Richard Rathe, MD

Associate Professor of Family Medicine (ret.) and Medical Informatician


A Guide to Medical History Taking

By •• Posted in Medicine, Teaching

Always start with the standard questions applied to the patient’s Chief Concern(s): Location/Radiation; Quality/Severity; Duration (total/episode)/Frequency; Aggravating/Relieving Factors; Associated Symptoms/Effect on Function.

It is useful to think of the secondary history as a Focused Review of Systems (ROS). These questions often bring out information that supports a certain diagnosis or helps gauge the severity of the disorder. Unlike the primary history, a certain amount of interpretation (and experience) is necessary.

The tertiary history brings in elements of the Past Medical and Family History that have a bearing on the patient’s condition. By the time you get to the tertiary history you may already have a good idea of what might be going on. Read More…



Sick Around the World (PBS Frontline)

By •• Posted in Medicine

This is a great documentary from 2008 that explores how other wealthy countries deal with healthcare. The corespondent T.R. Reid visits five capitalist countries that provide affordable, nearly universal coverage for their citizens. How do they do it? He observes that here in the US we have the British model for veterans, the Taiwanese model for seniors, the German model for workers with insurance, but for the rest we are “just another poor country”. His conclusions…

1) Insurance companies must accept everyone, and cannot make a profit on basic care.

2) Everybody is mandated to buy insurance, with the government paying the premiums for the poor.

3) Doctors and hospitals have to accept one standard set of fixed prices.



Responding to Emotions with BATHE

By •• Posted in Medicine, Teaching

Being able to handle emotional situations is an important interviewing skill. It is safe to assume that every patient has some form of emotional response to significant illness. There is also growing evidence that an individual’s emotional state can effect or even cause physical disease. The patient will often give you several clues that should be followed up. Read more…



Why Health Insurance is Different

By •• Posted in Medicine

At the most basic level, insurance is about sharing risk. For example, a group of one thousand homeowners band together to create an insurance pool to protect against fire. If homes are worth $100,000 and there is one fire per year, they would have to chip in $100 each. Fortunately the risky event is rare, so the cost of insurance is low.

Now let’s compare this with insuring healthcare. We have the same thousand people, of which five hundred consume an average of $10,000 in healthcare services each year ($5M). Illness unfortunately is not a rare event and the annual premium jumps to $5,000 per person! Many of the younger, healthier people ask why they should be paying for somebody else’s infirmity? They withdraw from the pool and premiums skyrocket. Eventually the pool collapses and those who actually need care loose their coverage, and in many cases financial ruin ensues.

The key difference is that almost everyone will utilize healthcare services at some point in their lives. It’s as if fifty houses (50 x $5000 = $5M) burn down every year, not just one. The insurance model breaks down under these circumstances. We are no longer sharing risk but rather sharing the cost of something that is deemed essential by a large number of our peers.

The two obvious solutions are controlling costs and enlarging the pool. Recent mandates to buy health insurance are an attempt to address the latter. Controlling the cost of healthcare continues to be a conundrum.



At Risk with Pre-Existing Conditions

By •• Posted in Medicine

One of the biggest fears facing Americans is loss or denial of health insurance. This recent analysis concludes that up to half of adults under age 65 are at risk of being denied due to a pre-existing condition. Note that the dark blue bars on the graph below are based on criteria provided by the insurance companies themselves.



Analysis: (podcast)



Web-Based Audience Response System

By •• Posted in Evaluation, Teaching

Canvass ARS is a flexible and scalable program for polling a live audience. Instructors have the choice to use it as a stand-alone presentation tool, or integrate it with presentation software such as Powerpoint. It blends easily with other instructional technologies such as teleconferencing, streamed video events and Webinars. The audience is not limited to a single physical location. You can also use it to record votes during a meeting. In fact, you could run an entire presentation with audience responses from your smartphone! Read more…



Health and Human Society

By •• Posted in Medicine

Source: Am Scientist

While searching for something else, I came across this important article from 2001 by Clyde Hertzman concerning the relationships between wealth, society, and health. One graph from the article says it all—the United States is deep in the “worse outcome, higher expenditure” quadrant. The author begins by defining the Socioeconomic Gradient as the relationship between social status and health…

The average health status of members within every society on earth increases in a stepwise fashion as one ascends from the bottom of the social ladder (defined, variously, by income, education or occupation) to the top.

He argues that the slope of this gradient depends on several non-healthcare factors within each society. The specifics of healthcare delivery and healthcare systems are less important!

Here is a summary of his conclusions with respect to wealthy countries…

  1. Increased life expectancy and other measures of health do not correlate with increased wealth.
  2. The character of the socioeconomic environment has a strong effect on health outcomes.
  3. Societies that are more socially just and egalitarian have better overall health outcomes.
  4. These factors determine the slope of of the socioeconomic gradient (the “spread” in health outcomes).
  5. To be effective, health policy should focus on flattening this gradient.
  6. In the modern world, socioeconomic boundaries are much more important that geographic boundaries when it comes to disease.

Food for thought as we move forward with “Healthcare Reform” in the US.



My Twitter Feed(s)

By •• Posted in General

I have begun using Twitter for links to articles and other sites on a daily basis.

My Twitter address is:


My personal twitter address is:



New MedInfo Documentation Site

By •• Posted in General

We are consolidating most documentation and policy information on the new site. Much of my operational writing is now contained there.



Using Powerpoint Effectively

By •• Posted in Teaching

tufte_columbiaI’ve collected various PowerPoint resources and links on a single page. These include my Using Powerpoint Effectively Handout and information about Edward Tufte, who has written extensively on the use and abuse of this ubiquitous tool. He is shown here explaining PowerPoint’s role in the Columbia disaster. PowerPoint was built for marketing and is great for making a pitch to a potential customer. But colleagues and students rarely want a marketing pitch. Instead they need audiovisuals that support and clarify what the speaker has to say.