut is like a city, a city with about 100 trillion bacterial residents happily munching away on a banquet of bowel contents. The average person has about 1000 different types of bacteria in their gut, and about 3% of healthy adults have C.diff in that mix. The C.diff doesn't cause them any problems because its numbers are kept in check by the other gut bacteria. However treatment with broad spectrum antibiotics such as clindamycin, cephalosporins, ciprofloxacin and co-amoxiclav, can disrupt this happy community- killing off vast swathes of bacteria but crucially not the C.diff. Given free rein the C.diff multiplies rapidly and produces toxins which damage the gut. In some people this causes mild diarrhoea and abdominal pain, in others it can lead to torrential diarrhoea, perforation of the colon and death.
Traditional treatment includes stopping any broad spectrum antibiotics and possibly prescribing antibiotics which target the C.diff such as metronidazole or vancomycin. However with antibiotic use comes the risk of resistance. Moreover our current approach isn't entirely effective and about 22% of patients treated suffer a recurrence. This can result in a cycle of illness and hospital admission which is costly to the patient and the hospital.
So it's time to start thinking outside of the box. Cue the poo transplant. The thinking goes like this- if the cause of the problem is disruption to the normal community of gut bacteria, why not just pop those bacteria back in to crowd out the C.diff? Simples. Practically, the first step is to identify a donor, usually a close relative of the patient, and screen them for a range of infectious diseases and parasites. It's also advisable to make sure they haven't recently consumed anything the intended recipient is allergic to, before asking them to make their "donation". You then pop it in a household blender and blitz it down, adding saline or milk to achieve a slurry consistency. Next you need to strain your concoction to remove large materials- one medic in the UK uses coffee filters. Top tip. Then you're ready to administer it- about 25ml from above (e.g. via nasogastric tube), or 250ml from below.
Now, its important to note that poo transplants are still an experimental treatment. To date only small case studies have been carried out, but with 200 total reported cases, an average cure rate of 96% and no serious adverse events reported to date, it's worth carrying out a large trial to assess it thoroughly.
Poo transplants- arguably the ideal treatment for a cash strapped NHS. It's cheap, plentiful and it seems to work. Now to convince people to consume someone else's poo... Bottoms up!
FYI: This was first posted on my own blog.
Image Courtesy of Marcus007 at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Hello & Welcome!
You may have already read my blog on 'My Top 5 Tips to use Social Media to Improve your Medical Education' and if so you will have an idea of what 'Social Media' is and how it can be harnessed to improve medical education. There are also features that could improve health promotion and communication but today I would like to focus on where we have to be careful with these resources.
In my last blog I circumnavigated the drawbacks of social media in medicine so that I could give them the full attention they deserve in their own blog today. But its not all doom and gloom! I also hope to give you a brief overview of the current social media guidance that is available to doctors and medical students and how we can minimise the risks associated with representing ourselves online.
But firstly, what actually is social media and why do i keep blogging about it? If you are new here I recommend giving 'Social Media' a quick google, but the phrase basically includes any website where the user (i.e. you) can upload information and interact with other users. Thats a definition of the top of my head, so don't hold me to it, but most people would agree that this definition includes the classic examples of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Linkedin etc, but there are many many more. These sites are important to us as (future) health professionals because they can be both used and unfortunately abused. However, several medical bodies including the General Medical Council and the Royal College of General Practitioners agree that these resources are here to stay and they shouldn't (and probably couldn't) be excommunicated. With this in mind, there has been much guidance on the topic, but as you are about to find out a lot of it is common sense and your own personal discretion.
Before you read on, I'd like to forewarn you that I try and keep things lighthearted with this topic. I'll hope you can excuse my levity of the situation, especially if any of the original authors of these guidelines end up reading this post. But as I am sure you are aware, this is a dry topic and hard to digest without the odd joke or two...
British Medical Association - Using Social Media: practical and ethical guidance for doctors and medical
The BMA guidance is the earliest guidance originating from a major medical body that i've come across. That said, I have not done a proper literature review of the subject. This is a blog, not a dissertation. But still, the BMA gives an early and brief summary of the problems facing health professionals using social media. Key points such as patient confidentiality, personal privacy, defamation, copyright and online professionalism are covered and therefore it is a nice starting point. It is also quite a short document, which may appeal to those who are less feverent on the subject.
On the other hand, I personally feel that the BMA guidance does social media an injustice by not going into the great benefits these resources can yield. There are also no really practical tips or solutions for the drawbacks they've highlighted to students.
Read it for yourself here or just google 'BMA Guidance Social Media'
Royal College of General Practitioners - Social Media Highway Code
The RCGP guidelines are my favourite. After a cheesy introduction likening the social media surge with the dawn of the automobile they then take a turn for the worse by trying to continue the metaphor further by sharing a 'Social Media Highway Code'. Their Top 10 Tips that form the majority of the code don't look to be much more than common sense. However, each chapter there after dissects each of their recommendations in great detail and provides practical tips on how to make the most from social media whilst protecting yourself from the issues raised above.
As I mentioned earlier, the RCGP recognise the inevitability of social media and they acknowledge this in the better part of their introduction. They make a great point that older doctors have a responsibility to become technologically savvy, whereas younger doctors who have grown up engrossed in social networking probably have to develop their professionalism skills more than their older colleagues (I'm aware this is a generalising statement). Either way, the RCGP highlight that everyone has something to take away from this set of guidelines.
Read it for yourself here or google; 'RCGP Social Media Guidance,' but be warned, this is one of the more lengthy documents available on the topic.
General Medical Council - Doctor's Use of Social Media
The GMC guidance kicks off with a little summary of the relevant bits of 'Good Medical Practice.' Again, nothing much that isn't common sense. That being said, they then go on to write that 'Serious or persistent failure to follow this guidance will put your registration at risk,' which sounds ominous and probably warrants a quick flick through (do it now! - the PDF is at the bottom of their page).
Reassuringly, the GMC does not try and place a blanket ban on social media. They give a 'tip of the hat' to the benefits of social media and then go on to outline all the drawbacks as many of the guidance already has. Asides from the issue of anonymity there is really nothing new covered and the GMC actually gives a lot of autonomy to doctors and medical students. However, the GMC are, in many ways, who we ultimately answer to and so you would be a fool not to revisit the issues they cover in their version of the guidance.
As I mentioned, the GMC brought online anonymity to the forefront of our minds. Should we, shouldn't we? A lot of health professionals believe that the human right to a private life extends to the right to have anonymity online. However, before we go into this any further lets take a closer look at what the GMC actually says...
If you identify yourself as a doctor in publicly accessible social media, you should also identify yourself by name. Any material written by authors who represent themselves as doctors is likely to be taken on trust and may reasonably be taken to represent the view of the profession more widely.
As you can see, the use of the phrase 'Should also identify yourself by name' gives some room for manoeuvre and is a world apart from what could have been written (i.e. you must). To those who believe their human rights are being infringed, perhaps a solution is to stop identifying yourself as a doctor online, although I appreciate this can be difficult if you are tagged in certain things. There are a number of good points why doctors shouldn't be anonymous online and it is certainly a must if you are in the trade of offering health promotion via the world wide web. However, I can see the point of those who want to remain anonymous for comical or satirical purposes. A quick google of the topic will reveal that the GMC has said that they do not envisage fitness to practice issues arising from doctors remaining anonymous online, but from the temptations that arise from running an anonymous profile such as cyber-bullying and misinformation.
Read the GMC guidance yourself here.
National Health Service (Health Education) - Social Media in Education
The NHS-HE guidelines are high quality and cover the entire scope of what social media means to medicine. There are several key issues that I haven't encountered elsewhere. This set of guidance is written from a managerial, technical perspective. It doesn't really feel aimed at doctors or medical students but it gives such an overview of the subject that I thought it was worth including.
If you feel brave enough, read it for yourself here.
To my knowledge, these are the current key guidelines for the use of social media in medicine. I hope you have found this blog useful in providing a quick summary of a topic that is becoming increasingly swamped with lengthy guidelines. In the future we need to see material produced or delivered that educates health professionals in how to use social media, rather than regurgitating the pros and cons every couple of months. I think webicina is a good example of a social media 'training course,' . There should be more material like this. Perhaps this is where I'm headed with my next project...
As always, if you have anything to add to this blog, please feel free to add to the comments below. I will be able to take difficult queries forwards with me to the Doctors 2.0 conference next week! If you are a student and interested in coming to the conference in Paris next week you should get in contact with me directly (@LFarmery on twitter).
Also, it would be a great help if you could fill out my very quick pilot survey to help me understand how doctors and medical students currently use social media.
Also see my website Occipital Designs
The thoughts and feelings expressed here are those produced by my own being and are not representative in part or whole of any organisation or company. Occipital Designs is a rather clunky, thinly veiled, pseudonym. If you would like to contact me please do so on Twitter...
This anecdote happened many years ago when I was a brand new (read: inexperienced) physician doing my stint in the Colonial Health Service of the former Belgian Congo. I was assigned to a small hospital in the interior of the Maniema province.
Soft tissue infections and abscesses were rather common in this tropical climate, but at one time there seemed to be virtual epidemic of abscesses on the buttocks or upper arms. It seemed that patients with these abscesses were all coming from one area of the territory. That seemed rather odd and we started investigating. By way of background let me say that the hospital was also serving several outlying clinics or dispensaries in the territory. Health aides were assigned to a specific dispensary on a periodic basis. Patients would know his schedule and come to the dispensary for their treatments. Now this was the era of “penicillin.”
The natives were convinced that this wonder drug would cure all their ailments, from malaria and dysentery, to headaches, infertility, and impotence. You name it and penicillin was thought to be the cure-all. No wonder they would like to get an injection of penicillin for whatever their ailment was.
As our investigation demonstrated, the particular health aide assigned to the dispensary from where most of the abscesses came, would swipe a vial of penicillin and a bottle of saline from the hospital’s pharmacy on his way out to his assigned dispensary. When he arrived at his dispensary there was usually already a long line of patients waiting with various ailments. He would get out his vial of the “magic” penicillin, show the label to the crowd and pour it in the liter bottle of saline; shake it up and then proceed to give anyone, who paid five Belgian Francs (at that time equivalent to .10 US $), which he pocketed, an injection of the penicillin, now much diluted in the large bottle of physiologic solution. To make matters worse, he used only one syringe and one needle. No wonder there were so many abscesses in the area of injection. Of course we quickly put a stop to that.
Anyone interested in reading more about my experience in Africa and many other areas can download a free e book via Smashwords at: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/161522 . The title of the book is "Crosscultural Doctoring. On and Off the Beaten Path"
In this month’s SBMJ (May 2013) a GP called Dr Michael Ingram has written a very good article highlighting some of the problems with the modern NHS’s administrative systems, especially relating to the huge amount of GP time wasted on following up after administrative errors and failings. I personally think that it is important for people working within the NHS to write articles like this because without them then many of us would be unaware of these problems or would feel less confident in voicing our own similar thoughts.
The NHS is a fantastic idea and does provide an excellent service compared to many other health care systems around the world, but there is always room for improvement – especially on the administrative side!
The issues raised by Dr Ingram were:
Histology specimens being analysed but reports not being sent to the GP on time or with the correct information.
Histology reports not being discussed with patient’s directly when they try and contact the hospital to find out the results and instead being referred to their GP, who experiences the problem stated above.
GP’s are being left to deal with patient’s problems that have nothing to do with the GP and their job and have everything to do with an inefficient NHS bureaucracy. These problems and complaints often taking up to a third of a GP’s working day and thereby reducing the time they can spend actually treating patients.
Having to arrange new outpatient appointments for patients when their appointment letters went missing or when appointments were never made etc.
Even getting outpatient appointments in the first place and how these are often delayed well after the recommended 6 week wait.
Patients who attend outpatient appointments often have to consult their GP to get a prescription that the hospital consultant has recommended, so that the GP bares the cost and not the hospital.
My only issue with this article is that Dr Ingram highlights a number of problems with the NHS systems but then does not offer a single solution/idea on how these systems could be improved.
When medical students are taught to write articles for publication it is drummed into us that we should always finish the discussion section with a conclusion and recommendations for further work/ implications for practice. I was just thinking that if doctors, medical students, nurses and NHS staff want to complain about the NHS’s failings then at least suggest some ways of improving these problems at the same time. This then turns what is essentially a complaint/rant into helpful, potentially productive criticism.
If you (the staff) have noticed that these problems exist then you have also probably given some thought to why the problem exists, so why not just say/write how you think the issue could be resolved? If your grievances and solutions are documented and available then someone in the NHS administration might take your idea up and actually put it into practice, potentially reducing the problem (a disgustingly idealist thought I know).
A number of times I have been told during medical school lectures and at key note speeches at conferences that medical students are a valuable resource to the NHS administration because we visit different hospitals, we wander around the whole hospital, we get exposed to the good and bad practice and we do not have any particular loyalty to any one department and can therefore objective observations. So, I was thinking it might be interesting to ask as many medical students as possible for their thoughts on how to improve the systems within the NHS. So I implore any of you reading this blog: write your own blog about short comings that you have noticed, make a recommendation for how to improve it and then maybe leave a link in the comments below this blog.
If we start taking more of an interest in the NHS around us and start documenting where improvements could be made then maybe we could together work to create a more efficient and effective NHS.
So I briefly just sat down and had a think earlier today about a few potential solutions for the problems highlighted in Dr Ingram’s article.
A community pathology team that handles all of the GP’s pathology specimens and referrals.
A “patient pathway co-ordinator” could be employed as additional administrative staff by GP surgeries to chase up all of the appointments and missing information that is currently using up a lot of the GP’s time and thereby freeing them to see more patients. I am sure this role is already carried out by admin staff in GP practices but perhaps in an ad hoc way, rather than that being their entire job.
Do the majority of GP practices get access to the hospitals computer systems? Surely, if GPs had access to the hospital systems this would mean a greater efficiency for booking outpatient appointments and for allowing GPs to follow up test results etc.
In the few outpatient departments I have come across outpatient appointments are often made by the administration team and then sent by letter to the patients, with the patient not being given a choice of when is good for them. Would it not be more efficient for the administrative staff to send the patients a number of appointment options for the patient to select one appropriate for them?
Eliyahu M. Goldratt was a business consultant who revolutionized manufacturing efficiency a few years ago. He wrote a number of books on his theories that are very interesting and easy to read because he tries to explain most of his points using a narrative – “The Goal” and “Critical Chain” being just tow. His business theories focussed on finding the bottle neck in an industrial process, because if that is the rate limiting step in the manufacturing process then it is the most essential part for improving efficiency of the whole process. Currently, most GPs refer patients to outpatient appointments at hospitals and this can often take weeks or months. The outpatient appointments are a bottle neck in the process of getting patients the care they require. Therefore, focussing attention on how outpatient appointments are co-ordinated and run would improve the efficiency in the “patient pathway” as a whole.
a. Run more outpatient clinics.
b. Pay consultants overtime to do more clinics, potentially in the evenings or at weekends. While a lot may not want to do this, a few may volunteer and help to reduce the back log on the waiting lists.
c. Have more patients seen by nurse specialists so that more time is freed up for the consultants to see the more urgent or serious patients.
d. An obvious, yet expensive solution, hire more consultants to help with the ever increasing workload.
e. Change the outpatient system so that it becomes more of an assembly line system with one doctor and a team of nurses handling the “new patient” appointments and another team handling the “old patient” follow up appointments rather than having them all mixed together at the same time.
I am sure that there are many criticisms of the points I have written above and I would be interested to hear them. I would also love to hear any other solutions for the problems mentioned above.
Final thought for today … Why shouldn’t medical students make criticisms of inefficiencies and point them out to the relevant administrator?
If anyone else is interested in how the NHS as a whole is run then there is a new organisation called the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management that is keen to recruit interested student members (www.fmlm.ac.uk).